Fulham have been here before. Let’s flashback to last December where Scott Parker’s side started the month with defeats by Bristol City, Preston North End and Brentford, sparking the first questions about the rookie manager’s tenure at Craven Cottage. Along came a crunch clash with high-flying Leeds United, where a rather generously awarded Aleksandar Mitrovic penalty and a Josh Onomah thunder-bastard stole all three points and sparked a run of just two defeats in fourteen league matches leading up to lockdown.
Suddenly, football is back and everything seems a bit different. That unbeaten run is certainly a thing of the past. As if you need reminding, but Fulham’s own restart has been woeful. Damaging defeats by Brentford and Leeds left their already tenuous automatic promotion hopes virtually destroyed. It felt like a local derby against QPR would prove pivotal for Parker – a defeat might not have been terminal, but the questions following three successive slip-ups would have followed him all the way to the end of the season and perhaps beyond.
Last night was never going to one for the purists and nobody was expecting the fluent football to return in such a high pressure game. But it was a scrappy, error-strewn affair, and Fulham prevailed thanks to strikes out of nowhere from Harry Arter and Cyrus Christie. The three points shouldn’t paper over the alarming cracks in this Fulham side at such a critical juncture in the season. QPR created the far clearer chances with Jordan Hugill forcing Marek Rodak into a great save, Luke Amos firing a sitter over and Ryan Manning crashing a late header against the bar. Against far poorer opposition than Leeds and Brentford, Fulham relied on pop shots and a little bit of luck to grind through to claim all three points – and they were hanging on for dear life by the end.
To quote Roy Keane, “When you win a Premier League medal Jamie you get one medal you don’t turn it over and it says how many points you got.” And whilst the performances don’t matter when you look back on seasons, I do think it’s important to question how you’ve managed it, even when you win. Such an analysis isn’t negative, it is just realistic. All coaches will do it in the aftermath of a victory.
So in the spirit of examining where things stand currently, it is worth considering the context of that result. QPR are poor side and whilst I like Ebere Eze as a talent and Mark Warburton as a coach, I do think they have a below-average squad – I think Eze starts for us, but I’d struggle to name another QPR player that would get on our bench. As disrespectful as that reads, I think it’s important to note when you consider we won thanks to moments of magic (as we have done multiple times this season) and on another day, QPR would have scored two or three before half-time.
The final ten to fifteen 15 minutes in particular were hilarious. So desperate were Fulham for a win, the visitors finished with seven defenders and two defensive midfielders on the field – is it too cruel to suggest that Parker was battling for job here? Conspiracy aside, I can appreciate the manager doing everything possible to claim a crucial win, but it is interesting to compare to his own words about his football philosophy. After questions on his slow possession style, Scott has previously said, “I can understand people’s opinion – not just how I want to play but the identity of this football team and how I feel is best to win football matches – if we weren’t creating chances, if we weren’t hitting the target. But you can’t back up that argument. I will stick with it – 100 percent.” A fun twist, he’ll stick with it 100 percent, bar leading 2-1 at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
In fact, the game tested a lot of what Scott Parker’s Fulham has been about. Though there were moments of prolonged passing play, notably QPR presses were met with long balls into the forward three and big long switches of play were obvious throughout the game. Fulham were far more direct last night than when they Aleksandar Mitrovic to call upon. The inability to create clear cut chances is especially galling and, aside from Christie’s energetic display, the Whites really didn’t offer much incisive attacking play.
Six games to go and, if West Bromwich Albion win tonight, it’s seven points to chase down. The other problem, of course, is that we’ve let Brentford in between us and they don’t look like stopping. Sure, three points are nice, especially given the poor run since the end of lockdown, but it is also important to reflect on the quality of performance. Nobody could claim with a straight face that this was the type of football Fulham were playing against Millwall in the early weeks of the season and the truth is a bit of magic and QPR’s lack of quality got us over the line. The test for Parker will be to use that precious victory as a springboard to better things.