Rich has a post up asking if people watched the reserve game against Chelsea last night. As it happens, I took advantage of a friend’s more expansive Sky selection and watched the game from the comfort of his living room rather than braving the cold and a journey – albeit brief – down to Griffin Park on a Monday night.
And I have to say, I was impressed. I was pretty critical of Billy McKinlay’s arrival at the club (for me, it was another example of the ‘jobs for the boys’ attitude that permeated the club under Coleman) and I was even less impressed when McKinlay took over the running of the reserves, especially as he had no previous coaching experience. Whilst it might seem like the perfect low-pressure environment for a recently retired player to learn the coaching ropes, I’d be pretty keen to see a seasoned coach take charge of the reserves, getting the blend between youth and experience right whilst ensuring that the boys played the right kind of football.
Hodgson kept McKinlay on and he seems to be doing a fine job. We seem to be giving some of the more promising youngsters an opportunity rather than using the reserves as a resting ground for those who aren’t getting a look in the first time picture. Of the team that played against Chelsea, only Andranik – who is still working his way back to match fitness – has featured in the first team this season. He looked very good playing at the base of an impressive midfield, which also featured Wayne Brown, who had an encouraging game as well, and certainly showed why he has been on the cusp of breaking into the first team since Hodgson took over.
It was nice to see Matthew Briggs, about whom I’ve only read good things since made a surprise appearance at Middlesbrough the other year, and Danny Hoesen, our young Dutch striker, who came off the bench. Aussie Adrian Leijer captained the side and capped an accomplished performance at centre back by heading home a lovely Brown free-kick from wide on the left to give us a deserved lead.
Fulham could feel mightily peeved that we didn’t come away with all three points as Chelsea offered little in the way of clear cut chances to test young Wes Foderingham and then, inexplicably, were awarded a generous penalty as attackers and defenders got a bit physical in jostling for position at a free-kick. Miroslav Stoch cheekily chipped home the penalty and I feared that our heads might drop, but – if anything – we finished the game the stronger. Indeed, Brown was exceedingly unlucky not to restore Fulham’s lead when Rhys Taylor tipped a fierce shot onto the crossbar and Andranik, on a couple of rare runs forward, might have done better with a couple of late efforts.
The most pleasing thing about watching the game was that the Hodgson imprint has certainly been left on our football at all levels. We looked after the ball with great care, passing it with pleasing confidence and patience. All the boys looked comfortable in possession and, going forward, we looked threatening, even if the finishing wasn’t all it could have been. Competing well against our rich – and yet underachieving neighbours – certainly bodes well for the future.
CHELSEA: Taylor; Ofori-Twumasi, van Aanholt, Mancienne (Saville 45), Magnay; Taiwo, Sawyer (Tabor 67), Smith, Tereja; Di Santo (F Ferreira 45), Stoch.
FULHAM: Foderingham: Cumber, Anderson, Leijer, Smalling; Milsom (Harris 90), Saunders, Andranik, Smith, Brown, Briggs (Hoesen 55).