Gutless. A consecutive weekend blighted by a complacent, abject final ten minutes from Fulham. Three points, scuppered. Accumulators, sabotaged. A victory away from home against Garry Monk’s Sheffield Wednesday, face down in the water after taking our foot off the gas once more.
You will not be granted the license to waltz through gritty games in this division unscathed. The Owls, like all that compliment the Championship, will not condone the aloof, reserved brand we display and it’s irresponsibly naive for us to believe that we’re an elite contender and a shoo-in for promotion.
With Wigan Athletic up next at home on Friday evening, atonement, and I mean real, honest redemption with a margin of at least 4 goals, will only suffice for the shit-show we’ve had plated up for us in the past fortnight. Beside our anguish and the fact it’s another two points dropped, though, we’re 5 points off 1st and I’m fully behind Scott Parker’s 12th-placed regime. Blip navigated, now it’s time to ramp it up a gear or three.
Another Arrogant Affair
On paper, we have arguably the deadliest strike forces in the Championship, but for all of our fire power, we’re terribly goal shy. When we needed to turn the screw against Wednesday, lengthy, laborious, humdrum spells in possession suppressed our momentum and we didn’t capitalise on our rigid grip upon proceedings. We cannot continue to sit on 1-0 leads and not expect the opposition to retaliate. We do not take our current surroundings seriously whatsoever.
There’s a baseless arrogance within our approach that’s intolerable in the industrious company we keep. The hosts were made to chase shadows for the majority of the game, but they understood that all it took to salvage a point was one flash of bravery. Not many, if any, teams at this level can contain our free-formed system, but Wednesday were determined to bury our conceited mentality in the closing stages.
Yet again, Fulham’s 634 passes warranted 70% possession but for what? Another gut-wrenching finale in an encounter where we should have embezzled the spoils in a frenzied onslaught. Parker has to devise a dynamic strategy in order to convert our dominance into clear cut opportunities, because we’re growing typically predictable with our ponderous, tentative sequences. This fragile, farcical methodology will not gain us promotion, so now we must adapt and evolve. Be direct, be courageous, be ruthless.
Arter Antagonises Away
Returning from a 1-match ban in the in the 66th minute for Ivan Cavaleiro, Harry Arter entered the fray to galvanise the Whites’ midfield department but, in a perplexing series of events, the AFC Bournemouth loanee did anything but. Treating the pitch like Albert Square, Arter’s amateur theatrics disdained our discipline and tarnished our dignity.
Clawing at passing opponents, blue-mouthing every living creature in sight, disobeying basic requirements and responsibilities, the 29-year-old’s restoration to the fold was vulgar and unsightly. I see better attitudes from ex-cons on recreation grounds every Sunday morning. There was a sheer lack of respect in Arter’s outing, a petulance that’s better suited to whinging toddlers in McDonalds when the ice cream machine’s bust, again.
Taking matters into his own hands, literally, Parker wasn’t prepared to stomach his brother-in-law’s boorish antics. Summoning Arter to the touchline, the former England stalwart eyeballed the antagonistic playmaker, fastened fist to jersey and laid down the law. Arter was incensed and Parker wasn’t convinced by his indefensible dismay. Arter will be a hugely beneficial member of the camp this term, but with outbursts like that, he’ll be nothing more than a regular hindrance. Cut it out and let your football do the talking, Harry. No one cares for your hideous play acting.
Bryan Behaving Beneficially
We’ll get attacking and defensive endeavour in equal measure with Joe Bryan on the turf. The adventurous left-back’s inclined to support on the break and was tireless against the Owls, and if Cavaleiro couldn’t dig out an initial cross, Bryan was always in close contention to support his Portuguese teammate. No matter where he was, the 26-year-old’s presence was valued and relevant to our progression in wider reaches along his respective channel.
Spreading play from central areas, Tom Cairney and his midfield companions appropriated Bryan whenever possible. The lively fullback introduces an alternative dimension to Fulham’s system that promises ammunition. When Bryan hits the byline, enticing balls are swung into threatening zones simultaneously. Moses Odubajo grappled with the former Bristol City man, but for the most part, Bryan reigned supreme in various aspects.
