Eamon explains the difference between “finding a way to win” and consistently struggling in the final third.
Ah, the splendor of the 1-0 win. The “grind it out” victory. Little else brings elation like the referee bringing the final whistle to his lips at the end of such a contest.
Fulham 1-0 Stoke City
Hull City 0-1 Fulham
Fulham 1-0 Middlesbrough
Blackburn 0-1 Fulham
And most gloriously, Fulham 1-0 Swansea
Winning one goal to nil has long been a statement of quality. The greatest teams hear praise for their fluid movement and spectacular skill but are also lauded for their ability to remain disciplined and strong when the ball just won’t find the target. They remain calm, unfazed and know one special moment will bring them victory, a reward for 90 minutes of defensive gusto. They have once again “found a way to win.”
Fulham have appeared especially adept at grinding out victories this season. While Jankovic’s motto was, “score more,” Parkerball has brought us, “concede less.” The majority of the White’s matches play out as so: standing resolute and limiting opponent’s chances with one moment of Cavaleiro or Mitro magic taking the cake. But that’s exactly the problem, there are far too many games won in this fashion for a team as talented as ours.
The “grind it out” cake involves three key ingredients. First, the opposition must be worse than the winning side, evident by clear domination of possession and play on the pitch. Second, the winning side must have opportunities to score only denied by trivial causes such as individual technical mistakes. Third, this style of winning must occur infrequently. This is a direct result of the first ingredient – if the winning side is far better than the opposition, then they will win by more goals more frequently.
While it may appear that Fulham excel at the “grind it out,” victory, there is a lot of deception at play. We can confirm our cake is full of the first ingredient. Fulham are often the better side, dominating the ball and putting together smooth passing moves. However, our cake quickly leaves the five-star restaurant and makes its way into the amateur’s kitchen when tasting for ingredients 2 and 3. Fulham rarely have many offensive opportunities and far too often find themselves holding onto slender leads. Parker’s side aren’t good at finding ways to win, our offense is just poor and if that doesn’t change, our hopes of promotion will quickly shrink.
More Goals > Less Goals
Understanding whether a side is pulling out the 1-0 victory because the offense is occasionally struggling or because it consistently fails to create offensive production is crucial. This understanding allows the manager to know what aspects of his side to work on and tells him how good his team really is. So, what should Parker determine?
Fulham just aren’t very good. We don’t create clear cut chances, and when we score it’s because we rely on individual skill, not team play. Last week the opposition had to score our goal for us! These one-goal victories are not the disciplined, resolute, stand-strong-until-the-ball-finally-goes-in wins that great sides occasionally must gut out. They are evidence of poor play and needed improvement.
Some will argue that winning this way is a display of organized and disciplined play – why is it better to score more than concede less anyway? A win is a win, no?
The problem is the consistency of the White’s inability to score as well as the poor quality of opponent they are struggling against. If we can’t sweep aside teams in the lower reaches of the table how can we expect to beat sides around us? This is especially prevalent given that our run-in includes every team currently in the top 7.
The Whites’ psychology shows how poor their attack is. The players know scoring is hard to come by. If they go up a goal, they immediately enter a defensive mind-set. Their domination of the ball halts and waves of attack are replaced by fearful thumps up field.
Additionally, winning 2-0 is better than winning 1-0, full stop. No team would choose to win by one goal given the chance to score a second. Parker hasn’t instructed his players to stop scoring after one goes in, we just haven’t been good enough to score more.
Save the Sliding
One-nil slogs should not receive the high praise that they do. On occasion, sturdy defensive play is required to bail out a struggling offensive unit, but consistent low scores are nothing to be happy about. Booting balls into the sky and sliding through the mud to block shots time and time again has become a timeless signifier of passion and resilience. Football fans love displays of guts and nothing is more passionate than sacrificing your body to block a shot in the final minutes to preserve a precious three points. But they also indicate poor play because they aren’t necessary if your side scores more goals or can retain possession. In his post-match comments, Parker often comments on the fight, character and gusto his side showed to pull out the win – if you look closely, you can even see a tear caress his cheek.
But Fulham’s wins aren’t the same victories great teams are occasionally required to perform. These victories are nothing more than simply not playing well enough to score more. If Fulham want success, they need to score more goals. The best teams in the division will put the ball past Rodak regardless of how organized we are or how hard our players fight. Our only hope is to increase offensive productions.
Watching the Whites has at times become exhausting. While one expects the net to bulge every time Liverpool or City attack, there is little belief the same will happen when Cairney or Knockaert dribble forward. This isn’t to say Fulham should be as good as the English champions, but relative to the teams in their respective divisions, they should be closer. Scoring shouldn’t be so exhausting. For the players or the fans.