St. Andrew’s has long since been a happy hunting ground for Fulham, although now it’s dubbed as the ‘Trillion Trophy Stadium’, which is hilarious, triumph graced our Saturday in the Midlands. We’ll explore the reaction shown by the Whites a little further in just a minute or two but blimey, claiming 3 points was very much imperative and essential.
Crashing to a 3-0 defeat against Hull City a week before disgusted me so much, I didn’t even bother writing an article in the aftermath. It would have been blighted by expletives and slurs, so a week in Prague – indeed to drown my sorrows – couldn’t have come at a better time.
So, back to it. After 16 games, the Whites are 7th with 26 points on the board, 9 points behind league leaders West Bromwich Albion. Scott Parker and his coaching staff now have another international break to devise a sustainable plan for the congested winter period, an efficient system that will send us rocketing into the automatic spots with a 30+ goal difference. No pressure there, then.
Revise, Regroup, React
Following last week’s atrocity exhibition, Fulham reacted more than sufficiently and restricted Birmingham to register a hard-fought, alleviating 1-0 win. The perfect atonement and tonic to sooth our jangled nerves and irked spirits. Not your classic routine victory, although each department pulled together and functioned as a relatively coherent unit. Our approach ultimately made Pep Clotet a very salty man in the post-match presser, bless him.
In the early stages, the Whites’ nagging frailties were visible and the Blues, though they couldn’t adequately break the visitors down, could have magnified their inconsistent opponent’s deficiencies. Though the score line was stuck at 0-0 at the break, the first-half was an oddly captivating watch, with incisive sieges flowing end-to-end for both parties. As the game progressed, however, Fulham limited Birmingham, constricting their impact upon proceedings. Speculative efforts ballooned over the crossbar and impending phases fizzled out, testament to the Whites’ organisation, which strengthened as the minutes ticked onward.
Latter stages usually comprise treacherous situations for Fulham to navigate, but other than the odd sapless header from Lukas Jutkiewicz and Jude Bellingham respectively, Parker’s men were fairly comfortable and untroubled. Refreshingly, Fulham were positive, persistent and studied their approach throughout, with 505 passes and an 81% completion rate. Refortifying identity will undoubtedly be top of the agenda, but it’s also important to ride out stormy, choppy periods of the schedule. That was a statement and if the camp wished to resurrect their credibility after an embarrassing defeat, they did so with an observant, attentive performance.
Mitro’s Midlands Mastery
Dread to think where Fulham would be without Aleksandar Mitrovic terrorising rearguards on a weekly basis. As ever, the domineering 25-year-old was an undying source of determination, devotion, and intensity. Pairings before Marc Roberts and Jake Clarke-Salter have baulked at the prospect of wrangling Mitro’, and the Blues’ central defensive duo simply couldn’t restrain the irrepressible striker. Typically, Mitro’ agitated and in first-half stoppage time he and Bellingham were both booked for an unsavoury altercation. That’s 5 yellows for the Championship’s top scorer this season and he’ll now miss our highly-anticipated meeting against Queens Park Rangers.
“Mitrovic FC” could soon rue our No.9’s no f***s given bias, but we’ll worry about that when Aboubakar Kamara’s deployed in his place, because he was ordinarily magnificent at St. Andrews. His natural enterprise claimed Fulham three points, after all. Lee Camp spilled into Mitro’s path in the 52nd minute and the clinical hitman was fortuitously positioned to hammer the ball into the net, in front of a raucous away following. No striker at this level senses opportunities like Mitro’. No attacker converts chances like Mitro’. There is nobody in the Championship or, dare I say it, in England currently that dictates the final third like our prolific gunman. Ain’t about that Tammy Abraham talk, Mitro’s in a bracket of his own.
Pivoting with the ball under his command, Mitro’ fashioned gullies and pockets for his teammates to inhabit, dismantling Birmingham’s defensive composition in the penalty area. Bobbing and weaving like the heavyweight titan he is – not a cheap KSI or Logan Paul imitation – the durable Serb jinked through multiple attempts to dislodge the ball from his dancing feet and was buffeted to the deck in the 78th minute. No penalty, mind, but there wasn’t a second yellow for play acting, either. When QPR come to town, we’ll see just vital he is to our tottering cause. Better start netting those one-on-ones, AK47.
