Well that was positively embarrassing wasn’t it? Yesterday’s Fulham performance against relegated Reading was nothing short of disgraceful. Not for the first time this season, fans have been left wondering where they can ask for a refund on increasingly over-priced tickets to watch what seemed nothing more than an exhibition in nonchalance.
After losing at Loftus Road to QPR in December there was a genuine feeling of shock at how poor and uninterested Fulham were. Yesterday felt exactly the same. The performance under the early May sun became an ever-worsening comedy of errors that eventually descended into farce.
From a squad filled with more detritus than your average landfill site, to on the day performances laced with so little compassion and energy that you could have been excused for thinking you were watching eleven robots, yesterday will live in the memory as an unfortunate reminder of how not to tackle a late season game, and it could yet have consequences significantly worse, with a two game relegation dogfight for survival looming.
Even amongst the catalogue of glumness, we could and should have still won yesterday’s match. Had Reading been penalised for Stephen Kelly’s clumsy and reckless felling of Dimitar Berbatov inside the area, as they should have been, Hal Robson-Kanu would not have been able to put them 2-0 up. The opening penalty was inside the box by the width of a fingernail, or was it? Match of the day didn’t really care to analyse those finer details.
But refereeing decisions are not tantamount to an excuse. Decisions like those should light a fire under the belly of motivated players, yet ours sunk like shouted at schoolchildren.
In the end it is all quite simple. I had my non-football watching fiancé at the game yesterday, her restricted view ticket, a £58 addition to the three season tickets we already hold (see what I was saying about over-pricing). I kept testing her observation skills by asking for tactical insights, and she stated what seems the blindingly obvious yet seems to go un-preached by those in a position to do some preaching. Our players do not seem to look up when passing, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise, Emmanuelson, Duff and Karagounis particularly guilty of this. There is also no team movement, Reading attacked as a wave, and defended as a group of 11, standing as a single unit. Fulham attacked as individuals and defended as statues.
When you fail to execute the simple things, it is no wonder the complex seems a mile off.
For all this though, we still could have salvaged something from the game. Hugo Rodallega, for all his energy and positive attitude compared to some, missed three chances to score that a striker at this level has to put away, hitting the keeper, post and crossbar is simply not good enough. Profligacy is a reason for failure, not an excuse.
I will lay off tearing into Bryan Ruiz as some seem to be doing, not only his two goals, but his boot was the sole creative asset we possessed all day. Yes he should have scored 4, but at least unlike some, he was trying to go in the right direction.
The real issue yesterday was the defence. Sascha Reither aside, it was a monumentally bad game for the collective back 5 (or 6 if you include an out –of- sorts Richardson). Philippe Senderos, so often unjustly criticised and scapegoated this season, was poor, but he was not alone, Brede was out of sorts, while the John Arne Riise tenure at left back must surely be at an end. Mark Schwarzer had an awful game too, the penalty aside; all the goals were preventable by the last line. In the twilight of his career, Mark’s form over the last 3 months has been outstanding, but on this occasion, Martin Jol’s not so subtle catcalls for a new goalkeeper seem entirely justified.
It is no wonder a performance like this reared its ugly head again, in a season where you lose your best three starting midfields and replace them at a cost of less than a single ticket to yesterday’s game, is it any wonder ambition and progress have been replaced by terms like ‘muddling’ and ‘escape’?
At 40 points it appears the dressing room had thought themselves safe on April 1st. They are not. From 12th to 18th in two games is yet a real possibility and will yet likely depend on results elsewhere. Should the lack of desire be replicated come Liverpool next Sunday, we could do worse than starting the Under 18’s against Swansea following their 3rd consecutive league title. There are certainly a few youngsters who’d contribute more to the first team at the moment than their under-performing older siblings.
To not show ambition is disappointing, but to not show any heart yesterday was equivalent to disrespect – to themselves, to their coaches and to those fans for whom the season doesn’t stop until the end of the final game. Seeing as the team stopped playing on April 1st, can we pro-rate our season tickets?
The winds of change are blowing. This summer must see deadwood expunged and ambition shown. However, we have to get there first. There are two games to go. Let’s join together and show support. Players, fans, coaches all rallying together can turn this game’s negative into a positive. Use this as the fire to ignite some passion for two games and turn all fears of relegation into hearsay.
Yesterday was embarrassing. So Fulham. Come to play next Sunday. Come to win. Or don’t come at all.