That’s back-to-back 0-0s at Craven Cottage against Everton. It wasn’t the dullest of draws and much like Jack Russell MBE, Cam’s painted his own picture of how things unfurled under the lights on Tuesday night.
Clean sheet claimed
On balance, while Fulham were probably the better of the two sides, a draw is still a fair result, it’s a step in the right direction for both camps and who can complain with clean sheets? Not Bernd Leno and his defensive line, that’s for sure. We’ll dissect our wastefulness in the final third shortly but credit has to go out to the boys at the back because they held firm and kept their discipline when they had to, and though neither side hit the back of the net, the Toffees were capable of doing so and we had to remain patient and vigilant as they belted forward on the break.
Shutting down the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Arnaut Danjuma was essential, especially the Dutch winger, in fact, and as he felt the brunt of tough challenges, some maybe more robust than others, the Everton man threw a few wobblies and with that, the lads knew the mind games had been won. If they got inside his head, he’d bite and strop, and that’s exactly how you chip away at guys like him. Right now, Everton need maximum points far more than we do, Sean Dyche would’ve been hoping for a long-awaited victory on his anniversary at the Blues but it’s as if there was a force field protecting both targets.
In the first half, Timothy Castagne came to the rescue to boot the ball off the goal line as it deflected off Antonee Robinson, it was inches from crossing the chalk but nobody stood and watched. Castagne was on-hand to get rid as Robinson tumbled into the net, from where I was perched I was convinced we were a goal down but we didn’t surrender, and we simply kept on going to relieve tension.
We couldn’t break through, and neither could they. A frantic scramble on the goal-line right at the death could’ve swung in their favour, as legs, boots and midriffs battered the ball from pillar to post, a scrappy winner appeared imminent but somehow it never materialised. Fulham backs were pressed firmly against the wall and though it looked disorganised, nobody involved in the melee lost their nerve and we miraculously managed to bundle it clear.
Bodies held their ground in other instances as well, Tosin Adarabioyo and Issa Diop dealt with Calvert-Lewin effectively and they did the same with Beto who, like Raul Jimenez, added to his blooper reel with a miss that’ll haunt him for some time yet. Joao Palhinha nipped it in the bud with scooping slide tackles, precision demolition in progress, it wasn’t a game for budding strikers to take note of, but for defenders, it should be a case study as to why you should never switch off, not even for a split second.
Tom’s technical brilliance
“He’s just so fucking good” is what I whispered softly to myself every single time Tom Cairney received possession and there can be no mistake, he was by far and away the smoothest operator on that field, and that has also been said more than a handful of times this season, too. TC’s suffered injury setbacks, there was a period of his career not too long ago where his future in the professional game was in jeopardy of fizzling out but today’s Tom is willing and able, and with the ball tethered to his left, Fulham’s style on the night, even without a telling final product, was definitely in vogue.
Truth is, with Cairney knitting things together, Silva ball is never out of fashion. Everton’s equivalents couldn’t get anywhere near him, our skipper demanded the ball and spun his magic, his awareness enabled the Whites to settle and he scanned, constantly, for both danger and options .He was two steps ahead of the Toffees. He sees things not even his own teammates can envision, some of the through balls that whisked off his wand were mesmeric, simple passes were planned and mapped, and his footwork in general, in open space or under siege, was prim and proper.
I’m forever in awe of his technical brilliance, there’s beauty in boldness and there was a moment, I think in the second half, blame it on the change of ends, where I literally stood and laughed as Tom ripped the piss out of a hapless nobody. I felt second-hand embarrassment for them, Everton were outstepped by the realest mover and shaker there is and it was lighter than light work.
Cairney claims that while he’s already put pen to paper on a renewed deal, he wishes to end his career in the splendour of Stevenage Road if it were possible. What a statement that is. Natural talents like TC aren’t easy to come by, he is in a bracket of his own in SW6 and it’s not just Fulham fans that fawn over his genius, supporters from the outside also rave about it and if you know ball, if you’ve any common sense, you’ll know that our influential no.10 is a dirty little dancer that never kills the groove.
Antonee’s menacing bleep test
There’s nothing like a good dose of Scouse tears – it was never a handball, was it? We all know he’s got a gaff or two in him every so often but there’s a reason why Robinson’s been subject to supposed interest from elite clubs across the continent. Initially pitted against Ashley Young and Ben Godfrey, Robinson was a mean menace along the left, his interplay with Willian was expansive, as ever, and when he had to dig out crosses, he peppered the penalty area with enticing swingers that really should’ve been met and dispatched by an attacking line that was unfortunately misfiring.
Ashley Young didn’t know what to do with him, Jedi’s gallop is something to marvel when he’s reached full tilt and for 96 minutes, he inflicted misery upon his markers because for the life of them, they couldn’t sting our flying fullback. They were fighting a losing battle from the get-go in that respect and defensively, his judgement was also on point. There a few wingers in this division, or anywhere, that can cope with Antonee’s non-stop athleticism out wide and an ageing Young just isn’t that guy.
