West London is black and white and we’ll never get bored of tagging that in various gloating tweets, at least for a couple more days. Derbies, you’ve gotta embrace them. Queens Park Rangers are irrelevant, we know this, but they raised gloves for a good ol’ fashioned dust up down by the river and boy, what a humdinger we were treated to under the lights.
Legend has it that a disgruntled Rs dimwit growled to one of the Fulhamish lads that he was going to ‘wang’ them. I don’t wish to know what that means, but I imagine it’s wholly unpleasant. Then again, if I was on my way back to White City in the gloom of a self-inflicted defeat, I’d probably want to boil my own head in a vat of vomit, so we’ll just have to sympathise with that poor, salty soul.
Nothing was pretty about the 3 points but it’s been said before, we have to win ugly from time to time if we’re going to be taken seriously. Scott Parker has his wish and now Fulham are perched in the play-off spots. Marvellous. Turfing QPR out of SW6 whilst they’re picking the bones out of Mark Warburton’s painful philosophy? Those kind of obnoxious bragging rights are worth shouting about at 1am in a ropy kebab shop. Come on you shaggin’ Whites!
Scott Switches Strategy
Have to admit it, but the opening 15 minutes on Friday evening were without a doubt the worst I’ve witnessed from Fulham for an extremely long time. QPR raced out the traps and set about Fulham’s back four as a pack, strangulating the hosts’ rushed spells in possession. It didn’t take long for Rangers to reap the rewards of their relentless high press, three minutes, in fact, and as the Whites tentatively jabbed the ball into perilous areas, tails were certainly up in Warburton’s camp. Something drastic in Fulham’s susceptible system had to change, fast.
Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert rarely tracked back, which in turn allowed Todd Kane and Ryan Manning to venture forward without being shadowed. That’s where QPR were evidently most dangerous. Establishing base camp in Fulham’s half, the West Londoners limited the Whites to ill-timed, shoddily constructed sequences, a deficiency that altered as soon as Bobby Decordova-Reid entered proceedings for a bruised Harrison Reed in the 54th minute. An impetus emerged and the Jamaica international’s effect was instantly recognisable. BDR drops into slight gaps and pockets so naturally and he was the key to unlocking QPR’s stubborn, yet accessible, back three. In recent weeks, Rangers’ defensive solidity’s resembled a bowl of sloppy scrambled egg and Parker, aware of the opposition’s defects, threw caution to the wind and challenged the lads to crank up the tempo.
The Whites flipped the tie on its head but as the clock ticked on, the possibility of QPR spoiling the party also loomed. Our one-dimensional guests lumped long balls in Jordan Hugill’s direction but, as Cyrus Christie replaced Knockaert in the 76th minute, Denis Odoi shuffled across from the right to form a back three of our own alongside Tim Ream and Alfie Mawson, a shape that enabled us to banish the Rs’ aerial bombardment in the dying embers with a trio of primed centre-halves at the ready. Even the extra time arrival of Kevin McDonald also puzzled Rangers’ approach, as it’s not very often a stalwart of his stature is second best in any sort of physical duel. Parker managed the game correctly and his defining strategical decisions were shrewd and aligned with the flow and narrative of the game. His tactical judgement and perception was on point and he undoubtedly deserves a heaped helping of praise and gratitude. Word up, Scotty.
Killer Kamikaze Kamara
Cometh the minute, cometh the man. Aboubakar Kamara, I’m gonna tell my kids he’s Sergio Aguero. I’ll take this moment to apologise on behalf of a vast cluster of our fan base – we’ve questioned your credibility as a professional footballer, Abou’, but that’s come with reason and rationality but wow, that is one hell of a way to button our beaks. The mercurial menace with a shaven, polished bonce, played the game of his entire career in a certain Serbian’s absence. Rangers weren’t ready for that smoke. They really, really weren’t prepared for that hefty dollop of sizzling hot sauce on a Friday evening.
An unlikely hero on the night, AK47 was everywhere. Mobility is his main trait but with intelligent movement sprinkled into the pot, the 24-year-old was cooking on gas. Scanning each and every blade of grass for breathing space or a launch pad to propel his broad frame into hyperspeed, there was no force on earth, let alone Toni Leistner, that could suppress the animated attacker. Peeling off his marker on the penalty spot, Kamara adjusted his posture to nut Odoi’s exceptional cross past a strained Joe Lumley. Aleksandar Mitrovic had a perfect vantage point from the Cottage and that 26th-minute header was plucked straight from his trusted handbook. Abou’ definitely surprised himself with that one but it was executed with supreme technique and poise. Kamikaze devastation.
Cav’ and AK regularly alternated throughout, a rotation that distressed QPR’s fullbacks greatly. We rely heavily on Mitro’s hold-up play and Kamara tried his damnedest to emulate his colleague. Kamara couldn’t make the ball stick like Mitro’, let’s be fair, but he did interlink and combine expertly on the break and then, after strangulating QPR within their 18-yard box, the stand-in marksman was presented with an opportunity to double his tally. Freed by Stefan Johansen, Abou’ sized up the target, factoring Lumley out of the equation. He could have squared it to Bobby but a brace was in the offing. QPR’s blighted stopper flicked a wrist and grazed ball with latex however, to the Hammersmith End’s unbridled delight, the net rippled. In the post-match presser, you could see how much the victory meant to the scrutinised attacker, that smirk of his has already been embraced as a viral meme. He was utterly beside himself and overjoyed by the raucous reception he received. You won’t start every week, but you can hold that head high, Abou’. What a weapon.
