When you get down to the business end of the season, it becomes much more about results than performances. Scott Parker admitted as much after Fulham clung on to a precious three points last night and, given Fulham’s wretched couple of results against the teams also chasing automatic promotion since the restart, relief was certainly the order of the day.
It wasn’t a vintage victory – and when Parker and his backroom staff analyse the action, they’ll find plenty of things to work on. It was always likely to be a little hairy at the back again given that the reshaped back four only had a couple of days to work on their shape and responsibilities after the debacle at Leeds, but the manner in which things started would hardly have given anyone much confidence.
Fulham were guilty of overplaying far too close to their own goal, with Denis Odoi, who actually had a decent game at left back, attempting a ridiculous crossfield pass that put his team-mates under pressure. Michael Hector, who hasn’t been as assured as he was pre-lockdown, was drawn out of position to try to deal with Ryan Manning and while the QPR wing-back’s delivery was first class, there were further questions to ask about how Fulham failed to deal with the danger. Could Marek Rodak have come for the cross? And Tim Ream was far too easily outjumped by Jordan Hugill, adding to the sense that he has lost a bit of sharpness as well as form of late.
A fairly limited QPR side caused Fulham plenty of problems, although that won’t serve as much comfort for Mark Warburton. Hugill, a proven nuisance at this level, seemed to find time and space in front of our back four throughout – and was only denied a second before half time by a brilliant save from Rodak. Perhaps the most alarming moment of a first half that prompted several sharp intakes of breath came when another sloppy Harry Arter pass allowed QPR to break forward. Bright Osayi-Samuel skipped around Hector far too easily and seemed to lay another goal on a plate for Luke Amos, only for the midfielder to blaze over the bar. Talk about a let off.
Arter had another one of those performances that seems to defy description. He was busy and positive on the ball, but gave it away far too often, and for my money, gave the energetic Harrison Reed an awful lot to do. His goal was a fine strike from distance, although we must add the caveat that Liam Kelly will feel he should have saved it. It was good to see Kevin McDonald return in the closing stages – he’s spent far too much time on the sidelines this season and you feel his experience and leadership could prove invaluable during the run-in.
There’s still a sense that the balance of this side is not quite right. It must be said that Cyrus Christie added urgency and drive down the right flank – taking his wonderful winner with real aplomb. But there’s a big problem with a side packed with creative players failing to carve out clear-cut chances at the moment. Tom Cairney spent much of the evening in far too deep a position to threaten the QPR goal, whilst our inverted wingers were anonymous for long periods. Poor old Bobby Decordova-Reid looked like a fish out of water as a forward – his own lack of confidence summed up by his free header from a corner just before half-time that sailed over the bar.
You still feel that this squad can deliver more clinical displays in the games ahead and there was definitely an element of feeling the pressure going into a local derby on the back of two defeats. If it is to be the play-offs – and that is still by no means assured given the congested nature of the Championship table – the hope has to be that Fulham can play their way back into form over the closing weeks of this campaign to be ready for the crunch fixtures that will decide our destiny.