If an attacker or indeed an opposing fullback steps to the American, they have to be prepared for an impromptu bleep test and by the time Robinson’s gotten up to speed, his competitors puff and gasp in the background because they just don’t have it in them. The Toffees couldn’t subdue our left channel, they only survived because our aim was amiss but Robbo was a major instigator. He locked it down at the back and prised ‘em wide open on the counter, vital goal-saving blocks were complimented by diaphragm-busting bursts upfield and if we can keep him at this level, right-backs and attackers far and wide will toil in the same way Everton’s did and it will be a common occurrence.
Couldn’t tuck it home
For me, it has to be one of the most exciting scoreless draws I’ve witnessed in a very, very long time and the reason being is because each side fashioned excellent opportunities to break the deadlock and both camps, though we’ll focus on Fulham, choked in front of the target to white knuckle effect.
Countless efforts – an all-time Premier League high of 26 – whistled wide of the mark by a whisker, headers your gran would bury in her allotment were tamely cushioned into Pickford’s thankful clasp and as decent balls flashed into the danger area, predominately from the left as we’ve explored, those that should be in the mix to tuck it home were yards behind the run of play. Pickford may have arms destined for the national history museum but he did complete a jaw-dropping save from a powerful Tosin header but other than that, the England international stopper rarely had to extend himself because our strikers made a meal out of every chance that fell to them.
Decent opportunities came and went, there’s far too many of them to cover but the one that is going to live rent free is Raul Jimenez’s sweetly-struck skewer and how it left the masses – and indeed the Mexican – in a state of utter disbelief. From all but 4 yards out, defenders to avoid or not, Raul’s technique was gorgeous, the contact was sumptuous but there’s a time and a place for that kind of intent and I still can’t pinpoint how he didn’t even manage to hit the target at the very least. From there, a scuff or a wild swipe would’ve done the trick, I commend Jimenez’s attention to detail but it just wasn’t called for, and I think this’ll be the only time I’ll admit that giving it beans from point-blank range really wasn’t the way to go.
He limped out of play shortly after, he may well be out for a few weeks and if we’re to genuinely rely on Rodrigo Muniz and Carlos Vinicius in the interim, we’re well and truly screwed. I don’t know what Carlos has done or said to Silva, but times are really rough for Tweedledee if Tweedledumb is ahead of him in the pecking order.
How are we seriously in a scenario where Muniz is being handed actual Premier League minutes? I can’t knock Rodrigo’s work-rate, he resembles an XL Bully on day release, but he cannot lead the line and he certainly cannot finish his dinner, or even really get remotely close to the goalmouth itself anyway. He is a top level League One striker at best, and as he rose above his marker to dab a last-ditch header directly down the ‘keeper’s throat, his days in the matchday squad have to be numbered.
Obviously, it wasn’t only Raul and Rodrigo that freaked out in prime scoring areas, for whatever reason, we just couldn’t make our second-half dominance pay. This is surely a call for late, late reinforcements, right? Our attacking options are thinner than ever, we’re on our knees for fresh ideas and enthusiasm and when the squad is squandering bread and butter opportunities, when we’re actually creating our fair share of clear-cut chances and nobody’s present to round it off, straightforward questions have to be asked and the answers lie solely in the remaining day-or-so of the January transfer window.
Pereira’s offbeat evening
The Whites upheld a relatively competitive tempo throughout, play zipped from one man to the next with purpose but as soon as the ball worked it’s way to Andreas Pereira’s feet, Everton frequently overturned possession because the Brazilian wasn’t on the same wavelength as his peers. Pereira was offbeat, he has been for a number of weeks now and in Alex Iwobi’s absence, as we’ve no credible alternative, his inadequacies have come to the fore and actually, his season in black and white has been massively underwhelming.
Offensively, Andreas is supposed to operate as a problem solver. He is meant to be the man that connects the midfield and attack, as a central attacking midfielder should, but he couldn’t manipulate the Toffees’ defensive shape, he was regularly caught out on the ball because his positioning invited pressure, his gathering touches were laboured and as we broke forward, he was a peripheral figure and that, for a player that’s meant to be a provider first and foremost, is far from flattering.
We expect so, so much from the 28-year-old, but perhaps he simply isn’t up to the challenge on a weekly basis and maybe, as we’d grafted ridiculously hard in our previous cup outings and as our schedule’s been overloaded with high-octane occasions recently, he is gradually feeling the burn. In a game where he should be causing greater issues to the opponent, he was missing in action, he wasn’t as animated as a playmaker of his reputable standard should be and really, we’re yet to see a solid, honest outing from him and I cannot wait for the Naija Whites to return home. In that area behind whoever it may be up top, Alex’s functionality and ambition couldn’t be needed more than now.