Yesterday’s result was for me the most disappointing of the
season. That might seem a strange thing to say given that West Brom are, on
paper, the best team that we have played against this season and will
undoubtably be fighting for promotion come May. But with how the game went, I can
only come away frustrated and disappointed. We were in complete control of the
game against a very strong side, but have handed the Baggies a draw away from
home on a plate. We have to learn from this, and quick if we want to stay
within touching distance of the teams at the top.
The big talking point coming away from yesterday’s game, is whether
or not we need a change between the sticks. Marcus Bettinelli hasn’t helped his
cause so far this season. He has always been a decent shot stopper, but isn’t
great in other areas. His distribution has constantly been called into
question, and he is now making mistakes far too often, costing the team points.
But before we start calling for his head, we need to look at things close up,
and then look at things in from a wider perspective.
Well it doesn’t look great, does it? A good corner into the
right area, but why is he flapping at that? And why is he trying to claim a
foul when Austin did what every front man in world football will do at corners?
He just wasn’t strong enough, and his reaction has only made it worse. He has
now come out and accepted the blame, and fair play to him for that, but really
the mistakes need to be cut out.
However, while Betts made the error, there are a couple of other
factors involved in this particular occasion. Firstly, why on earth do we not
have a man in between Austin and Betts? For me, that’s a huge error in
judgement from our defensive coaches if it was supposed to be like that. Of
course West Brom are going to put Austin in there trying to put the keeper off,
so why was Ream, or anyone not there to give him some sort of cover? Also,
Mawson can’t come away from that scot free. He was supposed to be on Semi
Ajayi, but he has let him run off him so easily. For a big lad, he sometimes
doesn’t use his strength. So, while Betts has made the biggest error of all in
this situation, he certainly wasn’t helped by his defence.
Wider perspective –
A lot of people won’t like this, but I think there are a vocal section of fans who don’t help the situation. At Barnsley away I was a couple of rows from the front and Betts was having abuse hurled at him from the word go. His distribution from the start was at it’s usual level, but a number of fans were on his back in a pretty abusive way straight away. This isn’t helping. Now, I know we have all paid hard earned cash to follow the team up and down the country so therefore have the right to express opinions, but for me there is a huge difference between that and just hurling abuse non-stop. If you honestly think that will encourage our players to up their game then you are mistaken. All it does is make the burden heavier and heavier, until someone will turn around and shout back, which is what I hear may have happened yesterday, although I can’t confirm that this. Another example is Cyrus Christie. When he came on against Nottingham Forest a few weeks ago we had some numpties booing him straight away. The guy looked terrified every time he got near the ball, and unfortunately as a fan base WE have to take some of the blame for that. It’s embarrassing.
I have no idea who we will start in goal against Sheffield
Wednesday, but I do think that Rodak must be in with a chance. If Rodak does
get the nod, then it should spur Betts on to up his game. Competition in that
area of the pitch is important. But for us as fans, maybe it’s time to have a
think about how we respond to whoever is on the pitch.
A terrible goalkeeping error from Marcus Bettinelli cost Fulham the chance of ending West Brom’s unbeaten start to the season as Scott Parker’s side had to settle for a point having dominated the Championship’s early kick off this afternoon.
Bettinelli, who was furious at the award of the goal having felt he had been impeded by Charlie Austin as he tried to reach Matheus Pereira’s corner, only managed the tamest of contacts and allowed Semi Ajayi to head home the simplest of equalisers. The tall centre back was delighted to score his first goal for West Bromwich Albion, who were rewarded with a point for their late pressure on the Fulham goal.
The home side looked likely winners once Anthony Knockaert chipped Sam Johnstone from a tight angle outside the penalty area four minutes after half-time, although the on-loan winger later confessed that he was trying to find a team-mate at the far post. The goal was fitting reward for Fulham’s first-half dominance, but it would have worried Parker that his side are still labouring fruitlessly in front of goal despite enjoying so much possession.
Slaven Bilic’s side were disciplined in defence and set up to try and frustrate Fulham but the home side still fashioned a number of chances as they probed away patiently. Ivan Cavaleiro, who endured a frustrating afternoon out wide as he struggled to find a final ball, had a couple of early shots blocked and then an outstanding tackle from Nathan Ferguson denied Bobby Decordova-Reid as he prepared to pull the trigger.
