Keep those heads held high, people. This is all part and parcel of supporting Fulham and Cam is optimistic we’ll mount a grandstand finish in a fortnight’s time.
Feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t going to do any of us any good whatsoever. We were ahead, we switched off in the only way a Fulham team can at Anfield, but first blood to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool doesn’t mean we should give up hope. Save those tears, jubilant or otherwise, for the final whistle on 24 January; this two-legged meeting is not a forgone conclusion and believe you me, it ain’t even started yet.
The opening chapter of our first domestic semi-final in 22 years didn’t go our way but at least it wasn’t a drubbing. Needless rabonas aside, we gave a very good account of ourselves against England’s in-form team, a side without Mohamed Salah, Alison, Trent Alexander-Arnold and so on, but they were still blessed with genuine headliners and while the tabloids will drool over their red-hot resurgence, the narrow score line will still remain the same and to that, we certainly played our part.
It’s not over yet
Just stay in the tie. Give it all you’ve got, but don’t allow this first-leg to slip away. Whatever you do – win, draw or lose as we did – remain relevant and give yourselves a fighting chance at the Cottage. The stakes couldn’t have been higher as Fulham travelled to Merseyside for what feels like the umpteenth time this season but this meeting had the potential to be an all-timer, one of the greatest games in our club’s history and it while it was anything but, our nerves took one hell of a pasting. What a rush. What a strangely enjoyable feeling.
It is not a dream to reach a major cup final, as Silva says, it is an ambition. There probably wasn’t a better time to face Liverpool. In truth, there’s actually never a perfect time to lock horns with one of the continent’s serial title winners but as the Reds have major absentees and unwelcome squad issues to contend with, the Whites had to trust their underling ability and morale above all else and I’d say our dignity is still intact, and I genuinely mean that.
If we showed too much respect to Liverpool, they’d run amok. If we gave too little, we could’ve been our own worst enemy. We had to find the right balance, the ideal mixture of desire, intent and sensibility and with emotions being so high, as first impressions count in first legs, asserting ourselves when it mattered was always going to be of utmost importance.
Liverpool are extraordinarily familiar with nights such as these. Double-headed knock-out rounds are second nature to a superpower that’s literally won it all but it was an occasion to savour for the Whites, an opportunity to stamp their credentials at a stadium that’s hosted some of the planet’s greatest clubs in varying tournaments across the decades and while our concentration wasn’t everlasting, we caused Liverpool problems, troublesome situations to defuse and for them, it was relatively hard going. As we head towards the showdown of the decade, we have to remember our worth and if the lads claim to enter each occasion without fear, we have to really mean it.
Klopp’s men will believe they’ve one foot in the final. They have the advantage, it is in their hands and in winning positions, they’re rarely beaten. Fulham, however, do have a toehold in this drawn-out encounter. There is still so, so much to play for, we have to summon Europa League levels of defiance on the 24th and if we hark back to the days of monumental comebacks, we should know that this is far from over. Nothing was gained but in the same breath, nothing other than the result on the night was lost indefinitely, either.
Willian’s weaving brilliance
Simply exquisite. Taken like a seasoned show-stopper that’s graced the biggest of stages for over 15 years, because he has, Willian’s twinkle-toed opener bamboozled, the turf was greeted by red backsides as the Brazilian weaved his brilliance and as he jabbed goal bound, he ‘megged Sky Sports’ darling Virgil van Dyke for good measure. What a sensational promotion for patience in gilt-edge scenarios, if only others could follow suit.
He could’ve snatched at it, he could’ve tried to swindle a penalty from under David Coote’s nose but Willian’s a player that balls in all the right ways, an honest competitor who’s sole purpose is to entertain and thanks to his calmness, we have something to cling onto and that is invaluable. We may not have seen a great deal of Antonee Robinson and Willian, not as much as we did at the beginning of December but the 35-year-old was very much present and his involvement was vitally significant.
Harrison Reed (C)
Donning the captain’s armband like a badge of honour, Harrison Reed set a prime example in the centre of the park alongside Joao Palhinha, who was slightly off the pace, and as Liverpool dominated possession, particularly in the first half, the stand-in skipper refused to become a bystander. He readied himself for some of the toughest yards of his career, he chased lost causes, he initiated the press and as he so often does, he conducted himself with professionalism, until he was relieved of his duties on the hour mark, battered and bruised.
