The FA cup 4th round tie between Fulham and Sunderland gave many fans reasons for optimism. Fulham played a very good game and were disappointed not to win against the Premier League side. The players, many of which have never played against PL opposition, gave a very good account of themselves and will surely relish the prospect of facing them under lights at Craven Cottage next week. Overall the performance was good but I noticed a few things about some individuals and about our style of play.
The first man up for praise is right back Jack Grimmer. Some young players thrive when thrown in at the deep end while others struggle with the spotlight. I’m happy to say that the young Scotsman is definitely the former. In his first couple of games I wasn’t sure about him but his display on Saturday was absolutely brilliant. He ran all game and followed his man everywhere. A couple of times when Sunderland threatened a quick counter attack, Grimmer absolutely busted his gut in an attempt to get back and slow down the attack. His commitment impressed me the most but he has certainly taken his chance very well and I’m confident that he will just keep improving.
I need to be careful when talking about Marcus Bettinelli because the last article I wrote singing his praises was the day before he got sent off and we lost 5-0. However, I feel that his performance on Saturday deserves a mention! Although we kept Sunderland at bay for most of the match, when you have a player like Defoe in your side, you are always going to be a threat. Our young keeper made a number of superb saves to keep us in the tie and his quick thinking to try and get us on the attack after gathering a cross ultimately caused the dismissal of Jack Rodwell. Obviously the aim is not to try and get other players sent off but it was clear that Rodwell was rattled by the youngsters quick decision making and panicked resulting in him illegally trying to prevent Bettinelli from starting an attack. It was positive play and I reckon Symons is making a point of getting the players to take free kicks and goal kicks quickly to catch the other team snoozing. It has been very frustrating in the Championship this season when Fulham have tried to play straight away from a foul and the referee has been having none of it. One thing that I would say about Bettinelli is that I think a couple of times he probably could have caught the ball rather than tipping it over for a corner, but all in all he is turning out to be a fantastic talent.
I really like the look of Ryan Tunnicliffe. He is another one who will work back, put in a good tackle and breakup play. He is also quite a safe player. Ruiz kept trying to do these fancy little flicks that weren’t always working while Tunnicliffe was keen to find the safe pass. His vision is good so although a pass might be ‘safe’ he plays it early and can start a decent attack. I think he is the sort of player who will learn a lot under Parker and will be a similar type of player to him when he meets his full potential.
I found our style of play quite frustrating at times. We held the ball for much longer than Sunderland but too often we couldn’t find the final ball. Fofana still has a lot of learning to do. At times he looks smashing, while at other times he just holds on to the ball and runs it straight into the defender. I would much rather that he made the pass every time, than tried to go on his own and score one wonder goal a season. If he sorts out his decision making then he could go very far. When he heads back to City he should learn a lot from Yaya Toure as he likes to do the same driving runs that we see so often from Toure. However, the final product hasn’t been there yet so he still has a lot to learn.
There was a noticeable change in Fulham when Alex Kacaniklic came on in the 2nd half. It was the first time that a Fulham player really charged at the Sunderland defence with pace and, again, with better decision making in the final third, Fulham could have had a few more chances because of him. It looks like he has really benefited from his time out on loan and I reckon that he is going to be a key player for us in the 2nd half of the season. It’s important that we kept hold of him this summer.
The final thing I noticed was that it seems that Kit Symons is getting better at his substitutions. When he first took over that was really the only criticism that people were making, that he was waiting far to long to change the team up. I thought that the subs on Saturday were all good ones and it looks like he is learning more every game. It’s exciting to have a manager who really wants to be here for the long haul.
We played better than Sunderland on Saturday and with better decisions in the final 3rd we could have scored a few goals. Now lets not get ahead of ourselves, Sunderland are a struggling PL team, but it is encouraging to see our players really putting in a performance. More of the same will be needed when we face them next week, especially if they have the likes of Adam Johnston back from injury. If we progress we will have an exciting trip to Bradford to face the giant killers. It really could be the year for an exciting cup run for us!
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