Fulham should have taken the lead midway through the first half when a brilliant bit of vision by Harrison Reed freed Tom Cairney in behind the Baggies defence. The Fulham skipper opted to go high as he bore down on Sam Johnstone but the West Brom goalkeeper managed to tip his finish onto the bar. The former Aston Villa custodian then produced a couple of excellent reaction saves to deny Knockaert and Decordova-Reid in quick succession.
The pattern persisted into the second period, with a desperate lunge from Ajayi almost ending up in his own net as he tried to deal with a dangerous cross from Joe Bryan. Johnstone gathered a downward header from Mitrovic from a set play but Knockaert’s opportunistic finish appeared to set Fulham on the way towards three points – although Parker’s side failed to find the killer instinct.
The expected surge of Fulham pressure never really materialised with Johnstone turning over a Decordova-Reid shot on the turn and a long-range effort by Bryan was deflected wide. Instead, Albion were rejuvenated by Bilic’s double change midway through the second half when he threw on Kyle Edwards and Filip Krovinovic to inject some life into their attack.
Darnell Furlong flashed a drive into the side netting, but Fulham failed to heed the warning and retreated deeper and deeper. Ajayi nodded in the equaliser and the Baggies might well have nicked a winner as well when Furlong headed agonisingly wide from another Pereira corner. Fulham will need to be much more assertive if they have serious ambitions of joining the automatic promotion race.
With the first international break of the season complete,
it’s time to get our minds focused again on Fulham. We had just the four first
teamers in action for their countries in Mitrovic, Ream, Sessegnon and Christie
and it looks as though everyone has come away unscathed. We’ll find out tomorrow
if we have any other injury concerns, but I think that Parker has a squad with
a full bill of health. Harry Artur is suspended, though, so we know already
that he won’t feature this weekend.
We have our toughest match of the season so far coming up on
Saturday. At least on paper, that is. West Brom have always been a tough nut to
crack and now, under the leadership of Slaven Bilic, we are up against a side
vying for automatic promotion. They are unbeaten this season in the league with
three wins and three draws putting them in fourth position in the table. Last
time out they came back from two goals down against Blackburn to win 3-2, so we
know that this team has a bit of metal about them. Encouragingly for us,
though, they have failed to keep a clean sheet this season, so with our front
three of Mitrovic, Cavaleiro and Knockaert we should be able to trouble a leaky
We’ll have to look out for tricky winger Grady Diangana, on loan from West Ham. The England U21
international has scored three goals this season and is the sort of player who
gives defenders headaches. He, alongside Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore, will
give us something to think about. The Baggies squad has a tonne of experience
and know-how at this level, so we will need to massively up our game from the draw
in Cardiff if we are to get anything.
Winning this game would send out the message that we are
going to be fighting at the right side of the table come May. It will hopefully
give us a better idea of where we are as a squad under Parker’s management. If
I’m honest, I don’t think we have seen the best of this Fulham squad yet. OK,
the Millwall game was special, but we need to be playing consistently near that
level if we are to go up. Everything went right for us that night, but we are
going to have very few games were that is the case. We still seem to start
games slowly which is something that we desperately need to get out of our
system. With the talent in our squad other teams should be shaking in their
boots with the prospect of facing us, but everyone knows that defensively we
aren’t as solid as we could be. This gives other teams hope against us.
I suppose the biggest question at the minute for Parker to
be pondering is who does he play in goal. Marcus Bettinelli has been a great
servant for this club, but I worry at the amount of mistakes being made in goal.
While I still think that he is just going through a slump, and is a much better
keeper than what he is showing at the minute, I can completely understand the
calls to let Marek Rodak, our very highly rated number two, have a chance. I
think Parker will stick with Betts for now, but I’d imagine that he doesn’t
have too many chances left.
As I’ve said before, this will be our biggest challenge of
the season so far. Hopefully at 1430 on Saturday we can just enjoy the rest of
the weekend’s football after watching Fulham romp to another win.
