Yesterday we got the welcome boost that Joachim Andersen’s dubious straight red card against Newcastle has been rescinded meaning that we won’t lose him for any games at all over the busy Christmas period. First of all I was relieved, then came the anger. Anger at what is basically an admission that the wrong decision was made by the on-field referee and the VAR, meaning that in a game were Fulham were comfortable ended up being a scrambled draw with 10 men. We were good value for our lead, and I really believe that we would have walked away with all 3 points against a team who look like they will be dragged down into a relegation battle. Points for any team are crucial, but when you are fighting for your Premier League lives, it can be the difference between survival and going down. These decisions from referees matter.
During the first season of having the VAR in the Premier League, we had a whole load of weird and wonderful decisions. From the armpit offsides to the confusion over handballs and penalties, it was a frustrating time for footballers and fans alike. I do passionately believe that the game will at some stage be better for it but the quality of referees using the technology has to improve. It absolutely has it’s use, but I admit that the forensic way that it’s being implicated is sometimes ridiculous. It’s use for offsides is generally fine (bar the armpit and toenail offsides). Look at last night’s Carabao Cup Quarter-final between Arsenal and Manchester City for example. The third City goal was clearly offside but with no VAR in action in that cup competition, it was given as a goal. It’s use for obvious offsides is an important part of the game and it’s very noticeable when it’s not in use. I’m not one of these people who thinks that we should get rid of VAR altogether, but improvements need to be made on how it is implemented.
Let’s turn to Saturday’s events though as it’s a clear example of how it isn’t being used right. I was furious on Saturday when watching the match when Graham Scott only used the VAR to decide whether or not to give a straight red, and not to check the penalty decision or the clear dive from Callum Wilson. We don’t know who made that decision, whether it was Scott himself or the VAR Andy Madley and his assistant Stephen Child at Stockley Park. A lot of people have made comments about why the VAR didn’t show any other angles of the incident, but I think that’s because the penalty itself, for some bizarre reason, wasn’t what was up for debate. They were only deciding whether it was a straight red or not. I believe that there was a foul outside the box. Andersen did appear to tug him back, but when he let him go well outside the box, Wilson continued to run into the box before chucking himself to the floor. This is clear simulation and achieved exactly what he wanted in gaining a penalty. It also meant that the referee decided that the tug wasn’t what he was giving the penalty for, it was for a clip inside the box – a clip that we can see didn’t happen. Now the decision to rescind the red card shows that there was no clip inside the box which in turn means that a penalty should not have been awarded. Whether the Premier League can now look at the dive is another question entirely. I’m not aware of any other occasion were a red card given through the use of VAR has been rescinded. We do have cases were the Premier League have admitted that penalties shouldn’t have been awarded (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/53357841) , but to actually rescind a red card only given because of VAR doesn’t look good at all from the referees’ perspective.
My issue is about how they came to that particular decision on Saturday. On the same day I watched the Ulster Rugby match with Gloucester and there was an example of the TMO (television match official), rugby’s version of VAR, being used perfectly. One thing that many other sports that use some sort of video ref does that football doesn’t do, is mic up the referees. It means that we can hear the conversation and understand why decisions are made. Hockey, Rugby League and Rugby Union all mic up the TMO/VAR and on-field referee and it is so effective. Below is an example of the TMO and on-field referees working together to come to a decision in a rugby union match in 2019. It’s 7minutes long but if you jump to 5minutes in, you’ll get the idea.
If football brought this in it would be a huge step forward in my eyes. The decisions being made do not need to be some sort of secret, the referees should have nothing to hide so why not? I also think with full transparency, it would improve the standard of refereeing in general. I don’t think the mic needs turned on for the full match like in rugby, but for when the VAR is being used, it would help us all understand how the referees come up with their decisions.
As for Fulham, we need to remember that all teams in the Premier League will have had some dodgy refereeing decisions. That doesn’t make it OK, but we aren’t the only team to feel aggravated by a decision that looks to have cost us some points. We can only control our own performances and we have to focus on that above anything else. Thankfully Andersen is available for Southampton. It will be a hugely difficult game, but we have to start picking up more points. Every game is an opportunity, eh?
It seems remarkable that after yesterday’s performance against Liverpool that we still find ourselves in the bottom three of the Premier League. It’s also remarkable that given our dreadful start to the campaign that we were disappointed with just a point against the reigning Champions! Scott Parker has so far done an exceptional job of turning things around at Fulham and he deserves a heck of a lot of credit for it. Four points from Leicester away, Manchester City away and Liverpool at home is more than we could have hoped for, and the performances before that (terrible first half against Everton aside) have been much improved. Parker has done it all while making some very bold decisions on the team that many of us disagreed with. Yet we now seem to have a squad very capable of staying in this league, but we need to keep up the momentum going into two very winnable games against Brighton and Newcastle.
