Five Thoughts: Nottingham Forest & Southampton

Cameron Ramsey 27th August 2019

As it’s stupidly hot again, we’ve a double scoop for you. The bank holiday weekend literally hit us for six and there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to pen this article sooner, so I apologise for its lateness. I was drunk for at least three days (and still am now, to be fair) but as our Caraboa Cup encounter with Southampton clashed with the belated scheduling, we decided it’s worth covering both to some sort of extent. So, you’re all very welcome.

I wasn’t overly peeved with the result at the weekend. I was irked more by Forest’s gamesmanship but hey, Peter Bankes couldn’t have booked Brice Samba twice for his time wasting antics, could he? As for Ralph Hasenhüttl, he obviously didn’t read the second string memo, so he also joins the hapless official in the ‘people I’d like to eject out of a turret’ category.

I hate to be crass in the wake of a loss, make that two, so I’ll digress. The Whites stuck to their guns by practising the brand of football that we’ve grown accustomed to under Scott Parker and it didn’t work out, no biggie. We were beaten by a full strength Premier League squad and felled by a domestic counterpart that’s vying for bigger and better things as well. We’re always rickety at the start but we’re still relevant. At least in the Championship, anyway.

Possession Poses Predicament

Patience is integral if Fulham have the ball under their control, but it’s never easy to dismantle two banks of four and Forest, under countless waves of immense pressure, weathered a tsunami to frustrate Parker’s probing set-up. With all the creative vision and dexterity our ranks boast, we were passive, pedestrian and predictable. I’d just like to shoehorn the fact that we also recorded 60% possession against Southampton with a “weakened squad”, too. It’s not that important, but we’re winning something, though.

The Whites required verve and intensity in their sequences and failed to capitalise on their prolonged spells in possession. Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen would drop into promising pockets, but when we needed a piercing element in the final third, a severe lack of urgency and dynamism afflicted our progression whilst play developed. The longer we held onto the ball, the more settled and assured Forest became.

The cold hard facts shout loudest, however. 77% possession, that’s marvellous, but if we’re not putting oppositions to the sword, it’s essentially an empty figure. 776 passes, otherworldly, but why couldn’t we make Forest pay a hefty price? The visitors were no pushovers, not by any means, however they are not a subservient Millwall. We had to be braver, bolder whilst constructing opportunities, but we were tentative, hesitant and reluctant on the break. Pretty, uniformed football, evidently, doesn’t always work in the Championship, and if we’re to drag ourselves out of this division, we have to unearth a ruthless streak to compliment monopolising ethics.

Flank Freedom Fettered

Pitted against Jack Robinson and Carl Jenkinson respectively, Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro were suppressed in their efforts to surpass Forest’s sturdy fullback duo. AK and Cav’ eyeballed their direct opponents, testing their resolve, but Fulham’s flank threats were marshalled unremittingly throughout proceedings, muting their superiority at this level. Summer signings suppressed in the sunshine.

Cav’ ghosted inside from wide, attempting to suck Jenkinson out of his comfort zone, but Forest were organised and vigilant, so the Portuguese winger was passed on systematically as he jinked across the Reds’ regimented back four. The 25-year-old interlinked sensibly with Joe Bryan, a connection that’s strengthening, but the pair weren’t able to unsettle Nottingham’s fortitude frequently enough.

Knockaert had more freedom against Robinson, but a deadly final product eluded the fiery Frenchman’s outing. The Brighton and Hove Albion loanee occasionally swapped sides with Cav’ in the hope of disorientating Forest’s defensive composure, although our disciplined guests weren’t fooled. Knockaert’s destined header in the 52nd minute was denied by Brice Samba, a moment that aptly summed up his and Cav’s day by the river. Close, but no smoking cigar.

Sess’ Sorry Shortcoming

They’re not many fullbacks in the Championship that are capable of leashing a player of Sammy Ameobi’s physical stature, and whilst Steven Sessegnon’s been a reinvigorating breath of fresh air this season, the 19-year-old plummeted back down to earth with a questionably suspect performance. Mistakes were made, but for a youngster of his relative inexperience, the odd faux pas is fully expected. Rather him than Cyrus Christie, still.