After six league games and a League Cup experiment, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what Scott Parker wants his Fulham team to be. Ahead of the most recent game in Cardiff, Scott hinted at the idea that there’s no right or wrong way in football but he believes this controlling, possession-based style is not only how he wants to play but is what puts Fulham in the best position for winning games of football. The start of the season has been mixed with the Whites unable to cope with Barnsley’s swarming pressing in the opening game and then producing the most dominant display in Championship history with a 4-0 decimation of Millwall after close-fought victories over Blackburn and Huddersfield. Nottingham Forest managed to overcome the starvation of the ball with Lewis Grabban clinically putting away their two only real chances of the game, whilst on Friday, a red card saw the trip to Cardiff transformed from Fulham pushing for a winner to battling for a good point in the end.
During this period, academy product Steven Sessegnon tied down the right-back position, thus eliminating one of the few question marks in the starting eleven. The older of the Sessegnon twins will admit he could have done better a few goals against this season but has shown a bite and confidence at full-back that hasn’t really been seen since Ryan Fredericks. Steven has already made more interceptions than any other Fulham player so far this season and looks the part as he looks to follow his brother’s path in establishing himself as a starter for a Fulham side that gets promoted back to the Premier League.
The goalkeeping position remains somewhat in flux. We’ve not been comfortable in our starting goalkeeper since Mark Schwarzer, who left Fulham in 2013. Marcus Bettinelli is a fine goalkeeper in the Championship but I’m still unsure on his potential to win us points and matches. In six fixtures, ‘Betts’ has conceded five goals, made five saves and has two clean sheets. I actually think that the defence has done a good job in reducing the volume of quality chances against our goalkeeper overall but where are the saves when we need it most? The moment we get caught on the transition, where is the goalkeeping equivalent of putting away that 1v1? I don’t think we’ve seen it yet and after Marek Rodak’s promising display at Craven Cottage against Southampton, the pressure is back on Bettinelli (and not for the first time in his Fulham career) to keep ahold of that starting goalkeeper position.
Back to the style of play, under Slavisa Jokanovic in the promotion season, four of Fulham’s top five in terms of short passes completed was midfielders Tom Cairney, Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald and Oliver Norwood. So far this season under Scott Parker, three of the top five are Tim Ream, Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan, with Steven Sessegnon on pace to take over Tom Cairney to enter the top five. In every league game this season, Fulham’s most common passing combination has been Mawson either playing to or receiving from his centre back partner (Denis Odoi in the first game, Tim Ream in the subsequent matches). This does appear to show a far more passive and patient approach from Scott Parker’s Fulham as opposed to Slavisa Jokanovic’s midfield heavy approach.
Fulham visually may have somewhat of a creative problem, but only five teams are above the Whites for shots per game with Fulham level with Middlesbrough and only four teams have scored more with Fulham level with Leeds, Luton and West Bromwich Albion so the numbers don’t quite back that up but it’s perhaps arguable that Fulham have somewhat struggled to create clear-cut chances, a beauty from Tom Cairney, a couple of them from Ivan Cavaleiro and a Mitrovic penalty accounts for four of our ten scored whilst Mitrovic’s header at Huddersfield was created by a moment of madness from Juninho Bacuna. It’ll be interesting to see this progress after the international break with Scott Parker seemingly unsettled on the final piece to his midfield trio: Tom Cairney was partnered by Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen on the opening day before Harry Arter came in to tie down the holding role but most recently Harrison Reed came in for Johansen to take the holding role and Bobby Decordova-Reid has most frequently come into the midfield for his league cameos so far this season.
It’s been a mixed start for Scott Parker’s men with a style of play now very clear but the next step must be improving the link between defence and attack – in the five games we’ve conceded in this season, we’ve won just one of them. High possession is simply going to be how we play this season and once relationships continue to build, the teams settle and momentum comes into play, you hope Fulham can build upon a decent points return from the first six and really start to take a stranglehold on a side expected to compete for automatic promotion.
The overwhelming emotion after Fulham’s draw at Cardiff City on Friday was one of frustration. Disappointment after a chance to take all three points from a potential promotion rival slipped away. Anger at an experienced professional like Harry Arter, whose lack of awareness moments after being booked drew him into a situation where a red card placed his side’s position in doubt. Opporbrium towards another referee who appeared eager to book Fulham players, but showed a single yellow to a Cardiff man despite their sixteen fouls. Angst after Fulham played in fits and starts and never really worked up a head of steam after cancelling out a very preventable opener scored by Josh Murphy.
