There is simply no getting around it. Brentford have our number. Perhaps the most disappointing part of yesterday’s exceedingly underwhelming return to the Championship action was the predictability of it. Fulham did what they’ve done for most of the season. Play pretty, large low tempo football up until the final third and failed to take the chances that came their way. Our opponents were feisty, seemed to grow in both fitness and ambition as the match went on – and ruthlessly exploited Fulham’s defensive naivety at the death.
The causes of such fragility feel like they have been done to death by this point. Far too many goals arrive down the Fulham left – and yesterday’s devastating double blow was the perfect case in point. Joe Bryan was missing in action not just for the first goal, where Brentford utilised an overload that nobody in white appeared able to react too, but the second saw the Fulham left back caught horribly up the pitch as well. For all he adds going forward – and you understand why Parker might want to ask his full backs to push on given playing with inverted wingers – this liability is too much to bear.
What Bryan has going in favour are a distinct lack of alternatives in his position. Maxime Le Marchand has been less than impressive since his arrival from France last season – and there are rumours that a close season move to Lens might be close. Denis Odoi has experience as playing as a left back in Belgium – and occasionally in a Fulham shirt – but that would be a drastic step. Anyone who remembers Tim Ream’s extremely reluctant sojourns forward from left back on his few appearances there won’t exactly be clamouring to repeat the experiment.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just left back where there are question marks for Parker. His whole midfield is something of a puzzler at this point. Harrison Reed might be the only man to emerge with any credit from Saturday’s debacle – as dogged and determined as he was (see Frankie’s exactly analysis for a more detailed explanation of why his return was so impressive), that rather tells its own story. I felt the intensity of a derby, where energy both in and out of possession is so important, would make Stefan Johansen indispensable, but he only appeared as a very late substitute when the game had gone.
There should be a case made for Kevin McDonald’s experience here too. The Scottish international might not be the quickest, but his game was never based around explosive pace. McDonald’s reading of the game is exceptional and seems something of a shame that he has been usurped by Harry Arter for much of this season, especially as his leadership qualities offer so much to a squad that might be suffering from a lack of belief around now. A combination of McDonald and Reed would at least make Fulham far tougher to play through now that the path to Premier League simply depends on winning.
The passive, possession-based football is nothing new, but its futility against a well-drilled defence stings when you are beaten with a couple of sucker punches. Parker’s penchant for inverted wingers has been with us for a while, but it sometimes seems like our side is over-coached for the amount of flair players we field. Tom Cairney’s creativity has been one of the shining lights of Fulham’s time in the Championship, but he seemed to drift through the game just when we needed a spark to unlock the Brentford back four. Whether that was fitness or a tactical ploy is unknowable, but the end result was that Aleksandar Mitrovic was left horribly isolated, feeding on scraps up front.
Bobby Decordova-Reid began the game brightly in the number ten role, but you have to wonder whether Cairney will be the better fit in a position he has made his own over the years. Decordova-Reid should have scored the chance wonderfully fashioned by Reid early on – and it seems the story of his season that we’ll be ruing the glorious chances he missed rather than reflecting on the goals he scored.
Parker was slow to make substitutions yesterday – not for the first time, I might add – and it arguably cost Fulham the game. A reinforcement in central midfield didn’t arrive, whilst Ivan Cavaleiro was left waiting for seventy minutes on the sidelines before flattering to deceive when he did come on. For a squad full of attacking talent, Fulham were pretty one dimensional when things aren’t going well – and that will need to change quickly, especially if our season comes down to a play-off shoot out as appears likely.