With a tricky run of fixtures on the horizon, Will Gardner explains the need to keep some perspective.
Two frustrating games have come and gone and we’re left walking away with zero points. Frustrations are starting to grow after we conceded another late winner against a top four team, and endured an irritating second half where Spurs stifled us to make sure we had nothing to show from the match. With a tricky run of games coming our way, I’m trying my best to look at the bigger picture, not get too frustrated, and remember that cool heads always prevail.
For large parts of both games we looked good, especially in the first half against Spurs where we were able to get a foothold in the game and take control and play to our strengths. Seven out of our 10 shots came in the first half, and it took a quality strike from Harry Kane right on the stroke of half-time to turn the tide in Spurs’s favour. For any xG fans out there Kane’s goal registered at 0.05xG while his header in the second half which was superbly tipped over by Leno registered at 0.41xG, so essentially the header in the second half was almost 10 (8.2 to be exact) times as likely to be a goal than his actual goal.
Nevertheless, that goal completely changed the strategy for both teams. It left Spurs with a foothold and in total control, while we were chasing our tails. Because of that we seemed to rush our attack and Spurs were able to try and catch us on the break, by them remaining solid and us trying our best to break their back five down, we ended up not creating any completely clear-cut chances.
While Newcastle were mostly in control for our match up in the North East, with 62% possession and 20 shots, we still had the chance to take the lead with Mitro’s pen. It’s probably time to talk about penalty takers now. I want Mitro to bag a ton of goals, but I also want us to win, and that’s at least three, maybe even five points dropped, if we were to hold on and win against Newcastle.
But Newcastle are a solid side and while they may not be scoring bags of goals, they’re still going to finish in the top four, and a last minute loss to a top-four side is apparently bread and butter for us.
Both these games are frustrating. They’re frustrating after four wins on the bounce in the league, and they’re frustrating because of how Mitro has been nullified by their defences and our attack has been stifled because of it. But what would football be without frustrations? What would supporting Fulham be without them? If our irritations now are not getting wins against a sky-high Newcastle and Champions League-chasing Spurs, rather than dropping points in a relegation scrap against West Brom like a couple of years ago, something is definitely going right.
Coming up in the next few weeks have Chelsea again, who have now brought an electric Mudryk into their team. Then there’s Forest, who have put a run of performances together to move up to 13th. That’s followed by a tricky fixture against a formidable Brighton side who are flying under de Zerbi, then Wolves, who are on a curious run with their new manager, and Brentford who will be looking to exact revenge after our win earlier this season.
We eventually have title-chasing Arsenal (I can’t believe it either, fair play to Arteta), and finally we’re away to a struggling Liverpool side, who would have played Real Madrid in the Champions League a few days before, so may be there for the taking. After this onslaught of top half or in-form teams, things settle down again and we’re away to Bournemouth and home to West Ham, where we should be looking for maximum points.
It’s a tricky run of games, and there’s a possibility that we could walk away with as little as three-to-five points out of a possible 26. The narrative surrounding the team in the media will change. Instead of seeing comments like “Fulham look the real deal” and “never mind relegation they could be looking at Europe,” there may well be comments about us being drawn towards the bottom half of the table, or us struggling. Key players may drop out of form when on the back foot, we’ll have weaknesses exposed and frustrations will shine through. Eight games is a long time in football; we need to make sure that heads don’t drop.
Reasons to be cheerful
We’ve proved time and time again this season that we are a force to be reckoned with. After going 1-0 down to Forest, we flipped the game on its head and were singing at 3-1 in a space of a few second half minutes. Sitting at 2-0 up against Brentford we could’ve rolled over and handed the game to them after they brought it back to 2-2, heads could’ve dropped, morale disappeared, but we walked away with three points. Even against Southampton, they put us under pressure, didn’t let us play our way, pulled a goal back and we could’ve crumbled. Instead we dusted ourselves down and got the winner.
These lot are a team of battlers, these lot are a team of fighters, and they won’t roll over just because another team is on a good run of form or are sitting higher in the table. We are more than able to turn up and ruin someone’s day out. With a couple of losses the praise may drift away from the media. Match of the Day may point out how our back four wasn’t flat enough and prove it with those little lines they draw. Neville and Carragher may both take a deep breath around the end of February and go “you know, I’m worried about Fulham, look at the games they’ve got coming up. I can’t see where they get points here.” But we know, after last season and this season, Marco and the boys are made of sterner stuff than that.
We may have a tricky time of it, but that’s why we’re in this league, and our reaction will prove that we belong here.