But strip out the raw emotion and there are some positives to be found. Mostly, in terms of the character of a side that found themselves under serious pressure, a man down in the final quarter, and remained unbowed. It was right that Scott Parker lauded the resolve of his players after the final whistle – there’s no doubt that last season’s Fulham side would have folded in a similar scenario. Tim Ream, Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan were excellent in defence – whilst Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability to do unglamorous defensive work at set plays played a crucial part in the closing stages. This was a precious point to cling onto – that could so easily have slipped away.
Parker managed the game well, too, following Arter’s moment of madness in the corner. He immediately recognised Fulham’s predicament called for Stefan Johansen’s tireless running after the Norwegian had been left out of the starting line-up. The removal of Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert made sense as did the decision to shore up the defence with the late introduction of Maxime Le Marchand. The Fulham manager might have voiced his frustration with how his side had used their attacking weapons in the first half, but his players saw out the game professionally in a hostile environment, limiting Cardiff to just two clear-cut chances. For a team with definite defensive frailties that was particularly encouraging.
There are, of course, still things to work on. Fulham don’t move the ball as quickly as they might when probing for an opening, a point picked up on by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink during his television punditry. It certainly seemed that they didn’t utilise the potency of their wingers regularly enough last night – and left Mitrovic starved of the sort of service he thrives upon. Fulham’s goal was a thing of beauty, but it was too much of a rarity given the way Parker wants his team to play.
To go behind having dominated both proceedings and possession was a real kick in the teeth, but the goal was a calamity. Ream and Mawson are excellent with the ball at their feet for centre halves but the more direct ball to Cavaleiro was a risky one with Harrison Reed, who looked largely anonymous on his first start, Arter and Cairney all unavailable for a short pass. Cavaleiro surrendered possession far too cheaply on his own halfway line and the defensive line was horribly exposed, with Mawson much deeper than his colleagues. Steven Sessegnon, who looked lively at the other end of the pitch, had ventured forward leaving Josh Murphy with a run through to the penalty area, which Mawson only belated attempted to narrow. The winger’s shot was not firmly into the corner by any means – and questions can rightly be asked of Marcus Bettinelli’s positioning and his failure to stop the shot. Such analysis might seem harsh, but the Championship is an unforgiving league – and opponents will relish highlighting any deficiencies.
But the toughness of a team is measured in how they respond to adversity. Bettinelli answered with a magnificent reaction save to keep the deficit at one – and his team-mates went up the other end to score a goal of exquisite quality. The approach play from the back was a little more direct, both Mitrovic and Cavaleiro wandered menacingly towards the box and two lovely touches from Cairney and the Portuguese winger laid a simple finish on a plate for the Serbian striker. Fulham’s frustration will have been that they weren’t able to build on this platform in the second half.
The visitors’ riposte was encouraging. After a shaky start at Barnsley, Fulham have put together a decent opening month. Today’s games will adjust the early league table somewhat, but ten points from six games gives Parker, still a remarkably inexperienced manager lest we forget, something to build upon. He has clearly sought to go back to the Jokanovic playbook in a bid to loose the shackles on Fulham’s most adventurous players and there will still be a lag time in terms of getting his ideas across.
But Fulham, notoriously slow starters to Championship seasons, have shown enough of that silky football to suggest that they can feature heavily in the promotion picture. And if Parker can align that flowing football with the sort of steel shown in the second half in Wales last night then the results could be worth watching as autumn gives way to winter.
The Fulham midfielder, who spent last season on loan with the Bluebirds, was shown a second yellow card for simulation after clashing with Cardiff captain Sean Morrison. Parker felt that there was contact on his player and suggested that the referee might have been too hasty in pulling out his cards.
The question you have to ask yourself is: did he get touched? If he’s got touched, then it’s a foul. Now maybe he has gone down a little bit late, but if he doesn’t go down then they get a corner. I understand what we’re saying here, but if he’s been touched, then it’s a foul. The big question is, has he touched him? And for me, [Morrison’s] clearly gone across him and affected him. That’s just my point, that’s how I see it.
You need to understand, this game’s being played at a ridiculous pace, and when we look at things nice and slow in replays, frame by frame, of course things always look worse. At the end of the day, when the player’s on the field running at pace… Look, I see it for what it is, I understand that, but my point is that if he’s been touched then it’s a foul.
