It had been a few weeks since our last trip to the Cottage. In addition to the delay of an International break we approached the game against Reading no longer under the illusion that “HMS Piss the league” wouldn’t be without a few icebergs along the way, as recently experienced while docking in Blackpool. A more convincing mid week jaunt to Birmingham however meant that optimism on route this Saturday in the sunshine was still pretty high.
Sure we were still without the boy wonder Fabio Carvalho and Harrison Reed was a doubt but ours is a squad that should on paper have had enough to cope with such absences. The pre match analysis also reminded us that Tom Cairney and Terrance Kongolo were unavailable but as the sun had indeed risen that morning (and The Pope was still a Catholic) I naturally assumed that to be the case anyway.
Having loaded up on Ramen and soft shell crab tempura before the game I met my acquaintance for the day at Hammersmith station and popped in to the Duke of Cornwall on the way for a swift pint, made all the more bitter as it was accompanied by Brenford on the TV comfortably dispatching Wolves in the early kick-off. In hindsight this afternoon was never destined to recover from such an early blow.
My guest was an Everton fan who also happens to play for the same Sunday league Veterans team as myself and having recently cracked a rib in a committed challenge for said team I felt a first ever trip to The Cottage may well by the tonic to brighten up his weekend. The downside to meeting in Hammersmith of course meant there was no red carpet treatment for that introduction to the Craven Cottage experience with the Bishops Park walk but I did my best to give a brief tour of the key sights prior to settling in for the kick off in H5. I will apologise to the person stuck behind my guest who in addition to having to contend with the stadium structure restricting their view would also have struggled to see much over his 6’6 frame. Given the result however it may be you who owes me a gratitude of thanks.
Having spent much of the pre game talking up the impressive job Marco Silva had done in transforming Fulham’s attacking intent to an Everton fan, I was left feeling that the team really weren’t holding up their end in supporting my argument as the first half went on. Our left hand side with Robinson and Cavaleiro were particularly guilty of loose passing while Harry Wilson was completely anonymous for at least forty minutes. The attacks that did result in us registering shots on target seemed to be exclusively limited to being straight at the keeper and with little to no conviction.
Reading who had brought along a good following given the short 30 minute journey into Paddington played some neat football but were by no means on top. It would be unfair to say that Ovie Ejaria’s opener in the 20th minute was against the run of play but nevertheless it still came as a shock to the system. I haven’t been shy in airing my disapproval at Gazzaniga being our first choice keeper but there was very little he could have done with that one. Instead I found comfort in staring hopefully at Rodrigo Muniz warming up who I noticed for the first time in front of the Riverside stand.
It was hard to put a finger on exactly what was going wrong for Fulham but the centre of midfield seemed to lack any sort of balance. Seri was doing his thing and unlike everyone around him rarely misplacing a pass but BDR never really seemed to get a foothold in the game and Chalobah was a bit of a headless chicken. Even now I can’t work out if he had a good or bad game. Neither seemed to be in sync with Mitrovic who, considering he was playing in a team that registered a total of 25 shots in the game, seemed to cut a fairly isolated figure. Just before the break Antonee Robinson produced his obligatory one good cross only for Mitro to hit the bar when he should have done better. I certainly wasn’t ready to surrender but being surrounded by so many waving white flags in the Hammersmith end it just felt like it may be one of those days.
Whether or not the team received a half time ticking off is a mystery but the second forty five started quickly with Cavaleiro doing more than he had done in the whole of the first half and getting a good shot away following some tricky work down the left. That lifted the crowd for all of eight minutes until Reading promptly went down the other end and scored a second following yet another loose pass and some fairly suspect defending alongside little to no effort by the now manbunless Gazzaniga to prevent Ejaria from scoring again.
A host of Fulham changes seemed to do very little to turn the tide. Kebano was brought on at right back for Odoi in an attempt to give us a threat down the right wing given that Wilson was having without doubt his worst performance so far in a Fulham shirt. Onomah replaced Seri in midfield but only served to add further imbalance and confusion around who was doing what while Muniz made his Craven Cottage debut coming on for BDR as we went with two up top for the final thirty minutes.
There were definitely signs of a partnership with both Muniz and Mitrovic combining together a few times although it remains to be seen how often we would actually play two up top outside of sheer desperation. Muniz’s first goal gave us hope and but for an excellent save Onomah may well have equalized late on but it never felt like it was going to be our day.
For the first time this season we departed The Cottage without any points and a little unsure if this season would be as smooth sailing as we first thought. I suspect if it were anyone other than Scott Parker’s Bournemouth ahead of us at the top of the league we would be more content with sitting second after eight games. Whether complacency had set in after the Birmingham game I couldn’t say but there were plenty of poor performances to suggest as much.
The novelty of a mid week League cup fixture against Premier League opposition felt like a pointless distraction in the wake of another defeat and the need for a good result at Ashton gate next Saturday was the major point of discussion as we trudged down Stevenage road.