The aim of football is very simple; score more goals than your opponent within the time given to win the game. It is not particularly surprising, therefore, to link Fulham’s poor goal scoring record this season with our league position. Out of 24 teams, we are joint 17th in terms of goals scored with 19 in 17 matches. Last year we scored 85 overall (before the play-offs) and to achieve this tally again we would have to score on average 2.3 goals a game in the 29 games we have left. How have we managed to get so poor in front of goal this year? What needs to be done for Fulham to get the goal scoring mojo back?
First things first, we need to look at who scored last year and how they scored. How many headers, tap-ins, individual moments of brilliance, team goals and own goals went for us in a season where we seemed to score for fun? We had 15 goal scorers in the league last year and these are shown in the table below. The table also shows the assists and I’ve added Ryan Fredericks in because, although he didn’t score last season, his assist tally was one of our highest-
Out of the 85 goals scored last season, 28 of them came from players who are no longer at the club. We also have to account for the 16 assists lost from those players, 10 from Sone Aluko alone. The other factor that we have to consider is the way we scored last year and this is shown in the next table-
A considerable amount of our goals came our feet and inside the main body of the box while only 9 of our goals came from headers from anywhere inside the box. This tells me that our desire to play the ball on the ground into the box or across the face of goal was what helped us score so many goals last year. The fact that we only scored 9 headers tells us that we aren’t particularly clinical from set-pieces (no surprise there) and that we rarely use a floated ball into the box to create chances. If we think back to the game on Saturday evening v Derby, we can see that we are trying to play the same way as we did last year but aren’t having the same successes. Everyone could see Fonte jumping up and down trying to get both Odoi’s and Fredericks’ attention every time they came charging forward on the wings, but we didn’t start looking for the high cross until after he had been replaced with Kamara. I can only imagine how frustrating that was for the striker.
When I think back to the summer when Fulham were seemingly buying enough wingers for them to have their own team, I realised that it is because Slavisa Jokanovic wants them to be a key component in our game. With the vast majority of our goals coming from feet inside the box, he knows that when you have the right personnel, moving the ball fast and having wingers put the ball into the box on the ground is a brilliant way to beat teams. The trouble is that Sone Aluko and Scott Malone between them were brilliant at driving the by-line and pulling the ball across the box low for someone to drive home, but both of those players have gone, Shey Ojo hasn’t quite been able to replicate their work while Jordan Graham and Yohan Mollo have been side-lined a bit. At the same time Lucas Piazon has been out injured and Fredericks and Odoi don’t seem to be able to hit the same areas. Our wing backs are both good players, there is no denying that, but their final ball hasn’t quite been as good.
However, we can’t just blame the wingers or wingbacks for a lack of service, as whenever they do manage to put a good ball into the box our strikers and midfielders aren’t charging in where they should be to get on the end of it. In order for those tactics to work you need to-
- Move the ball with pace so that the defence struggle to get into position.
- Have players moving into the box at pace to make it harder for defenders to mark.
I don’t think we have been very good at either of these things so far this season which has resulted in us scoring far less despite all of the possession. Either we aren’t getting into the box at all, or we are getting there too early, standing still and becoming a defender’s dream instead of a nightmare. It is easy to mark some who is standing still. Movement is key.
What I learned from the Derby game is that we are beginning to play like we did last year, moving the ball a bit faster and having a bit more joy from the wide areas, but I still think that we need to keep the bar high and keep improving. I don’t think the tactics are the problem at the minute, it’s that we aren’t fully committing to those tactics. If we get the ball to Fonte and Kamara in the box I fully expect them to start hitting the back of the net alongside goals from our midfielders if they start making those key runs into the box. Hopefully we can start tonight against Sheffield United and kick start our season from here.