Really Rate Rodak
We have a very special stopper in Marek Rodak. The young Slovakia international could have crumbled after seeing Hugill’s deflection creep over the line by a matter of inches but he picked himself up, spat on his gloves and remained cool, calm and collected between the sticks, denying QPR further satisfaction with a series of sublime reaction saves. Nakhi Wells charged through Fulham’s rearguard and a goal appeared imminent. Darting from his goalmouth, Rodak planted himself, narrowed the gap and called Wells’ bluff, forcing QPR’s striker to rush his effort. Blockading from point-blank range on the fringes of the penalty area, order was restored.
Just before the break, an alarming cross was whipped in from the right and Hugill lashed a low, driven strike towards the target. Alert and vigilant, Rodak plunged to his right to paw the ball away from jeopardy, a remarkable save that was essential. Fulham were in the ascendancy with momentum in their favour, and if Rodak didn’t thwart the West Ham loanee in the 42nd minute, the complexion of the tie would have soured and Dom Betts would’ve been at the pub come the 55th minute.
His distribution was positive and practical. Lengthy punted clearances sailed into our attackers pathways and, in turn, our defensive department was able to reset themselves for Rangers’ next impending advancement. His short game was also rational and convincing. The Whites build from the back and Rodak is a purveyor of that concept. Marcus Bettinelli has a lot to learn from his younger teammate, because in the few games where Rodak has featured (discounting his erratic display against Middlesbrough), the fledgling ‘keeper has matched England’s unofficial 4th-choice in every given aspect.
Determined Denis Delivers
A manager’s dream. That’s what they call him. Denis Odoi’s innate adaptability enables him to action his duties at any capacity across the back four and the diminutive Belgian, guarding the right flank behind Knockaert from the off, embodied the fight, enterprise and desire you’d expect from a squad member that understands the rudiments for success at this level. Stamping his authority and ploughing into Eberechi Eze wherever possible, the 31-year-old stickler was a well-rounded initiator with the ball at his feet.
A few lazy, white-knuckle swipes at the ball cannoned from Odoi’s right in the opening minutes but those flashy orange and black Pumas were only just getting into the swing of things, literally. Pirouetting Manning, leaving him in a neighbouring postcode, Odoi hurtled forward and shifted into David Beckham mode. Wrapping his unassuming wand around the ball, Odoi dispatched an exceptional in-swinger into the 18-yard box, a peach that assisted AK’s opener. Odoi relishes the chance to surge forward, often aimlessly, although that was mesmeric sorcery. The ball got the treatment.
Off the ball, Odoi held his discipline and if Manning, Luke Amos or Wells broke free, the versatile handyman bolted in retreat, busting his lungs to freeze QPR’s progression. Inexhaustible, workmanlike, Odoi always rises to the occasion and never squirms at the prospect of getting grass stains on his shorts. I enjoyed watching him steam into 50/50 challenges with a face of thunder and I certainly savoured the way he made Eze his bitch on a retractable leash. He still reminds me of that kid who’d Naruto run through corridors at school, weirdly, but at least he has a final product in his locker and not a pornographic manga strip.
Surely Should Score
I thought I’d sign out on a subtly sinister note and that’s the realisation that no matter how many opportunities we carved out against QPR, we’re still struggling to kill games off routinely. Now, the lads worked as a unit to claim three points and it was fully deserved, but how about that crazy 5 minutes after AK’s second? Surely, thriving on momentum, we should have compounded Rangers’ plight with another goal to seal the victory. A goal’s gap will never be enough. It goads the opposition and it often lulls us into a false sense of security.
QPR, like Fulham, also had chances to widen the deficit but with Cav’ wracking the post in the first-half and Knocky shaving the woodwork in the 66th minute, the Whites could have lamented their uneconomical nature in front of the target. A multitude of basic, elemental phases fizzled out and with the explosive firepower we have at our disposal, we shouldn’t have to scavenge. We’re due a comprehensive steamrolling but we have to awaken that killer instinct.
Perhaps we were missing Mitro’s prowess and maybe it was purely a night for close shaves and could be/would be moments, but it’s not exactly like QPR shut up shop. We were shaky in spells, but they left the front door wide open with the till unattended. We manipulated Rangers, dismantling them with a swift patterns and strenuous pressure although further reward evaporated with one too many touches or step-overs. Knockaert, love him, but he doesn’t know when to give and receive possession effectively. He wriggles to the byline with a clear window to pierce the penalty area, but he doesn’t seem to trust his cross. This goes for everyone: beat your man, lift your head and gamble on one of your teammates to address the ball at the back stick. The downpour of goals would be torrential, I promise.