Before the whistle, if you’d said to me that Fulham would draw 1-1 against Slaven Bilic’s West Bromwich Albion, I would have taken it without question. From such a commanding position, though, our draw against the Baggies feels exactly like another damning defeat.
Reality check, it’s not a loss, it’s another point in an arduous slog of a campaign but at home, with the goal at our mercy, these are games that we need to be killing off with full conviction. You make hay when the sun’s shining, but scorching afternoons by the Thames haven’t always boded well for the Whites this season, really.
So, we’re now 11th in the standings, three points behind Charlton Athletic who occupy 3rd. Seven games in and we’re still a relevant force in this division that will make a mockery of virtually every opponent we face. What we have to do now, however, is regroup and recognise that we’ve shared a point with another promotion favourite. Lift that chin, we carry on.
Familiar Firepower Frustration
Fulham, as per, held an unrelenting grip on proceedings with 69% possession, although despite our evident dominance, we floundered in our attempts to put the game to bed. Moving forward in the weeks to come, we have to adopt a cutthroat edge when we’re in the ascendancy. More often than not, regardless of our measured, finely-tuned approach, we’re our own worst enemy.
Slick, fluent combinations arose throughout and our control and mediation on the ball stifled West Brom, and if we took our chances without hesitation, we would have claimed three points at a canter, undoubtedly. Tom Cairney’s frame-clapping strike on 15 minutes epitomised the cruel frustration behind our lunchtime outing by the river, and we were subsequently made to rue our complacency in front of the target. The Whites hammered the Baggies with incisive sequences but intricacy doesn’t win you matches. Not in the Championship.
With 17 shots registered (6 on target) our conversion rate simply isn’t where it’d promised to be, especially with the lethal firepower we have within our armoury. Sam Johnstone, when called upon, safeguarded his goalmouth resolutely but the Whites had more than enough glaring opportunities to rubber-stamp their authority. I’ve no problem with the manner in which we distribute the ball or how we restrict opponents, the only overbearing offensive factor of our game that’s developing into a serious dilemma is the lack of bite in the final third.
Anthony’s Audacious Afternoon
Leashing Anthony Knockaert isn’t for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure. Fullbacks quiver at the sight of his name on the team sheet before kick-off and West Brom’s Nathan Ferguson was not in line for a leisurely afternoon down by the river. “Knocky” roamed his channel menacingly, twisting and darting into threatening areas, and whilst the Baggies’ 18-year-old left-back scrambled to contain him, the Frenchman was inspired to influence the game persistently.
The 27-year-old had license to dip inside and rifle fizzing efforts at the target, and if an opening to propel goal bound failed to materialise, he’d opt to spread play to the next available outlet, prolonging Fulham’s impending spells on the parameter of West Brom’s 18-yard box. Knockaert was our brightest spark on the break and never gave up, and one flash of audacity was all it took to cap off a fine performance.
Was it a cross? Not on your life. AK’s only intention was to greet ball with top bins. Fulham don’t score tap ins, they net worldies and Knockaert’s 48th-minute dink was certainly within that category. It was sublime, unthinkable, and though it didn’t clinch us three points in the end, it was worthy of winning any game in any division. We enjoyed that very much, Anthony, so plate us up some more limbs next Saturday at Hillsbrough, yeah?
Reed Rules Roost
Speaking of tireless enforcers of philosophy, Harrison Reed protected the centre of the park like a man in fire. In Harry Arter’s absence, the Southampton loanee was selected to blanket our creaky back four and he did so without fatigue. Our midfield’s graced with ingenious technicians but Reed was the driving force that meshed attack and defence together in perfect harmony.
Without delay, Reed charged into action and disrupted West Brom’s triangle of Romaine Sawyers, Jake Livermore and Matheus Pereira. Disciplined in his positioning, the 24-year-old understood when to press and when to retreat, an awareness that will be hugely beneficial to Fulham’s engine room as the season progresses. Arter’s versed in his profession, but I must admit, Reed offers our midfield a higher gear to shift into, a dynamism that the Republic of Ireland international can’t compete with or equal.
He did the simple things well, and that’s all you ask for in a Championship anchorman. No need for flamboyance, just let your opponent know you’re there and that you’re not a soft touch. Surely, at this level, there’s no one better to learn your trade from than Scott Parker if you aspire to be a practical holding midfielder, and it seems as though Reed’s picked up a trick or two from the gaffer himself. Hard hitting, dogged, systematic, the diminutive despot was my personal Man of the Match candidate.
Is anyone still banging Marcus Bettinelli’s drum after that calamitous flap? Asking for a mate. A divide’s always been apparent where Betts is concerned but I’m not sitting on the fence, I think Marek Rodak should get the nod against Sheffield Wednesday and if he doesn’t, Denis Odoi would be my next choice. Not his finest hour, but how many times have we said that within the last few weeks? I’ve lost count. We need a solid No.1 and Betts isn’t that guy.
It was a bread and butter, routine catch for Betts but his hands are seemingly made of soggy pink wafers, so of course the visitors hit back due to his flimsy tendencies between the sticks. He’s never been able to adequately contest for lofted crosses, he baulks at the sight of an airborne ball, so why are we denying Rodak the right to make the position his own? The Slovakian was raved about during his time at Rotherham United and I want to witness his appreciated expertise first hand, too.
One of our own or not, the 27-year-old lost us two extra points, essentially, and whilst our attackers didn’t widen the gap at the other end of the turf, Betts made a torrid hash of his elemental responsibilities as well, and he had bugger all to do all afternoon, basically. I’m not after another goalkeeping conundrum like last term, I – like many others – just believe that resolve resides in Rodak. If anything, it’ll also act as another invaluable period in Bettinelli’s career as well, being dislodged for a second consecutive season and all that.
Reid’s Revised Responsibilities
Deployed in an abstract position, in relation to what he’s accustomed to, Bobby Reid operated alongside Tom Cairney and Reed as though he’d marshalled a midfield three for the duration of his career to date. A seamless integration, we could see the Cardiff City loanee feature in that capacity fairly frequently this season. I am stupidly excited for this appetising prospect to become a regular reality.
The 26-year-old collected possession and interlinked efficiently with Knockaert and Aleksandar Mitrovic predominantly, but as the game reached its natural tempo with momentum in Fulham’s favour, Reid drifted across the breadth of the pitch, acting as a free-roaming catalyst. Presented with opportunities to test the target, the adaptable attacker could have tallied a goal or two, but as Johnstone’s palms were primed, the Jamaica international will have to wait another week to open his account for the campaign.
Odoi’s our defensive utility man and Reid is our offensive equivalent. Placed behind Mitro’, on either side of the Serb or, ingeniously, within a midfield trio, the intelligent hitman will apply himself positively to the cause. Reid surged into congested gullies, zipped into tight pockets and stroked possession into various destinations without panic or alarm. A weapon of industry, Reid, until he was subbed in the 85th minute, enabled the Whites to advance freely, complimenting the club’s vibrant, expressive style.