Duelling for headers despite his slight height, tracking and taming Adam Reach and Jacob Murphy, Bryan was assertive in his duties and edged his competitors through guile and desire. A keen provider, Bryan’s studied left foot contributed to the Cairney’s 42-minute opener. Pinpointed by childhood chum Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Bryan launched a rogue projectile into Kieran Westwood’s 6-yard box but the Republic of Ireland ‘keeper calamitously parried into TC’s path. Setting his bearings, our skipper stroked home to notch his second of the campaign. Forget extravagant sequences on the parameter of the box, utilise Bryan’s boot and hit that penalty spot.
Bettinelli’s Back Better
How we long for a clean sheet. Under a barrage of criticism, seemingly out for the count, Marcus Bettinelli rolled up his sleeves and spat on his gloves to defy his critics with a splendid performance between the sticks at Hillsborough. I’d called for his head to roll following last weekend’s howler, but this time, it wasn’t our inconsistent stopper that was at fault for the Owls’ last-gasp equaliser. Point fingers at our misfiring attackers, Betts did his bit to deny the Whites further heartache.
The 27-year-old’s distribution still boils my blood, with endless punts up field sailing into the terraces, but when tasked with dirtying his palms to thwart Wednesday, Betts battened down the hatches with a series of superb saves. In the 23rd minute, Kadeem Harris hoisted inbound from the left and Reach nodded towards the frame. Plunging to his left, Betts pawed away from the target, only for Reach to take aim yet again from an accurate angle. Sprawled on the deck, Betts promptly manoeuvred himself to blockade the winger’s instantaneous stab, a double save of unparalleled quality.
Into the second-half and Betts remained composed and prepared to stunt Wednesday’s efforts. Halting Steven Fletcher’s speculative swivelling strike, albeit offside, leaping across the face of goal to prevent a destined glance, albeit offside, covering his angles to clasp Atdhe Nuhiu’s point-blank header, Betts had fought his corner admirably. Three points were certainly in the bag until Nuhiu reacted to pounce on Harris’ deflected cross, though. Taking nothing away from Betts’ performance, however, the 4th-choice England stopper conducted himself appropriately in the midst of considerable backlash and all is well once again. He applied himself to the challenge but for me, Marek Rodak’s still breathing down his neck for that No.1 jersey, regardless.
Marked, Muted Mitro’
Before West Bromwich Albion, Aleksandar Mitrovic had tallied 8 goals in 7 appearances for club and country. He was smouldering, a force of unearthly proportions, and heading back into domestic matters, the trigger-happy Serb was in the form of his career. The last two games in black and white have been muted, however, and in South Yorkshire, Mitro’ was kept under lock and key by Dominic Iorfa and Julian Borner. Flames extinguished when we’re calling for him to fire with precision.
Both Iorfa and Borner entrapped the lone hitman, seizing heavy first touches and colliding into physical battles that other centre-halves would recoil at. When the ball’s played into feet, the 25-year-old awaited support, but the Whites were unable to craft threatening phases centrally due to the Owls’ compact shape and fortitude. With his back towards the target, Mitro’ wasn’t given an inch of breathing space and only mustered two shots throughout proceedings. For a man that could find the net in a solar eclipse, blind folded, that is a particularly distressing return to behold for one of Europe’s in-form strikers.
A quiet day in the office indeed, but when Mitro’s left to meddle with defences on his own, he’s climbing uphill with the weight of the entire squad on his shoulders. We rely on his physicality to wrench defences wide open, but when he’s free, unmarked and begging for a ball to glide his way, we do the lethal marksman a grave disservice. Instead of insipidly shuffling possession left, right and back again, load that danger area without hesitation. 9 times out of 10, Mitro’ will greet the ball with a head of steel or a boot of thunder. We’re desperately pedestrian on the break and we’re limiting and sterilising Mitro’s fatal influence as a direct result of our own reluctance and indecision.