Ameobi overpowered Sess’ through sheer strength, not guile, and though the Young Lion shadowed the former Bolton Wanderers man intently, he was second best in shoulder to shoulder battles and aerial duels. The teenager took aim and trialled Samba’s reactions with stinging shots from range, but truthfully, the fledgling right-back did seem marginally out of his depth and his naivety was exploited, cruelly, just after the hour mark.

A misplaced pass was gobbled up by Lewis Grabban, who wasted no time in surging towards the target at the youngster’s expense. Within a matter of seconds, Forest had doubled their lead and Fulham’s hopes of clawing their way back into the encounter diminished as a direct result. This is purely an observation, as I thought that he actually grafted admirably for the most part, and if anything, he’ll learn from his damning mishap, a drawback that will undoubtedly shape his character as a valued prospect. Benched against the Saints, reflection is critical to this.

Making Mitro’ Matter

That’s four in four for Aleksandar Mitrovic this season, a superb return for the strapping Serb, who’s set to have a very prolific season indeed for Fulham. His 80th-minute strike sparked a turbulent final 18 minutes – including stoppage time – but further reward wasn’t on the agenda. Mitro’ will register an extensive catalogue of goals this term, but for that to come to prominence, he needs feeding. Against Forest, the 24-year-old was practically famished.

Mitro’ registered 5 shots throughout, but real golden opportunities to test the target were few and far between. Forest sat deep, of course, constricting the space that Mitro’ had to work with, but as we’ve already discovered in those circumstances, we have to pepper the 18-yard box. At least offer him something to greet, even if it’s a speculative cross into congestion – his goal is a prime of example of his poacher’s instinct. Also, with his back to goal, he’ll swivel and unleash on site, it was just desperately unfortunate that Forest’s Samba was in fine fettle on the day.

When Mitro’s under close quarantine it’s always going to be a problematic task, but 9 times out of 10, even whilst being snared by three markers at once, he comes out on top. Joe Worrall and Michael Dawson segregated Mitro’, hampering his influence upon proceedings, but it only takes him a split second to alter affairs in the most minuet or margins. So going forward, as the plot thickens, find his feet, chest or head at all costs, as he’s worth at least 1 killer blow a game, wherever he may find himself in the final third.

Second String Sighting

In the name of Mickey Mouse cup competition tradition, Fulham fielded a second string against Southampton and the fans, as well as Scotty P, got a glimpse of our back up brigade and the shape its in. We may have lost, although there is reason to be cheerful, kinda. Bobby Reid battered the underside of the crossbar in a meeting deprived of genuine game-splitting instances for the home side and Marek Rodak now has his own die hard fan club. Kevin McDonald at centre-half? Well, Parker did learn from Claudio Ranieri, I suppose.

Aboubakar Kamara, the man with trampolines for feet, emerged from the bench in the 74th minute on Saturday to provide Mitro’ with an assist and he was given the nod to start against the Saints. The 24-year-old will literally charge in a perfectly straight line, eyes closed, if he has to. He is the human equivalent of a catapult laden with elbows, thighs and really angry rattle snakes. You could also use the same description for Stefan Johansen, with his atrocious challenges and various flashes of horrible whatnot.

Our south coast visitors had 19 shots at Rodak, seven on target, but only one dodged Rodak’s razor-sharp palms. He’s the guy your bird tells you to not worry about, Betts. There were a host of bright youngsters in the offing, but in stoppage time, we were introduced to Martell Taylor-Crossdale and I’m deeply excited to see more of him in future. He had no defining impact, but he’s still Bisto. Matt O’Riley’s got game, too, and hopefully it’ll be the first outing of many this season for the lofty midfielder with a touch of satin. A pint-sized Tyrese Francois, along with Ben Davis, made late cameos, reaffirming the significance of our prospect pool at Mostpur Park. Without dwelling on defeats any longer, we’ll see you Friday, Colin.