Five Thoughts: Fulham 3-2 Luton Town

Cameron Ramsey 25th October 2019

Three points in the bag, but that was frantic, nail biting stuff. Luton Town travelled south, kind of, and gave Scott Parker’s lads a fright and it’s not even Halloween yet. Straining to save the ghoulish cliches for a later date, our visitors were armed with a spirit (not the poltergeist kind), an ambition and a dozen rancid eggs for lobbing.

No free range projectiles were physically tossed, but I was close to spitting feathers in the turbulence of added time. It was by no means comfortable. Peering back upon the game now, though, the victory was never actually in doubt, we just like to subject ourselves to pain and torture on a weekly basis.

Graeme Jones and his Hatters were resolute and our resolve was examined. A man in the Johnny Haynes stand also brought a delectable Victoria sponge with him. Next up, a riveting trip to Middlesbrough, and we all know how much we could really do with some Ollie Norwood-inspired penalty spot heroics up there, alongside your battenberg slice.

Marek Makes Mark

For a first league start in Fulham’s luminous goalkeeper strip, I’d say Marek Rodak gave a pretty good account of himself. The 22-year-old, stepping in at Marcus Bettinelli’s expense, still saw two Luton opportunities trundle past him in the second half, but in complete fairness, there really wasn’t a lot he could have done. They say a strong ‘keeper instils confidence in the back four, but a brittle defence certainly doesn’t amplify a stopper’s elemental qualities. That’s our problem.

Maybe Betts does get an unholy amount of stick and criticism, although after his aberrant showing against Stoke City, that’s exactly what a supposed No.1 should expect. Rodak, in many ways, was an invigorating breath of fresh air. No messing around with mindless passing to teammates that are being squeezed like an old toothpaste tube, launch it up the park when in danger. Forget the nonsense. Having said that, building from the back is a requirement, and when he did have the ball at his feet with options to identify, the Slovakian exhibited an observant patience.

Marshalling his penalty area and conducting Fulham’s structure, Rodak distributed effectively, utilising Aleksandar Mitrovic as a viable outlet. A blemished domestic debut for the Whites and I couldn’t care less. There’s undoubtedly more to come from the Rodak, a young stopper that was raved about during his stints at Rotherham United. Known for his sporadic taste for scoring, perhaps it would be a little desirous to demand a trademark header in the dying embers at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, but another start and a clean sheet would suffice nicely.

Reed’s Relentless Relief

Inexhaustible, tenacious, Harrison Reed patrolled the midfield as a lone ranger with a provocative motive. Throughout the encounter, before Kevin McDonald replaced him in the 85th minute, the Saints loanee detected, protected and distinguished. To get the very best out of Reed, honestly, do not partner him. He does the same job any conceivable double pivot could do as a singular anchorman.

Reed stitched up the midfield, slipped into congestion to prise possession from the likes of Martin Cranie and surged with the ball to relieve pressure. Monitoring rhythm, the vigilant 24-year-old kept proceedings ticking with essential passes across the breadth of the park, managing possession in a timely, logical manner. Bleep tests suck, big time, but Reed evidently relishes the prospect on relentless running at a dizzying pace. His engine is limitless.

He’s also a Swiss army knife, equipped with multiple functions. Joining offensive phases, prolonging patterns of play, rifling into 50/50 challenges, Reed emulated a certain Calum Chambers, the regista supremo himself. He’s come to SW6 with the same die-hard enthusiasm Matty Targett oozed during his temporary spell in the capital and he’s a bona fide credit to the Saints’ exalted production line. A validated Man of the Match tick in your favour, young sir.

Shape Saves Strategy

All hail the tried, tested and trusted 4-3-3 formation. Thrown to the fire as requested, the lopsided 3-4-1-2 system that plagued the Whites at the Bet365 Stadium now has a reserved seat in hell next to Lucifer’s poisoned chalice. Cohesion in every department returned with wingers, central midfielders and defenders operating in blissful harmony. Well, for the most part, anyway.

Bobby Reid, deployed in his familiar capacity as chief instigator, supported both Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro by threading incisive balls into their pathways, luring them to the byline. With Tom Cairney and Reed sweeping up behind the wily Jamaica international, the Whites gutted the visitors like a festive holiday squash. Cav’ in particular, hared into advantageous positions, twisting Pelly Ruddock and James Bree into pretzels. The Portuguese attacker gyrated to his own infectious beat and plated Mitro’ his opener in the 16th minute. Cav’ was a shadow at Stoke, but under the lights at the Cottage, he was a firm figure of prominence.

There was balance, poise, intensity and a genuine purpose in our system, a clockwork chemistry that makes us an insufferable unit to contain. In the latter stages, the Whites’ pulse subsided somewhat and cracks started to form but our usual suspects, in a conventional ensemble, enabled vibrant sequences to materialise. We all like to experiment, choco milk on Coco Pops is banging, but if something isn’t broken, don’t attempt to fix it.

Supreme Serb Shines

His first hat-trick in English football. 11 goals in 13 Championship outings for the Whites to date. For club and country, Mitro’ has slammed home 17 strikes this term. Staggering. The division’s top scorer and resident powerhouse, the lethal Serb illuminated SW6 with a performance of unrivalled authority. They have spud guns for firepower, we have a nuclear bomb. In Layman’s Terms, he’s just too good for this damn league.

Putting in an absurd shift, as ever, the 25-year-old was a one man army in the final third, holding Sonny Pearson and Matty Pearson at bay whilst screening and killing balls that sailed into his indomitable frame. Venturing into regions he had no right to accommodate, the restless marksman collected possession from our playmakers, knowing that he had the voltage to spark offensive crusades. Plugging away when tasked with enacting his defensive duties at set pieces, Mitro’ also channelled his inner enforcer to shepherd the ball to safety, almost mockingly.

Fuelled by a potent mix of kerosene and live animals, Mitro’s confidence was clearly soaring. Luton’s rearguard could only gasp as he laced his first into the roof of the net. Our guests laid slain as he hammered his second and his third, a daring, unflinching diving header, illustrated his sovereignty as the king of the Championship castle. Not even a burrowing boot to the chops could stop him from rightfully collecting the match ball at the final whistle, and now I’m fully convinced that the new Terminator film is loosely based on his legend.

Can’t Continue Conceding

Testament to their undying ethic, Luton grafted right until the bitter seconds and had Fulham skating on thin ice after the interval, but even before the break, the visitors asked alarming questions. I’ll try not to harp on too much, but we have to cut basic, primitive mistakes out of our game. The long and short is simple: we are conceding far too much and we haven’t taken stock of last season’s rotten defensive debacle.

Fulham may have claimed the spoils, just, but Luton carried a threat whilst they advanced and they could have done serious, detrimental damage. Call it a manufacturing fault, a defect, Fulham’s fragility is directly caused by their inclination to press as a unit. No kidding, obviously we’re likely to be slightly more penetrable on the counter however Luton’s goals, rounded off by Dan Potts and Kazenga Lua Lua, highlighted just how susceptible we really are.

The Whites have a self-destruct button, a deficiency that haunts after 85 minutes or so. It lingers like a stale stench or that strange acidic bile that scolds the back of your throat when you’ve had one too many sausage rolls. But do we sit on precarious leads and crumble like we did against West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday? Or do we throw caution to the wind to widen the margin, like our demolition of Reading? Either way, we’re bound to leave the door ajar for our opponents.