Positives and negatives: Stoke City 2-3 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 23rd January 2022

It was a close win, but it was a vital win. Cam covers all the juicy bits from Saturday’s dramatic victory.

This is the victory of the season. A game that comprised multiple twists and turns, Marco Silva’s Fulham came from behind, went ahead and were pegged back before they secured the victory in emphatic style, and in seasons gone by, the Whites would’ve settled for a point all day long. Michael O’Neill’s Stoke City were organised; a contingent that would scrap until the death, so for the Whites, at a ground which has never been overly forgiving, this result is a tremendous indicator of our table-topping credentials.

Numbers: we love ’em. 22 goals in four games; a goal difference of +48 with 73 goals scored; four consecutive dubs. Fulham are now eight points clear at the summit and flying, as those around us plummet to new lows. The brand of football on show is mesmeric, the togetherness within the camp is contagious, and with two undisputed first-team favourites out of contention, those that were fielded proved that we are blessed with strength, depth and a collaborative purpose. This team of ours, as we know already, is special.

Positives

Embed from Getty Images

Rodrigo Muniz

Playing football for Fulham, even as Aleksandar Mitrovic’s understudy, is bundles of fun and Rodrigo Muniz, beaming and delighted to pull on the famous jersey whenever he’s required, is a credit to the club. Mitro didn’t travel to the Bet365 Stadium, so the young Brazilian was entrusted to begin proceedings at the tip of the spearhead and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Striving to emulate the Championship’s runaway top scorer, Muniz intensified our press, he thrived in physical altercations and in front of the target, the 20-year-old’s predatory instincts came to life. The Whites responded immediately after going behind in the first minute of play, and it was Muniz who emphatically fired our response.

Shadowed by two defenders, Rodrigo tamed possession just within the penalty area with his back to goal. In one synchronised dip of the shoulder, eyes locked on the ball, conscious of his surroundings, he swivelled and blasted into the top right-hand corner. Throughout, the aspiring punisher hassled Stoke’s rearguard, he frequently dropped into advantageous vantage points, and as our second grazed off his heel, a (possible) brace is the resounding reward for his enterprising input. He also cracked the crossbar from the corner that brought the winner, so for all of our pivotal moments, the willing striker took centre stage, and it’s clear that he’s built for the rigours of the English game. Encouraged by the generous reception he received from Fulham’s following, Muniz refused to relent as all he wants to do is make everyone affiliated with the club proud and pleased, and we’ve no reservations where his respective outing’s concerned. Fired-up, absorbed in the occasion, Muniz enforced his duties superbly, and when players take to the turf with infectious smiles, buoyed by their inclusion, their game skyrockets.

Reed is restless

Patrolling within a stupidly competitive midfield third, Harrison Reed examined every single inch to defuse and ignite, enhancing Fulham’s control with a diligence that never dissipates. An expert in endorsing the basics of his trade, Reed anticipated trouble as the Potters advanced and he safeguarded vulnerable central areas attentively, biting back to relieve the hosts of possession. A sensible distributor, the 26-year-old complimented the Whites’ passing phases, he moderated the game’s cadence and he was rarely outmuscled. Reed turned possession over during the build-up to Rodrigo’s first, he perfects simplicity, however the complexity within Harrison’s role is far from rudimentary.

With an immovable persistence, urged by the magnitude of the encounter, our Ginger Iniesta triggered a retaliation, he initiated a reprisal, and he instigated a resurgent collective effort that eventually won Fulham three excruciatingly hard-fought points on the road. His focus is unflinching, our restless anchor isn’t satisfied until he’s restored order and in the searing heat of the moment, under the weight of conflict, Reed remained cool, calm and collected, extinguishing Stoke’s impetus with a significantly invaluable commitment, a steady endurance that the hosts couldn’t echo, or withstand.

Fabio Carvalho

Embed from Getty Images

Driven, direct, carrying possession into the final third productively, Fabio Carvalho was a leading protagonist in Fulham’s stubborn performance and while our second of the afternoon may not strictly belong to the exhilarating teenager, praise and acclaim is the very least he’s deserved of. Compilation videos are beginning to surface, the planet is closely admiring his dizzying ability to influence affairs and in Stoke, vibrantly animated, the 19-year-old stimulated the senses and generated additional intrigue. Combining with Tom Cairney, who was also sublime, as per, Fabio exuded a quality that – even at his tender age – was superlative.

Carvalho’s a gifted technician, his compelling dexterity enlivens Fulham’s offensive patterns however defensively, as the Whites fell back in retreat, the enticing attacker exercised a tenacity that unsettled Stoke’s attempts to attain command. Hunting, ambushing the hosts and springing traps, Fabio’s investment was grippingly coherent, he gained ground convincingly on the break and preserved territory defensively, and as we’re all still anxious to acknowledge where his immediate future resides, we have to appreciate his bourgeoning brilliance because no matter of where and when, the starlet’s a key component of Silva’s system until further notice.

