So, it was a draw to start the season at a sodden Craven Cottage. Much like Fulham’s display, the day began bright and sunny, but turned grey and dank by the time the full time whistle sounded. Before we get into analysing the different aspects of what was ultimately a frustrating afternoon, I’d like to take a moment to applaud all of you who made it to the Cottage. The roar when the teams came out and when Harry Wilson’s strike hit the net, was what we’d all missed. The sound of the Hammersmith End in full flow was wonderful.
The only way of summing up this encounter is to say, ‘welcome back to the Championship!’ For all the summer optimism, this game was a stark reminder of what this division is all about. It is going to be a long, gruelling season – full of ups and downs – and Neil Warnock is an expert at grinding out results at this level. Fulham dominated for seventy minutes and should have been out of sight by the time our only lapse in concentration let in Marc Bola to equalise.
The home side began a bit shakily – perhaps taking some time to adjust to the frenetic pace of the Championship, you simply don’t get time to play a nice ball and admire it in thee second tier. I’m not sure that explains what Antonee Robinson was thinking when he played a suicidal back pass to Paulo Gazzaniga early on, but fortunately the Argentine reacted quickly to avert the danger. Marco Silva’s side eventually settled and began to dominate the ball.
I felt that both Tosin Adarabioyo and skipper Tim Ream had solid games at the heart of the defence and both took advantage of being allowed to carry the ball into midfield. The latter is worthy of a significant mention as he was solid all afternoon – forcing Warnock to switch his system early in the second half – and continues to defy the naysayers who suggest that his time is past. He looks a leader at the back and his confidence to bring the ball out of the back is obviously encouraging for the way Silva wants to play.
Fulham were in complete control by the time Harry Wilson skipped past a couple of defenders and slotted into the bottom corner. The winger had already been the beneficiary of some nice touches by Josh Onomah, who might have been a surprise Silva selection this afternoon. Wilson’s running and endeavour showed just why Fulham were so keen to bring him to Craven Cottage and he’ll pose plenty of problems for Championship defences this season, particularly when he roams infield from the right.
Fulham’s two youth products did not look overawed by the occasion at all. Carvalho was bright in the number ten role with a few dangerous runs and clever touches – he might have scored at the start of the second half with a bit more composure. Tyrese Francois moved the ball intelligently. It’s clear why Silva has elevated them into the first team squad. They have bright futures and will see plenty of game time this season. But with Bobby Decordova-Reid only just back from the Gold Cup and Harrison Reed, Tom Cairney – and maybe even Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa – to come back into midfield, you could see this experimental side getting stronger. Fulham sorely missed both Reed, for his protection of the back four, and Cairney – with his mastery of keeping possession – this afternoon.
The negatives from this afternoon are all to easy to pinpoint. Bola had too much time to arrow his shot into the bottom corner and Warnock was probably right to suggest that he side could have claimed all three points had there been another five or ten minutes. Fulham ended the game in a frantic fashion, frustrated after dominating the first seventy minutes. You would hope that with more fitness and experience of the division that better game management will come – but taking your chances is a must in this league.
On that point, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s peripheral performance was a bit of worry. The Serbian’s most notable contribution, aside from a second half diving header that whistled wide, was smashing into Jonny Howson in the first minute. We shouldn’t sweat this too much, however. Mitrovic has a quite unbelievable Championship goal record. I firmly believe he’ll come good this season – he spent longer away over the summer after his honeymoon and didn’t get a great deal of game time last term. He just needs a goal to get him going.
The other pertinent point is that this is the first fixture and the Championship remains a marathon and not a sprint. Some of the adventurous football that Silva’s side put together was mouthwatering and made a refreshing change from the turgid fare that we served up last season. There’s definitely more to come from the Whites – and, as the players get used to the new head coach’s methods, I think we’ll see performances pick up.