The Fulham manager felt that the dismissal was the pivotal moment in a match that his side had largely dominated until that point – but he was pleased with Fulham’s application as they hung on for a precious point.
It definitely cost us, for sure. I thought first half we were poor and I was really disappointed with us at half-time. Second half we got more control, played the ball a little more, waited for our moment, moved them around a little bit more, and if let like we got a foothold in the game, and I just felt it was a matter of time until we got on top of that.
And then going down to 10 men against a team like Cardiff, a tough opposition, they put a lot of pressure on us, and ultimately I look at it as a point well gained.
Fulham have long been applauded for their artistry with the ball, but Scott Parker’s side had to show guts and organisation tonight as they left Cardiff with a precious point having been reduced to ten men midway through the second half when Harry Arter was shown a second yellow card for simulation.
The Irish international was dismissed after tumbling to the floor following a challenge from Cardiff captain Sean Morrison. The assistant referee, closest to the incident by the corner flag, signalled for a corner to the home side, whilst the referee Tim Robinson initially appeared to give a free kick to Fulham, before changing his mind and fumbling in his pocket for his cards. Arter’s dismissal meant the Londoners had to show considerable fortitude to cling on for a draw, with Morrison missing the clearest opportunity – sending a late header wide after being left unattended at the back post.
The frenzied finale stood in stark contrast to the first period, where Fulham had dominated possession and spurned several chances to open the scoring. A perfectly weighted through ball from Tom Cairney sent Joe Bryan storming into the Cardiff box, but the Fulham full back was denied by a sprawling save from Alex Smithies at his near post. Three minutes later, Ivan Cavaleiro kept his feet in the area despite being hauled back by Morrison and crossed for Anthony Knockaert, who saw his first shot blocked before firing the rebound wide with his right foot.
There was a variation to Fulham’s subtle build up when Mitrovic nearly flicked a more direct ball from Alfie Mawson over Smithies but Cardiff goalkeeper was alert to the danger. Another flowing move saw Mitrovic produce a superb spin at the back post to work a shooting opportunity, but the Serbian striker then produced something of a tame effort when he pulled the trigger.
Cardiff struggled for a sight of goal for much of the half although a mistake from Mawson almost let the home side in, only for the former Swansea centre half to atone in the nick of time with a fine saving challenge as Robert Glatzel lined up a shot. After all of Fulham’s possession they fell behind on the stroke of half-time when Aiden Flint nicked the ball away from Cavaleiro as he tried to turn on the halfway line and freed Josh Murphy with a threaded ball down the left. Murphy sauntered into the box and, after Mawson failed to narrow the angle, drove a shot across Marcus Bettinelli and into the far corner. The Fulham goalkeeper got a hand to the effort – and probably should have kept it out.
Parker’s side might have been two down just moments later. This time, Bettinelli got his angles right at his near post and pushed away Glatzel’s close-range effort as he appeared certain to open his Cardiff account. The visitors showed great character to level matters almost instantaneously, with a flowing move culminating in a moment of Cairney magic to free Cavaleiro, whose first-time cross was clinically converted by Mitrovic for his fifth goal in as many games.
Fulham picked up where they had left off in the second half, although Neil Warnock’s side did at least manage to limit the number of clear-cut opportunities. Steven Sessegnon created one superbly for Mitrovic, who found half a yard of space but saw his shot deflected wide. The former Newcastle forward then turned creator for Arter, who screwed a drive wide from a promising position, before the former Cardiff loanee was shown two yellow cards in quick succession to put Fulham’s position under considerable question.
Referee Robertson, who had proven reluctant to deal with Cardiff’s physical approach all evening, somehow missed Lee Peltier wrestling Mitrovic to floor at the far post as Fulham mounted a rare attack – and the Whites bravely resisted a late Cardiff onslaught. Glatzel sent a free header a couple of yards wide, before Morrison missed the target at the back stick as he augmented the hosts’ attack in search of a winner.
Parker remonstrated with the officials after the final whistle, but the Fulham boss will have been pleased with side’s fight to claim a point that looked unlikely after Arter’s ill-judged indiscretion.
