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Five Thoughts: Preston North End 2-1 Fulham

Written by Cameron Ramsey on 11th December 2019

Banter club level restored. Fulham slumped to a second consecutive 2-1 defeat against another of the Championship’s top 9 outfits. Farcical from back to front, Scott Parker’s bereft, depleted contingent were atrocious and yet, miraculously, we’re still 3rd in the standings, 11 points behind Leeds United. Drop us out, lads, we’re slyly taking the piss.

Alex Neil’s Preston North End hadn’t scored in four and they also hadn’t won in as many games. Wrong team, wrong time. A result like that away from home was always on the cards and on a chapping Tuesday evening at Deepdale, the hosts clicked back into gear. In similar words to Mario Balotelli’s infamous self-endorsed slogan – why always us?

Brentford will pick this carcass of a squad apart if we don’t get some familiar faces back, pronto. Bobby Reid, we miss you dearly. Harrison Reid, give us a sign that you’re still alive. Harry Arter, you’re a nomadic liability, but lace ’em up. Tom Cainrey, grow a pair and sweat out the sniffles, pal.

Referee Runs Red

The opening 15 minutes carried a very eerie narrative. A tranquillity soothed the complexion and both sides were able to demonstrate their respective spells in possession expertly, without dismay or delay. That is until, of course, a chaotic red mist engulfed Deepdale, a mutating rage virus epidemic riddled with contentious cautions and blatant dismissals. The first to be struck down in the 28th minute, Denis Odoi. He’s got that sort of streak in him, you know. Reckless, idiotic, the pint-sized Belgian crumbled Patrick Bauer’s chin with a flying elbow, UFC at its finest. That’s a death wish of a red card and I can’t condone his rash though process whatsoever.

Next, 34 minutes in, Ben Pearson. The shaggy haired midfielder branded Joshua Onomah with an extremely late lunge, double footed, sending his victim into orbit. Bewilderingly, Pearson was only cautioned, although that incident was so much more callous than Odoi’s. Off the hook, thanks to Keith Stroud’s inconsistent officiating. Just before the break, however, Joseph Rafferty was rightfully sent for an early sulk and a shower for a hideously savage tangle with Joe Bryan. Studs up, the 26-year-old jousted Bryan off the ball, leaving the fullback heaped on the deck. I’ve never seen such absurd madness before in one half, and other than those instances, it was a fairly tame 45.

In the second-half, A second yellow for Pearson should have been brandished, after the scruffy agitator raked his studs down Anthony Knockaert’s leg, right under Stroud’s nose. Again, a blind eye was turned. Things simmered until the final closing stages when a flurry of yellows emerged for players on both sides. Fulham were chasing an equaliser, Preston were battening down the hatches, trouble was afoot. We want our lads to fight until the very last second but maybe, to save further squad depletion, that has to be taken with a pinch of metaphorical salt, rather than literally. What an amusing bloodbath.

Couldn’t Convert Chances

If you thought Fulham didn’t have windows to creep through, you’re sorely mistaken. Out wide, particularly, Christie and Bryan were granted the time and space to lift their heads and stroke crosses into the danger area, but more often than not, the final product was pretty damn shocking. Either too short or way, way too long, The Whites wasted virtually every given opportunity to make their mark. We have some of the league’s best finishers and the division’s top scorer, but our final product was quintessentially Sunday League.

For the life of me, and I’ve tried, I can’t count how many times we had the ball out wide, undeterred, and fluffed our lines. With the creativity, productivity and downright capability we have on our books, versed and dependable, we cut such amateurish figures. Undercooked passes, turbo-charged switches that simply wouldn’t land, the way we approached and practised our so-called plan of attack was utterly, utterly woeful. Plan B, we have no alternative, it’s worn and predictable and now we’re only fooling ourselves instead of the opposition.

Aboubakar Kamara, our mate, bustled through dense areas and waged war on the burger van just down the road as he ballooned the ball into the atmosphere. The AK of old, welcome back. With every touch, shimmy, speculative effort from range, the Whites’ chances of restoring parity whittled away. Stefan Johansen manufactured some space and cracked the crossbar in the 72nd minute. Matter of inches. Onomah, on the parameter, sliced wide in the 76th minute. Aleksandar Mitrovic, outside of the boot, just wide in the 79th. In essence, we had a thick catalogue of opportunities to level, although lady luck said “sod this, I’m off to the bar.” Funny how that sounds just like Dom Betts.

Marginally Muted Mitro’

That’s 16 Championship goals for Mitro’, but it wasn’t a typically glowing showing from the big Serb, either. Snared by Bauer and Paul Huntington, Mitro’ was isolated in the final third and couldn’t impact proceedings in his usual domineering manner. The 25-year-old is still only one man, believe it or not, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think he can really overpower two/three burly centre-halves at once. He’s a weapon, a lethal predator, but Preston’s rearguard, for the most part, subdued his authoritative presence.

