Fulham Shocker

Posted by Phil Mison

This is one of my easiest blogs to post. Long- time Fulham followers know my modus operandi is not to deal in knee-jerk reaction, nor is it our function to file match reports. Select from your favourite news outlet for their professional views on the game. I like to digest the Sunday papers at leisure, canvass opinions and feedback from many sources, check the TV replays and monitor the insights from those closest to the game – our manager and the players. After that I feel ready to ramble.

Rants are a currency I rarely deal in. Fulham fans are as knowledgeable a bunch as any you find in the Premier League. They are pretty tolerant on the whole with a sharp eye and sardonic sense of humour. We are lucky in not attracting the myopic gloryhunters forever baying on hind legs you find at other so-called ‘bigger’ clubs. And when the team play poorly, we tell it like it is. In the 48 hours following any game you will have the verdict put into perfect context from the excellent FFC fan forums out there. Hopefully, with our humble efforts here at ESPNFC playing a part.

Today’s draw with Everton was so stark however in holding up a mirror to the gulf in class between us, I feel compelled to blog. A game dictated by the Blues, its conclusions very black and white.

The Everton result should serve us well long term. That’s down to Jol. I flagged it up as a six-pointer, the litmus test to see if the Whites really were top four material. And the boss struck a similar note, praising the Toffees progress under Moyes and citing them as the benchmark club for those striving to break out from the middle ground. Everton Saturday handed us a severe footballing lesson. It underlined how far we still have to go. The Whites have not been so comprehensively outplayed at home since the Manchester United game of last season.

I rarely praise other teams on this blog or delve too deeply into their make-up. But let me say right here I thought Everton were magnificent. I can imagine their total bewilderment at only leaving with a point. As I’ve said many times, one thing to admire in Jol is he does not mince his words. His verdict in the tunnel? “We did not look like a good team out there.”

But let’s not overdo the sackcloth and ashes. Moyes has been working five years on that Everton side to get them where they are. And despite the crushing statistics of 60-40 percent possession for the away side, and their 15 shots on target to our five – despite the near one-way traffic we all witnessed, the only stat that matters is the one going down in the records of a point gained in a 2-2 draw. The way results panned out we would indeed have jumped up to 4th had we been up for it and managed to win – but in truth that’s a false position by some margin on today’s evidence. The upside is with none of our near rivals able to win, we hold station in 7th place, and team morale hopefully remains solid enough to come back all the stronger from this wake-up call.

On the plus side, Martin was bold with his substitutions and the players take credit for hanging tough and somehow finding the resources to drive forward at the death for that improbable equaliser. We battled away defensively and Mark kept us in it. A big thank you to Dejagah and Sascha for crafting the cross that gave Sidders a far post tap in to ruin the Blues afternoon. That boy Fellaini, he sure has the Indian sign over Fulham.

Now, being a man of strong opinions (oh, you noticed) here’s the controversial stuff. Yes, I’ve been supporting this club for a very long time and I still want them to do better. One dodgy performance does not normally end a player’s career. But the writing has been on the wall for our Norwegian left-back for quite some time now. This game magnified three areas where we are short. Jol I feel certain is aware of them all. We need a new left-back in January. It is the hardest position in football to fill but the scouts need to be out there earning their corn. If the club do not have faith in Briggs, money must be spent. In the meantime, and you may howl me down for this, I would drop Baird back into Riise’s position and try Sidwell alongside Diarra. This also has the benefit of putting more muscle into midfield, while Steve has a happy knack of getting on the end of balls into the box. As a tall lad he may even manage to get his head on some of Schwartzer’s drop kicks, which at present arrow unerringly onto opposition heads time after time. (You saw my HT tweet USABobFFCfan)

I know Jol has been calling Chris the best passer of a ball at the club, but we need dependability at left-back, someone who reads the game and does not panic. Riise offered nothing on the overlap at all today, became a liability from the 31st minute when he got booked for a rash sliding tackle (just after Diarra bawled him out for allowing Coleman to drive deep into the box) and was flapping like a salmon caught woefully out of position on the cross that led to Fellaini’s first goal.

Pundit Trevor Francis was very critical of JAR’s performance on the international feed. It’s one thing when a rookie reporter goes over the top in being critical: “And what level in the game did you play at sonny,” will be the withering put down he gets sooner or later, but pundits are paid to make these observations because they’ve been there and got the medals (TF being the UK’s first one million pound footballer and a man who notched the winner in a European Cup final for younger readers).

Clubs are targeting JAR as a weak link in the back four. After 50 plus appearances we are still waiting for an effort from John’s once fearsome left boot to ripple the back of the net. To further exemplify my point, Riether was far more effective in the final third for this one, with of course an assist for our 90th minute equaliser. Also, as we saw today, Alex becomes less threatening without any support from left-back.

Being overrun midfield by Everton, allied to our inability to hold onto the ball (this was the first match where I felt we badly missed Dembele’s ball retention skills and also Clint’s sheer tenacity to drive at players) resulted in both Ruiz and Berbatov being marginalised from the real action. This cannot be allowed to happen. I fear an over-reliance on Berbatov to pull rabbits out of the hat, and if he’s off his game, we are faced with carrying two ‘luxury’ players. That’s fine when we’re allowed to play it our way as in the sunshine v Norwich – but it won’t wash with the top six over the winter.

Therefore, and the club acknowledge this already, we also need a quality striker who is strong in the air in the January sales along with a midfield general. It’s that simple – if only we were playing Football Manager. 10 days after I suggested what I felt was our strongest starting eleven, lo and behold Martin picked it. I got my wish, and we were comprehensively outplayed. So what do I know.

Fulham fans, the floor is all yours. Next post I will be examining the type of players FFC might sign. Meanwhile, we may not be as good as we perhaps thought we were, but we’re still a decent side – unbeaten in four – and who would have argued with 7th place going into November after our dismal start to the last two seasons? If you need cheering up, just check the THFC result…

Twitter @fulhamphil


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