Reading the Fulham forums and social media on my way back from the Macron Stadium yesterday, I was surprised not to be as downcast as many of the contributors. Given the fact that Bolton’s home form is very impressive and that Phil Parkinson has instigated a mini-revival as they battle doggedly against the drop, I always expected a tough test of the Whites’ incredible start to 2018 – and that is exactly what Slavisa Jokanovic got.
Fulham might have been on a flawess run of the form but it is unrealistic to expect the Whites to be able to steamroller every opponent between now and the end of the season. This result might also prove a useful reality check for the players ahead of the toughest stretch of the fixtures in the whole campaign. Only the most fervent Fulham fan would struggle to concede that Jokanovic’s side were a bit fortunate to beat the likes of Birmingham and Millwall before Christmas and recent games have turned on where Ryan Fredericks’ shot against Barnsley rebounded to and Costil Pantilmon’s catastrophic error in trying to handle Lucas Piazon’s powerful drive. Yesterday, our luck just ran out.
I may be in a minority but I found some of the criticism of Marcus Bettinelli’s goalkeeping more than a little absurd. All of the credit for Bolton’s equaliser has to go to Adam Le Fondre, who was desperate to prove Parkinson wrong for leaving him out of the starting line-up and ran about like a man possessed for the last half an hour. He produced a great incredible finish from with the angle against him that was just too good for Bettinelli. Being the perfectionist that he is, the Fulham keeper will learn from this and look to improve but any analysis of his performance should also include the two terrific saves he made from Zac Clough in the first half – and how he kept out a deflected Le Fondre effort that might have made it 2-1.
For me, the bigger culprit could have been Jokanovic himself. At times, Fulham’s football – especially in the opening twenty minutes yesterday – was sublime and they looked like they could cut through Bolton at will. His decision to replace Lucas Piazon and Rui Fonte after just five minutes of the second half struck me as odd. Presumably, he’d just given a team talk urging his side to continue to play in the same way during the second half and perhaps increase the intensity of their attacking in the final third. It goes against that somewhat to make a double substitution so swiftly.
Had Kamara managed to tuck away that golden chance with his very first touch – having been supplied by Mitrovic – we’d all be hailing the Serbian as a tactical genius. As it was, his intervention badly disrupted Fulham’s rhythm and handed Bolton a chance to get back into the contest. Replacing Fonte, who was struggling to make much of an impression on Bolton’s centre halves the longer the game went on, with one of Mitrovic or Kamara would have made sense. But making those two alterations altered the balance of Fulham’s side and lost the stronghold the visitors had over central midfield, particularly with Ollie Norwood looking below par.
Once Kamara had spurned that opportunity within seconds of coming on, Bolton had their best spell of the game. Don’t get me wrong – Fulham still created enough chances to win three matches, but the superiority of the first half was certainly a thing of the past. In a division as tight as this and, with the manager talking about the need to ruthless, it felt like we let a struggling side off the hook a little.
Fulham also seemed a little reluctant to go for the kill in the first half as well. It seemed strange that just when the Whites had Bolton begging for mercy, they eased off and tried to be professional, both in more conservative passing and the longer it took the visitors to restart the game. Fonte could have killed off the contest when he went through on goal – and the Portuguese forward is probably still thinking about how he didn’t beat Ben Alnwick with that one-on-one. I just hope the memory of Stefan Johansen finding only the side netting after that jinking run across the Wanderers’ penalty area doesn’t rattle around my brain for as long as Chris Martin’s miss at Reading did last May.