So, if Fulham are to make it back to the Premier League at the first attempt, they will have to do it via the play-offs. That’s the bottom line after Scott Parker’s side failed to beat second-placed West Brom at the Hawthorns this evening – having had the better of the early exchanges, but curiously failed to push for victory in the closing stages. Slaven Bilic’s charges seemed happy to settle for the point which keeps their own automatic promotion hopes in their own hands, with Brentford still snapping at their heels.
What could reasonably have been expected to be a cagey contest actually began at a fairly frenetic pace and proved to be open at either end. Parker was insistent that he had come looking for a fifth straight victory – and Fulham initially began the brighter of the two sides. A swift counter attack carved out the first opportunity with wingers Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert combining effectively, with the Frenchman driving towards the Baggies’ box and seeing a low shot from just outside the area turned aside by Sam Johnstone. Michael Hector almost turned the ensuing corner back across goal for Aleksandar Mitrovic, only for Ahmed Hegazi to scramble the ball behind.
Knockaert nearly created the opening ten minutes later. A clever switch of play from Tim Ream allowed Knockaert the room to cut back onto his left foot and Cavaleiro made up good ground at the far post to keep a deep cross alive, with Hegazi prodding off the line at full stretch as the Portuguese winger’s header drifted dangerously towards goal. Marek Rodak kept out a deflected cross from Grady Diangana that threatened to loop into the far corner before Mitrovic’s header was cleared from underneath his own crossbar by Jake Livermore in stoppage time.
Fulham, who had to replace the injured Cavaleiro with Neeskens Kebano before the break, failed to replicate their earlier adventure in the second period. West Brom were the aggressors for long periods, probing for an opening with Matheus Pereira’s creativity to the fore. Semi Ajaya, scorer of the equaliser at Craven Cottage in the reverse fixture, sent two headers from set plays just wide as well as clearing off the line from Mitrovic at the other end before Diangana somehow contrived to miss the game’s clearest opening having made space for himself with a superb dummy at the back post. The on-loan West Ham winger looked certain to break the deadlock had checked inside Denis Odoi, but Rodak made an instinctive save with his feet. The excellent Harrison Reed conjured up a crucial challenge as Hal Robson-Kanu burst through on goal to help preserve Fulham’s third straight clean sheet.
The lack of a telling final ball let Fulham down throughout. Mitrovic toiled manfully to get the visitors a foothold in the final third – but the visitors failed to get numbers forward to support him on a frequent basis. They might have stolen an unlikely victory when he cushioned a high ball down for Knockaert to strike from 25 yards, but the Frenchman’s dipping volley crashed off the crossbar and behind. It proved to be the closest either side came to goal – and Parker will now probably rotate his squad, which has solely missed the pace and power of the injured Aboubakar Kamara as well as the guile of captain Tom Cairney of late, as he plans for the play-offs.
WEST BROM (4-2-3-1): Johnstone; O’Shea, Townsend, Hegazi, Ajayi; Livermore, Sawyers; Diangana (Robinson 85), Grosicki (Phillips 45), Pereira; Austin (Robson-Kanu 66). Subs (not used): Bond, Furlong, Bartley, Brunt, Harper.
BOOKED: Pereira, Livermore, Townsend.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream (Christie 90); Reed, Onomah (Johansen 77), Decordova-Reid; Knockaert, Cavaleiro (Kebano 43), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, Mawson, Le Marchand, McDonald, Arter.
REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).
FulhAms lack of adventure in a game they should of won was surprising. They clearly looked the better team but failed to win in a game where the result suited the home team. Some strange substitutions & confusing tactics did not help, so its the playoffs for Fulham where it could have been so much more if they had just thrown caution to the winds & gone for a win which was clearly within their capabilities. All in all a disappointing performance & two crucial points lost.
The story of our season. This was a game that we HAD to win to stay in with a chance of automatic promotion yet, as with so many other games this season, we played a slow build up game that offered little attacking threat. As usual, it was the same players who let us down in that final third; Decordova Reid-anonymous, Cavaleiro -worse than anonymous, Mitrovic’s hold up play was non-existent. At least, Knockaert worked his socks off and produced the best shot of the match. In midfield, Onomah had a poor game. Defensively, in the first half, we looked invincible but, slowly, the cracks began to appear; Ream’s wayward passing reappeared plus his weakness aerially exposed yet again. Odoi’s only contribution was to pass back whenever he got the ball. On the other flank, Joe Bryan, arguably the best attacking fullback in the league, rarely ventured forward. Were they under orders to be cautious? On our bench we had not a single player that could have made an impact in the final third. After saying all that, West Brom looked a very ordinary team-there for the taking -but we now have to settle for the lottery of the playoffs. If only…
A solid but disappointing display. The attack was toothless with D-Reed contributing very little. Mitro had a quiet game and Cavaleiro not doing much. The energy of Knockaert was a plus and he was our best forward. Kebano is not up to it. Let’s give Stansfield and De La Torre a run in the last two matches before the play offs. Also give Mawson a couple of matches to see how he teams up with Hector as Ream at times loses the plot. Finally Johansen should start. When is AK47 going to be fit. He is our secret weapon and on his day is a match winner.
A disciplined team effort, but a lack of ambition in the second half was disappointing. In a match we had to win for any chance of an automatic promotion I would have expected the bench to be loaded with more attacking players. Again as has already been documented why Stansfield is not on the bench is a complete mystery, as although inexperienced, he is a natural goalscorer, Ream need a rest and agree Mawson should be given a chance along side Hector, Stephen Johansen must start and I would leave out Bobby D-Reed who continues to disappoint. I admire Knockaert’s enthusiasm and efforts and Harrison Red continues to impress. Kebano tries hard but in my view he is not adding anything. Its odds on we will be playing Nottingham Forest in the semi final play off. Still no news about when AK47 will be fit to play, even half fit as a impact substitute, he would be better than other alternatives.
What has happened to Cav, D-Reid and Knockaert? Knockaert works hard but at the end of the day those 3 are there to score goals and make goals. Decision to convert them all to permanent seems premature now. They will all need replacing if we go up. If we don’t get promoted then are we going to go another season with them? They’ve had a season and are going backwards. Totally agree with the comments re slow play. I can’t work out if the 3 underperforming forwards are the problem or Parker’s slow, conservative approach doesn’t help them and has contributed to a lack of confidence. I hope the rumours about Hughton are true…seen enough of Parkerball.
Fulham have two massive problems – Scott Parker and Tony Khan !!!!