Fulham, due to the disgusting lack of midfield, were coerced into pumping the ball into Mitro’s proximity from deep, although nothing stuck, no matter how much cack we flung at the walls. First touches squirmed from his feet and he was herded into dead ends and blind alleys. Detached as a lone striker, Mitro’ drifted out wide on the counter and demanded possession. Unsurprisingly, as he’s a machine, Mitro’ was actually a productive presence on the flanks and did a better job than those that should specialise in that department, but that is not his responsibility. His core duty is to finish counter attacks, not spark them, per say.

80 minutes in, lurking in the D, Mitro’ let rip and Declan Rudd was flummoxed. A deflection aided his strike, but that’s where he needs to be on the turf. Not out wide, not in the heart of the midfield, directly in front of the target. Within the width of the sticks, seconds to spare, Mitro sprung above his marker to nod goal bound. On another evening, anywhere other than up t’north, that would have been a goal, rubber stamped, but it just wasn’t to be. He netted, of course, although Mitro’ didn’t really seem himself. Watered down gusto and gumption is what we got, and we’re used to full fat vitality.

Ain’t About Anthony

He is football’s answer to Marmite. I actually love it on toast, but I know other people despise it, full stop. I’m not saying I’d like Anthony Knockaert for breakfast, heavens no, I just can’t work him out. I don’t want to sit on the fence, so to make my opinion valid, I’ll say I don’t enjoy watching him jink aimlessly down the channels. In fact, it infuriates me. He treats each encounter like FIFA Street and he’s not very good at it, either. He may think he’s a bamboozling trickster from Northern France, but we’ve seen those moves before. He’s a broken record and a selfish, deficient one at that.

Knockaert filled a more central role, compared to what he’s used to, but old habits die hard. The 28-year-old, to his credit, did hound the opposition and even grappled possession back a few times but going forward, the wrong option was selected incessantly. Poor passes brushed behind intended destinations were picked off by Preston and the hosts, as a result of the Frenchman’s naivety, could break out and initiate counter attacks of their own. We’ve covered awful crosses and Knockaert was also culpable of that. He’d rather belt one from 40 yards than supply his teammates because he wants to be top dog. Fact is, he’s a wet fish.

Neeskens Kebano should have started over Knockaert, even Onomah on that note. On the hour mark, Kebano replaced Alfie Mawson and the adaptable attacker, capable of causing havoc across the final, was influential. Nothing more needs to be said, but I’ll continue for the sake of the article. Came on against Bristol City, magnificent. Second crack of the whip at Deepdale, he was an innovative catalyst. Intense, direct, the energised DR Congo international even flexed an intelligence that plated Mitro’ his goal. Give him game time, the chance to shine brightest regularly. I can’t understand why and how he’s been left to rot for so long on the sidelines, because he’s better than AK, the one from Brighton and Hove Albion, at least.

Mawson’s Mistakes Matter

Alfie Mawson. Where do we even start? I’ve mentioned this before and I’ve made it clear, he’s the weakest link in our starting XI. We don’t even have an undisputed first-choice right-back, but even Cyrus Christie’s more reliable than the former Swansea City man at the moment. Howlers upon howlers, yesterday’s England prospect was at fault for both of Preston’s goals because he has the poise and touch of a trampoline and a cowardly commitment. For a player of such supposed promise and potential, he’s an infernal disappointment.

Sean Maguire turned home Preston’s opener from a corner, but Mawson’s suspect attempt to kill the ball, prior the set piece, could be credited with an assist. Throughout the encounter, the 25-year-old was eased off the ball, gifting David Nugent the time and space to examine vulnerable spots within our half defensive quadrant. Tim Ream led by example but Mawson wasn’t on the same frequency. Nugent prayed upon Mawson’s hesitancy and could have registered his first goal in 41 appearances in the 50th minute if it wasn’t for Marek Rodak’s strong hands. Mawson failed to win a routine header and the one-time England scorer anticipated the loose ball, but couldn’t divert his powerful effort.

The 34-year-old did smash his duck to smithereens just 2 minutes later, though. Brad Potts’ drive deflected skyward from Rodak’s outstretched leg and Mawson, unable or indeed unwilling to banish the threat, was somehow beaten by Nugent at the back stick. Bundling the ball home, Preston had a 2-goal cushion and the cursing finger of blame pointed in our wobbly defender’s direction for the second time. It wasn’t a foul and Mawson wasn’t impeded, Nugent just wanted it more and the fragile defender’s empty desire was flagrant. Once Michael Hector’s eligible to play, I’m afraid Mawson will have to face the guillotine. Those two could spark a formidable partnership, but football isn’t played on paper and as it stands, it’s definitely not an ideal world, either.

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