He possibly should’ve done better as Liverpool carved out the leveller, it’s a challenge he’d usually come out on top of but momentum was always going to carry Jota through Harrison and he cannot be blamed for that. Others could’ve stepped in once play had moved towards our penalty area and as we’ll discuss later, our entire defensive fortitude went walkies in those crazy few minutes where the Reds gained the upper hand.
He may not be the most dynamic of midfielders, forward thinking isn’t his specialty but what he does have is an untiring ethic, a commitment that didn’t rest and he didn’t lose sight of his responsibilities both as a leader, and a midfield disruptor. I doubt it’ll be the last time we see Reed (C) on the team sheet, he may not be granted that privilege on a regular basis but he embodies everything a skipper should be, and he has learned it all from the very best SW6 has to offer.
Three minutes of torture
For 68 minutes our defending and discipline whilst maintaining our shape off the ball was exemplary, but the three minutes that followed Curtis Jones’ deflected equaliser were torturous. The Reds couldn’t break us down for the most part; 10 white shirts stood in their way ahead of Bernd Leno’s target but they were knocking, violently, and as they eventually drew level with a ridiculous slice of fortune, our composure went to the dogs and it invited a frantic resurgence from the hosts.
Our game plan was to frustrate, to absorb as much pressure as we possibly could and if we could nick a goal, superb. At unforgiving grounds such as Anfield in games of this magnitude, holding firm for 90-plus minutes isn’t sustainable and we found out the hard way, yet again, in typical Fulham fashion. Liverpool’s tails were bolt upright, they sensed vulnerability and they took full advantage of it in a devastating 180-second onslaught.
To our credit, we didn’t succumb to even further punishment after Cody Gakpo dabbed his side into the lead – a hugely important Leno save denied Darwin Nunez from yards out and it couldn’t have been more crucial – but the manner in which we crumbled midway through the second half is hurtful to say the least. In a flash, unceremoniously, we let our guard down and we were hit with a damaging quick fire combination and it really should’ve been avoided.
Within a matter of seconds our collective mettle had gone MIA, we were well on our way to recording a history-making victory, even a draw would’ve been unthinkable but the Whites don’t make things easy for themselves and really, they never have done. We lived a charmed life in heart-stopping patches, Tosin Adarabioyo lacked urgency and could’ve been robbed one too many times, Robinson stumbled over possession to allow Liverpool to advance, a Liverpool goal appeared inevitable as the game progressed and their persistence soon told.
Nothing could really be done about the equaliser, however with the ball under foot at the restart, that’s when we should’ve sucked in a deep breath in unison, we should’ve gathered ourselves but we just couldn’t suppress the Reds’ rampant eagerness to exploit our sudden headloss and of course, as always, that is on us and nothing else.
Ruing that spurned opportunity
He will know the error of his ways once he views that spurned opportunity to supply a nailed-on second for Fulham. Instead of shooting from an angle which wasn’t going to beat Caoimhín Kelleher, ever, Bobby Decordova-Reid should’ve lifted his head and hit Andreas Pereira on the penalty spot but he went for false glory instead. Oh dear indeed.
Nobody can really be sure whether Andreas was going to reach the cross first if it had arrived, it’s a case of whataboutery, the ball into the danger area would’ve had to have been flawless and usually, I’d have lumped everything I own on Decordova-Reid to supply the goods, rather than fire blanks.
If he could’ve driven a strike at the target from where he was, BDR could’ve almost certainly laced a decent ball into Pereira’s path and given the bleach blond Brazilian’s positioning, just ahead of Ibrahima Konate, the likelihood of Fulham going two goals to the good was massively plausible. Now, in cold, sobering hindsight, we’re ruing Bobby’s selfishness and we’re hung-up on what ifs and what could’ve been and that is why football is so terribly cruel.
I suppose, as a striker which had beaten Liverpool’s defensive line with fresh air to blast into, BDR presumably thought he had the right to go for goal, it’s instinctive, but it’s actually so unlike him to not have listened to the call (if there even was one) and I know that in the reverse fixture, he will be extra motivated to make amends. We can’t pin the loss on Bobby, that just isn’t fair or even remotely correct, but it’s a proper head-in-hands moment for the usually dependable attacker and he cannot hide from or escape that. All we ask is he does better in two weeks, and we all know damn well that he will.