It’s always hard to assess how a manger is doing when he
takes over a sinking ship. That’s what we had last season when Scott Parker
took the reins from Claudio Ranieri with the club needing more than a miracle
to stay up. Parker brought back a sense of togetherness, and allowed the team
to at least bring some joy to the banks of the Thames. I think the majority of
fans were willing to give Parker a summer transfer window and the start of the
season before jumping to any conclusions about him. But now, five league games
into the season, we are beginning to see what Parker’s Fulham really looks
In terms of matches, we have had a relatively simple start
to the league – or at least it SHOULD have been relatively simple. OK, there
are no easy games in the Championship, but we haven’t yet come up against any
of the leagues’ heavy weights such as West Brom or Leeds. Performance wise,
things have certainly been mixed. I was there at Barnsley when we had an
absolute disaster of an opening game and I can tell you that I was worried
about Parker’s tactical awareness. We have a very strong side capable of
hurting teams, but we got the game plan completely wrong. Contrast that to our
game against Millwall were we played some of the most beautiful football seen
this season in an empathetic 4-0 victory under the lights at the Cottage. Before
that we also had a comfortable home win over Blackburn before beating
Huddersfield at the John Smith Stadium.
What have we learned?
Parker clearly likes to play a fast paced, passing game with
full-backs who attack high. We hold a lot of possession, switch the play
constantly and put a lot of balls into the box. A lot of our goals have come
from wingers or full backs making it to the back line and cutting the ball back
for someone to prod home. We also push a lot of players forward meaning that we
over load opposition boxes making it really difficult for teams to clear the
ball. And with players like Mitrovic, Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Reid and Cairney we
should score a lot of goals this season.
However, our style of play comes with a great deal of risk.
As we saw on Saturday past, and on many occasions under Slavisa Jokanovic last
year, that one miscued pass can allow an opposition team to cut through and be
left with a one-on-one with our keeper. Our defence sits very high when we are
in possession, so it’s a lot of pressure on those players to get it right. If we
continue this then we might turn some teams over, but we will surely be on the
end of some bad defeats as well. We also need to be careful that we don’t
become a team with a single way of playing. On Saturday against Nottingham
Forest we attempted 45 crosses with only 10 of them going to a Fulham player. Our
goal came from when we finally kept the ball on the deck, but I really don’t
know why it took us so long to try that.
My other worry is that Parker finished the game with no
apparent system. I don’t believe for a second that putting every attacking
player we had on the bench onto the pitch was plan B, it looked more to me that
there wasn’t another plan so we just went into kamikaze mode. We essentially
had no formation for the last 10 minutes after taking our right back off for a
left winger. Parker had already taken Johansen, a centre midfielder, off for
Bobby Reid, a striker. There was nothing coherent about how we finished the
game, and that does worry me about Parker’s ability to come up with a plan B.
Maybe I’m being harsh, but in any league around the world you have to be able
to adapt your tactics according to each game, not just throw on a load of
attacking players which results in losing your shape.
We come up against Cardiff on Friday night, and while they
haven’t had a great start, we know only to well what a Neil Warnock team can
do. They are tough and will sit back, so Parker will need to think about how he
approaches this. I really like a lot of what Parker has brought back to Fulham.
The team are passionate and they look like they care massively about the fans,
but I’m hoping that we start to see more from Parker tactically speaking.
Michael Obafemi grabbed the only goal of the game as Southampton knocked Fulham out of the League Cup in a low-key encounter at Craven Cottage this evening.
Scott Parker shuffled his starting line-up, making nine changes from the side that were beaten by Nottingham Forest on Saturday, with an eye on Friday’s crucial trip to Cardiff City in the Championship. The Fulham boss handed a debut to former Tottenham midfielder Josh Onomah and a first start to forward Bobby Decordova-Reid, whilst also offering first-team opportunities to Matt O’Riley and Luca de la Torre.
The Whites more than matched their Premier League opponents during a tight first-half, even though Ralf Hassenhuttl stayed true to his word and named a strong side. The hosts made the brighter start with Decordova-Reid rattling the crossbar from an early free-kick and former QPR goalkeeper Alex McCarthy producing a smart reaction save to tip over Cyrus Christie’s header from the rebound.
American midfielder de la Torre, who faded after a lively start, drifted infield effectively in the early stages. He showed great pace to accelerate away from the Southampton defence but skewed a shot wide from a promising position and then similarly lacked the composure to finish a fine move featuring Kamara and Decordova-Reid, who also shot wide from the edge of the box. O’Riley, who sent the game’s first effort high into the Putney End, showed the poise and range of passing that has seen him highlighted as the pick of the academy prospects for the past couple of seasons, but Fulham lacked the punch up front to capitalise on his vision.