Bobby De Cordova-Reid

Assigned along the right to deputise in Harry Wilson’s absence, Bobby De Cordova-Reid’s impression upon the starting XI couldn’t have been more profound. Secondary to Wilson, BDR’s relevance this season hasn’t been constant, we haven’t been so reliant on his interchangeable adaptability, however although he isn’t necessarily perceived to be a nailed-on starter, the Whites can readily depend on the Jamaica international, as and when his exclusive offensive faculties are in demand.

Energised along the chalky parameters, Bobby darted into profitable positions and while his final product wasn’t consistently favourable, he devised Fulham’s second with an intelligent pull back that allowed Carvalho to strike. A tried and tested wingback, the 28-year-old’s vitality at both ends of the park is beneficial, and as Josh Tymon ventured in possession, BDR stalked. Bobby isn’t particularly goal-shy, but his tally this season suggests otherwise. Before Saturday, he’d only found the back of the net twice, and as he hadn’t bagged since mid-October, the drought was begging to be relinquished. Striding onto a loose ball, 18-or-so yards out, his third conversion of the campaign was recorded, a ferocious first-time howitzer that jetted into the roof of the net. Dry spell renounced, three points secured, BDR back in the headlines for all the right reasons.

Knockaert understood assignment

A bona fide trickster, a legitimate master of shithousing, Anthony Knockaert haunts Silva’s selection process like the spectre of Scott Parker’s past, and in the closing minutes, stripped and ready to bring urine to the boil, sabotage was top of the forgotten Frenchman’s agenda. Knockaert is a trier, admittedly, he’s probably one of the hardest grafters in the team and at 3-2 up, clinging onto the spoils, he understood the assignment and accomplished his responsibilities marvellously.

Antagonising Stoke, goading them into needless entanglements, Anthony administered the dark art of time wasting to prolong the hosts’ anguish as they chased a late leveller. He robbed possession from under their noses and headed for the corner flags, a Crash Bandicoot excursion adorned with redundant step-overs. Teams need men like Knockaert, a figure of intransigent mockery and, in the name of conservation, the 30-year-old acted accordingly to irritate the Potters and the seconds passed us by. Never change, Knockers.

Negatives

Return of the Jedi

Embed from Getty Images

Back in the box, equilibrium restored, Antonee Robinson, following a brow-raising outing against Birmingham City, stayed true to his usual self in Staffordshire with spooned passes, hideous first touches and illicit positioning that was ensnared by Stoke’s press. All I ask for is one average, ordinary afternoon from the American, just so I can have a week off from slating him and all that he does. It’s becoming tiresome.

I completely agree that there’s a decent left-back within Jedi, somewhere, however in the Potters’ company, the trembly fullback was identified as a weak link, a dodgy element, and as we winced in unison at the sight of his poorly managed custody of possession, his rightful place in the negative section, a constant of these pieces, was reinstated.

Kenny’s smashed taters

I really hope Kenny Tete’s taters are okay. Without dwelling on this too much, because it’s making the pit of my stomach curdle, Tete was subbed off in the 51st minute after his knackers were maltreated and as he sidled off, clutching jewels, all was definitely not well.

It shouldn’t keep him out, the pain does eventually subside, however before his impromptu exit, the Dutchman’s exploits were teetering on the substandard side of adequate, so a change of personnel where he’s concerned was potentially required anyway. Nevertheless, rest up, Kenny, and don’t forget the bag of frozen petit pois, either.

Conceding, a concerning byproduct

Of course, we’re netting goals as though they were going out of fashion, although I’m really not at ease with the amount we’re shipping at the moment, particularly against the run of play. Stoke’s first goal, diverted by D’Margio Wright-Phillips, was a classic case of being caught flat-footed. It was preventable, however it can be excused somewhat as it stunned us into action. Their second, another long-range firecracker, was certainly detectable, we didn’t close Lewis Baker down, at all, and he detonated.

Marek Rodak could have done better, it’s not like the ball carved its way through a forest of bodies, however it’s a combined defect of ours, a concerning byproduct of an all-out attacking strategy, and it has to be ironed out. That’s six goals conceded in three games, and it’s alarming because we’re flirting with the possibility of being a few goals down against a side that will sit on a slender lead, obstinately. There are plenty of teams in the Championship that are equipped to resist an onslaught, so if we’re going to gift soft goals, we have to ensure that our strikers are firing and that, invariably, is not going to happen every so often. Our defensive faults are far from detrimental, but they could land us in deep, hot water if we continue to leave the door ajar.