Christie’s Concrete Contribution
Well, when I saw Maxime Le Marchand depart proceedings in the 35th minute I was elated. When I saw Cyrus Christie standing on the touchline, however, my head was flushed with a shivering nausea. I’m not an admirer of Christie, never really have been, but if he continues to conduct himself in the manner he did along the right channel for 55 minutes in Birms, I’ll have no qualms in him featuring more regularly from now on. Whatever you’re slipping into his morning muesli, Scotty, stockpile it.
I was on the verge of necking a bottle of Jack Daniels and snorting a packet of Lemsip but somehow, almost miraculously, the Republic of Ireland international served up a piping plate of redemption. Aching symptoms banished. Fran Villalba and Kristian Pedersen were powerless as the revived right-back shadowed their every move. Confrontations used to make him melt in the cold light of day, although Christie was evidently high, really high, on self-confidence and assurance.
Hitting the byline with an overlapping run, Christie was instrumental in Fulham’s pivotal goal scoring opportunity. Clipping towards the back stick, Camp couldn’t collect and the game had an opener. Perhaps with Joe Bryan being sidelined, Christie felt he had a duty to supply, to be that provider. Surveying his afternoon broadly, the 26-year-old supported ably and intervened competently. A changed man? Quite possibly. Worthy of worming his way back into the starting XI? I’ll leave that for you to deliberate.
Rodak Rectifies Red
Marek Rodak returned to the fold following his calamitous dismissal at Middlesbrough and the fledgling stopper reintroduced himself to Fulham’s faithful with a remarkable performance within the 18-yard box, rather than outside it. A clean sheet is obviously the main takeaway point from his outing, but there were many other admirable factors that patched up his blemished reputation. Lifting his chin, fixing his gloves, the 22-year-old went to work and did himself proud. Well in, chap.
Covering his angles in the 4th-minute of play, Rodak plunged to his left to deflect Pedersen’s driven effort wide of the frame, and within an instance of blocking the left-back’s thump, the Slovakia international was on his feet, barking orders at Denis Odoi and organising his area for the resulting corner. Rodak, a commander with a projected voice, definitely had his house in order. I want this guy to succeed and if he trusts his attitude and listens to his mentors, he’ll undoubtedly thrive.
Rodak’s reflexes were called upon again in the 80th minute when Jutkiewicz butted the ball at the target. Propelling himself from the goalmouth, Rodak nudged the 30-year-old’s threatening header over the crossbar to maintain a polished shut out. It’s a staple requirement for a ‘keeper of the modern age to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, and as our system entails building from the back, Rodak also administered possession sensibly and wasn’t afraid to ram his size 9 through the ball when a clearance was required. All is forgiven.
Decordova’s Desperate Duck
You’ve got to feel for Bobby Decordova-Reid. Someone organise a whip-round and a tombola, our adaptable attacker can’t buy a goal in Fulham white, even at a discounted rate. What must he do to open his account for the campaign? I’m actually troubled by this, because a player of his reputable standing should promise an album of sumptuous strikes but, alas, no cigar.
With 25 minutes on the clock, Mitro’ split Birmingham’s back four with a calculated ball that zipped across the box. Lunging into the ball’s path, Reid was a matter of inches away from diverting his first of the season, and in the same vein as his point blank effort against Charlton Athletic for example, it seemed harder to miss. All these excruciatingly close shaves will pay off sooner rather than later, but if you’re going to finally break your duck, Bobby, do so on the 22nd.
One thing I’ll always be amazed by is BDR’s seamless transition from primed attacker to dynamic midfielder. Operating alongside Harrison Reed and Stefan Johansen, the 26-year-old offered the Whites’ midfield compliment a progressive edge and a willingness to support Mitro’, Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert. Darting into tight pockets, Reid was on hand to administer possession effectively, filling the void left by a poorly Tom Cairney, our absent creative spark. Blessed with vision, all the Cardiff City loanee’s lacking is a deadly intuition.