There was something depressingly familiar about our by-the-history book exit from the League Cup on Tuesday night at Burnley. We had not won at Turf Moor in more than half a century and, given the experience I had when attending a game up there, congratulations are in order to those who travelled all that way to see a collection of forgotten men fail at the death.
The BBC called it ‘a strong Fulham side’. I’d disagree. Only Konchesky, Johnson and Gera – at a push given his recent performances – would make my starting eleven for Saturday. Of the others, Stoor is now seemingly considered a second-choice right-back (and when you consinder how Pantsil has started the season, it’s not a contentious decision), Baird is obviously much more comfortable against Championship opponents, Kallio is a decent enough left-back and Andreasen is a defensive midfielder by trade but a passable centre half. The midfield was made up of Andranik, who’s hardly had a look in since the Arsenal game, Dempsey, now obviously regarded as more of a bit-part player by Hodgson than at the end of last season and Konchesky, whilst Seol, who doesn’t possess the physical characteristics to prosper at Burnley, got another start ahead of Erik Nevland. Hardly strong in my opinion.
And that’s the real point to address here. Time after time, Fulham have made meek exits from both this competition and the FA Cup often fielding weakened sides, emphasising the importance of our Premier League survival. Chris Coleman was famous for it. We dismissed the defeat at Wigan with a side that hardly threatened the-then Championship outfit’s goal all evening as an understandable priortisation but subsequent reverses to Wycombe and an unbearable afternoon in the FA Cup at home to Leyton Orient told us all we needed to know about how irrelevant the manager regarded the Cup competitions.
This attitude has always irked me, because as GBLB pointed out on TIFF this week, there is no correalation that proves the often-cited theory that a Cup run has an adverse effect on our league position. Even more then that, the League Cup is probably our only chance of potential silverwear each season. Take a look at the crowds and line-ups from the matches in midweek and you’ll see that the majority of the top sides, who we struggle to match over five games let alone thirty eight, treat this competition almost as a reserve team fixture. Some reserve or youth sides are very good (see Arsenal or Manchester United) but there is definite potential for progression, especially when you are drawn against a lower league side.
What’s more is that, in fan forums and media statements, Hodgson hinted at taking the Cup competitions more seriously. Some Fulham fans have furiously suggested that they were misled by the club about the make up of the side and wouldn’t have travelled to Burnley had they known who, and perhaps just as importantly what, they were going to watch. I didn’t make the trip and so can’t make or dismiss that argument, but I’d suggest that lied is an awfully strong word. Those who have been regular readers know that I don’t mince my words when the great leaders of our club make a mistake, but I’m not going to lead the attack on this one.
I would have liked Hodgson to take it a bit more seriously, but I’d prefer Premier League safety come the end of the season. The side he put out were only beaten by a very late goal so it isn’t as if we gave up the ghost early. But, having watched some extensive highlights courtesy of a friend who works in broadcasting, there was little to write home about. The heavily critcised Chris Baird had a good game playing in his natural position at centre back, whilst Clint Dempsey, who has also come in for some heavy flak of late, and the dependable Toni Kallio were the only players to come out of this defeat with too much credit.
It was not an enjoyable evening and, sadly, it was completely predictable. But if we get three points from the Hammers tomorrow, I’ll forgive Roy.
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Jensen; Anderson (Duff 12), Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan; Alexander, Elliott, Gudjonsson, McCann; Paterson (Rodriguez 85), Blake (Eagles 75). Subs (not used): Penny, Kalvenes, Mahon, Van der Schaaf.
GOAL: Rodriguez 88.
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Zuberbuhler; Stoor, Kallio, Baird, Andreasen; Konchesky, Adranik, Gera (Pantsil 73), Dempsey; Seol (Milsom 90); Johnson (Nevland 72). Subs (not used): Stockdale, Leijer, Brown.
REFEREE: M Jones (Mansfield).