Southampton gradually grew into the contest over a slow start and their top flight quality began to show. Marek Rodak had an outstanding game in the Fulham goal, first being called into action as he lunged low at his near post to prevent a Cedric Soares’ cross from reaching two Saints’ attackers. Nathan Redmond looked the most likely to trouble a makeshift Fulham defence, that included stand-in skipper Kevin McDonald at centre back, but the Scottish international denied both him and Moussa Djenpo in quick succession with brave blocks. The bright Redmond threatened again on the stroke of half-time, but drove a speculative shot over the bar.
Southampton stepped things up after the break and put the Fulham goal under some concerted pressure. James Ward-Prowse, impressive at the heart of the Saints midfield, curled a free-kick narrowly over and then, after being presented with a glorious opportunity by a loose Maxime Le Marchand pass, Oriel Romeu was repelled by the onrushing Rodak. Redmond than glanced a header wide from an inviting Ward-Prowse set-play and you sensed an opening was coming.
The Southampton goal duly arrived just before the half mark when Redmond raced down the Fulham left, beating the covering McDonald for pace and squaring perfectly for the teenage Obafemi to slot home his second senior goal from close range. The arrival of Danny Ings and Shane Long as second half substitutes strengthened the visitors’ firepower and only a string of fine saves from Rodak kept Parker’s men in the contest.
First, the Slovenian international made himself big at his near post to prevent Ings from making an almost immediate impact from an acute angle and – after blocking another Ings effort – he plucked a Maya Yoshida header out of the air. McDonald made a couple of saving tackles as Fulham were nearly punished for playing out from the back. It was proving hard for this makeshift Fulham side to get themselves high up the pitch – and the introduction of three debutantes from the sidelines, in the shape of Tyrese Francois, Ben Davis and Martell Taylor-Crossdale, initially broke up the game’s rhythm.
Fulham’s late onslaught never really materialised. The closest the hosts’ came to an equaliser was when Decordova-Reid lashed an effort narrowly wide from the inside left position, although referee Robert Jones missed the clear deflection that had taken it wide of the post. Both Taylor-Crossdale and Francois made their presence felt in the final stages, but the Whites looked for an extra pass rather than the shot as time ticked away and Southampton fully deserved their place in the third round.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Christie, Bryan, McDonald, Le Marchand; Onomah, Johansen (Francois 80), O’Riley; de la Torre (Davis 90), Kamara (Taylor-Crossdale 90), Decordova-Reid. Subs (not used): Norman, Opoku, Odoi, S. Sessegnon.
Scott Parker took responsibility for Fulham’s defeat by Nottingham Forest yesterday – refusing to blame young full back Steven Sessegnon after his mistake left the Whites 2-0 down.
Sessegnon’s lapse in judgement allowed Sammy Ameobi to set up Lewis Grabban for his second of the afternoon to leave Fulham facing an uphill task to get something of the game. But Parker told the press that the mistake resulted from his own instructions to his defenders to play the ball out of the back and that no blame should be attached to the teenage full back on only his third league start for the club.
Parker felt Fulham were good value for a point against Forest, despite being punished for a sloppy start, when Grabban opened the scoring inside five minutes.
I felt like we controlled the game and were in control. But we started slow. I was disappointed with how we started the game to be honest. The first 10 to 15 minutes were on the back foot a little bit. On another day we control the game as much as we did there today and the chances would come. The chances didn’t come our way today.
I always felt comfortable in the way in which we were playing. In the first and second half we played well but for the second goal the mistake came from us. I take responsibility for that, because it’s the way I want us to play and that can happen sometimes. Steven has been top since the day he’s walked in pre-season. It’s his third game and mistakes happen. But, like I said, it’s not Steven Sessegnon’s fault. It’s my fault, if anything. I take full responsibility for that.
Aleksandar Mitrovic did pull a goal back with eight minutes to play, but despite concerted Fulham pressure, the home side couldn’t find an equaliser.
The longer the game went on nobody was leaving the stadium. I don’t think there were any Fulham fans in there who would think we would come away with nothing. We went to a back three and tried to push more bodies further up the field. But nothing came.