Miserable, gloomy Middlesbrough. To those that ventured t’north to witness Fulham’s 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough, I salute you. With very little to shout about, the Whites somehow cancelled out Boro’s 1-man advantage to scurry back down south with a hard-earned point.
Job done, you could say, because Saturday’s Teeside excursion guaranteed controversy, action and excitement. Well, we got one of those expectations, but in the grand scheme of things, cliched as it is, a point against Jonathan Woodgate’s problematic camp is pretty good going. Mildly pleased is what we’ll go for here.
500-mile round trip for a goalless draw. If I wasn’t working, I’m sure I’d have joined you all, but I’ll save my presence for Hull City at the Cottage. Much more appealing. 7th, four points off top, let’s go maul the Tigers, without the cringe-worthy clawing at thin air. That, that is just as bad, if not worse, than clappers and Victoria sponges.
Rodak’s Ridiculous Red
Come on, how many of you actually gave Marek Rodak their Man of the Match vote? Just as soon as we thought we’d blooded a ‘keeper of credible, burgeoning ability, he rubs his reputation in the mud before it’s even been validated. Guess we should start organising an apology letter for Marcus Bettinelli, right?
Boro hoisted a speculative long ball in Jonny Howson’s direction and Rodak, sensing imminent danger, bolted from his 18-yard box. Howson reached the ball first and wedged towards the target, and the 22-year-old stopper obviously lost his bearings. Within the penalty area, it would have been a stupendous save, but as he was 10 yards or so out of safety, his irrational impulse to raise hand to ball was simply idiotic.
You’ve got to love his bewilderment, though. Convinced that the ball had struck his chest, the young Slovakian proceeded to fervidly contest the referee’s decision to issue him a straight red, which was mandatory to say the least. Sorry, Marek, you’re on your own with this one, pal. I feel sorry for Josh Onomah. Imagine being given the opportunity to start your first fixture for your new club, only to be hauled off before the 20 minute mark simply because one of your teammates thought they were playing rugby. Exceptional charge down, brain-dead intelligence.
Sensational Spirit Satisfaction
Following Rodak’s dismissal, Fulham’s backs were pressed firmly against the wall. Down to 10 men, with 70 minutes or so left to toil through, the visitors pulled together as a unit and kept the hosts at bay, just. Squeaky bum time lasted an eternity but everyone on that pitch recognised their individual objectives and the collective battle that lay before them.
Middlesbrough banged on the door in the early stages and a disorderly afternoon was already forecast, although the misfortune of being a man down can sometimes give teams a second wind and a genuine reason to fight tooth and nail. Recalculating our approach, shape and mindset was crucial, as Boro could have compounded our plight, but Parker’s depleted men regrouped, instigated an alternative method and stuck to it religiously for the remainder.
The Whites grew into the game and weathered Boro’s consistent pressure. Acknowledging that they’d have to invest every ounce of energy into stifling Boro’s attacks, the Whites exhibited a mettle that we hadn’t witnessed this season before their trip to North Yorkshire. Used to cruising through the majority of our previous encounters on the front foot, Fulham withstood and relinquished the home side’s appetency, emerging from a perilous minefield with nothing more than a few close shaves. Astonishing application from all, and a clean sheet to sweeten a fairly drab outing on Teeside.
Cav’ Catches Compliments
One man in particular caught my eye with their work-rate and desire under adversity, and that guy was Ivan Cavaleiro. Signifying Fulham’s unified nerve and resolve, Cav’ grabbed his defensive obligations by the short and curlies, clinging to his preservative duties with a stringent, adamant zestfulness. Every inch of that right-hand flank was inspected by the irrepressible Portuguese winger.
For the bulk of the game, Fulham had to soak up and spew out strenuous offensive sieges. Cav’ is a grafter, he thrives on the prospect of beating his man and leaving them wallowing in the dust, and whilst hounding Hayden Coulson, George Saville and Fletcher, the 26-year-old transformed into an attentive, merciless enforcer, flexing his credentials as a makeshift wingback.
Going forward, Cav’ offers the Whites a direct, potent dimension that frightens fullbacks witless. He’s an explosive weapon on the break, unrivalled at this level, but when tasked to chip in and do his bit at the back, the Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee showcased an endurance and fortitude that was both highly beneficial and fundamental. Isolated and shadowed by Dael Fry and his defensive accomplices, Cav’ refused to be oppressed, shuffling up the channel whilst being quarantined to ease tension. Replaced by an actual accredited defender in Maxime Le Marchand in the 84th minute, Cav’s reputability, in my estimation, had inflated immeasurably.
Backing Bryan’s Benefits
Regardless of opposition or circumstance, Joe Bryan will always make himself an option for his teammates to utilise. Chances to break the deadlock were few and far between for the Whites, however the buccaneering left-back contributed effectively with lung-busting spurts into uninhabited pockets. Bryan covers an immense distance along the left flank and his expansive tendencies enabled the Whites to surge out of awkward, cumbersome regions.
Combining with Tom Cairney almost telepathically in the second-half, Bryan hit the byline to dig out inviting crosses. Threaded into an advantageous zone along the left by TC, the adventurous defender lofted a teasing ball into Aleksandar Mitrovic’s proximity, although the in-form Serb couldn’t divert his header from close range. Bryan isn’t greedy or needlessly extravagant – he knows that if he bombards that penalty area, Mitro’ will snap them up and violate the fibres of the net. This time, though, the striker’s crosshair was uncharacteristically askew.
Bryan will be caught out as a result of his offensive devotion and Howson examined the fullback’s judgement. Bryan’s defensive adeptness has always been shrouded by questionable scrutiny as he’s clearly better in advanced positions but for me, despite being hemmed back sporadically, it was an efficient, well-rounded performance from the productive initiator. Constructive, progressive, Bryan’s weekly offerings are regularly dependent and frequently splendid.
Hack, Harass, Harrison
Harrison Reed has definitely been taking notes from Stefan Johansen. Like the Norway skipper, Reed is an industrious operator with a crafty, vindictive streak, and we saw those pitiless, unforgiving traits come to life at the Riverside. Embarking on his own personal mission to stifle Middlesbrough’s momentum, the ginger midfield bandit held his professionalism as he wreaked havoc upon Lewis Wing, Marcus Tavernier and Saville.
Positioned in the heart of Fulham’s midfield three, Reed injected the Whites’ spine with a sedulous dynamism. Keeping it simple, the 24-year-old locked up in front of the back four and distributed wisely. One lapse and Boro could pounce, although Reed clearly understood the value of hard work and concentration. What I appreciate about his game the most is his logical, meticulous bias. He rarely appears to be fazed or overawed, just dogged and purposeful.
Now, about his yellow. As far as necessary, professional fouls go, that was a peach. StefJo smiles upon such cynical antics. Paddy McNair, charging into Fulham’s half after Denis Odoi morphed into Lionel Messi for a split second, suddenly smooched the deck. McNair was gliding through bodies and was closing in on the target, but Reed had other ideas. Yes, Wing may have clattered the base of the post from the resulting free-kick, but a fuzzy sense of satisfaction coursed through my veins as the miniature assassin chopped the marauding Northern Irishman like a prime Nordic saboteur. StefJo’s the pioneer, Reed is the protege.