If ever an individual performance typified a team’s collective desire, it was Bobby Decordova-Reid’s selfless showing at the King Power Stadium last night. It would be easy to characterise this as the classic backs-to-the-wall display by a side struggling at the wrong end of the table, but that would do a disservice to how successful Scott Parker’s tactics were. Fulham not only nullified Leicester’s main attacking threats and made the Foxes look ponderous in possession, but they proved the far more dangerous side on the counter-attack for good measure. And Decordova-Reid, operating for much of the evening in unfamiliar territory as a right wing-back, was everywhere.
The Jamaican has had plenty of criticism in a Fulham career that has sparked plenty of debate. I’ve been a detractor – suggesting that he isn’t quite clinical enough to operate as a forward and probably doesn’t fit the first team system in another position. But nobody can question his work rate or his heart. He’ll run his socks off for you in any number of positions, get through a magnitude of the not so glamorous work that’s vital to win football matches, and still be popping up in promising positions. Decordova-Reid was one of those loan purchases that seemed surprising when the Whites were still scrapping to get out of the Championship, but he’s stepped up beyond massive as Fulham moved into the top flight. Such has been the consistency of his performances, you wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the first names on Parker’s team sheet at present.
If there had been question marks about his finishing ability, he’s answered them with two terrific strikes at Leeds and at home to Everton last week. Had Fulham defended better on either occasion, those instinctive finishes might have got a little more attention. But the way he has slotted into any number of different positions without complaint over the past few weeks – from winger, to wide forward, number ten and now right wing-back, has been seriously impressive. It seemed a bold move to place Decordova-Reid – not known for his physicality or his tackling ability – in a position designed to offer protection to Fulham’s vulnerable defence, but the man’s tenacity and attention to detail made it an inspired choice.
Decordova-Reid was clearly given instructions to try and shackle attacks down the Leicester left – and he seemed to take it as a personal affront if Dennis Praet found any space in that area. He dovetailed with Ola Aina so effectively in shutting down that flank that Brendan Rodgers sent on Cengiz Under at half-time, but the Foxes still got little change out of Decordova-Reid defensively. He won five tackles and filled in front of what became a back three that dropped deeper and deeper as the night went on, filling his new role with real relish. Perhaps his most decisive contribution came in the other penalty area when he sprinted nearly seventy yards to reach Aina’s lofted forward ball first, luring Christian Fuchs into a desperate challenge and winning a penalty that proved pivotal. That ceaseless energy and commitment to the cause was one of the major factors behind Fulham’s surprise success.
The experiment proved so profitable that he wouldn’t be surprising to see Parker asked Decordova-Reid, who apparently went through a few training sessions in his new position in the run up to this game, take on a similar role in the games to come as a way of trying to frustrate the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. What you know with the former Bristol City and Cardiff City man is that he’ll give you absolutely everything he’s got. That might be considered the bare minimum where footballers are concerned in the eyes of the fans but, as last night’s performance showed, Decordova-Reid often goes well beyond the call of the duty. In a modern game full of hype and sophisticated skills, there’s still recognition for old-fashioned hard graft – as shown by the fact that Decordova-Reid earned the fans’ man of the match award for another all-action performance.