The performance against Liverpool was brilliant from the first whistle. Our achilles’ heel so often this season has been conceding early but yesterday we started very much on the front foot, closing Liverpool down and forcing them into mistakes. Perhaps it was the 2000 fans back at the Cottage that ensured that we began with such intensity but whatever it was, long may it continue! It looks as though London will be back in tier 3 shortly but hopefully we are allowed fans at least on Wednesday night in our must win game at home to Brighton. However, we have to be able to start like that with or without fans.
No matter what Jurgen Klopp says, there was nothing lucky about our performance yesterday. We played at a high tempo with lots of passing and every player 100% committed. Mario Lemina was sensational in that disruptive midfield role while Ademola Lookman was in the centre of everything good going forward from Fulham. And shout out to BDR who has been a standout performer this season from the old guard. Who’d have thought that it would be him shining bright ahead of the likes of Mitrovic and Cairney? Defensively we look secure and I can’t imagine anything bar an injury would stop our CB pairing of Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo from being our first choice duo. There is a lot to like about Fulham right now.
However, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room. Mitrovic. What is going on? It’s clear that Scott has a particular game plan for the games against better opposition in this league that Mitro seems to slow down, but I’m not sure that anyone buys the ‘minor knock’ excuse put forward by the club for his disappearance from the squad yesterday. If it’s just a playing style thing for against the better clubs then maybe we will see him on Wednesday against Brighton with a change of system. Remember that he was pivotal in our game v West Brom earlier in the season, bagging two assists. Maybe it’s just that Scott has different game plans for different games. However, if the rumours of a very unhappy Mitro after being left out of the starting line up yesterday are true, then maybe he has to look at the performances and ask himself why. I love Mitrovic, let me make that very clear, but there is no doubt that against certain teams we are more effective without him. I’d like to see him play against Brighton as I think it’s a game that would suit him but we maybe have to accept that he won’t play as much as we would have thought this season.
Tom Cairney is another question mark for me. I don’t think that Ruben Loftus Cheek has done enough at all to warrant playing ahead of him. Although I think that the position that Scott wants from them both is maybe not a strength of either player. Their favoured position is surely a traditional number 10, but we haven’t really played with that position in the last 3 matches against top opposition. It might be a similar story with Mitrovic in that we resort back to the formation we played v West Brom for the next couple of matches meaning that Cairney will be in that number 10 role, but we’ll have to see.
All in all I think Parker has made some brave decisions that have so far paid off. I’m feeling really good about Fulham despite our current position in the table. If only we had of gotten our team together before the start of the season, eh? Roll on Wednesday night for one last game in front of fans for now.
How good did it feel this morning waking up after our first Premier League win of the campaign? Sport is special like that. It can be a complete mood changer, both for the good and the bad. Unfortunately this season hasn’t brought us much joy so far, so boy did we need that last night! The first win of a campaign can arguably be the most important. It gets us off the mark and, in this case, takes us above the relegation zone for the first time all season. Some of the joy is back at the Cottage.
Now we can’t be getting ahead of ourselves. West Brom were the poorest side that we have played against this season. Bar a couple of opportunities that we pretty much handed them on a plate, they made nothing going forward and they didn’t really test our defence at all. Always the optimist though, I tend to say one of the reasons that they were so poor is because we didn’t let them get into their flow. Remember that this was a side that scored three goals against Chelsea earlier in the season so they do have some threat! As for Fulham though, I thought that to a man we were brilliant. While our defence wasn’t tested too much, I thought that when called into action our new centre back pairing of Tosin Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen were solid while Aina and Robinson both had a part to play in the goals. It was Robinson’s deep cross to Mitrovic that allowed our front man to set up BDR for the opener and just minutes later it was Aina who nearly burst the net with his pile driver with his weaker foot.
There were lots of brilliant performances last night. The already mentioned Robinson had his best game in the Fulham shirt, while Mitrovic may not have found the back of the net himself, he did set up both goals. He was a handful for the Baggies defence and they just couldn’t contain him. Andersen came in for his debut and while he wasn’t hugely tested, he looked extremely calm in there. Just what we needed, but there will be bigger challenges ahead. For me though, the standout man was Tom Cairney. I don’t think I’m overexaggerating by saying that Cairney’s performance last night was the best I have seen from him in a few seasons. While he has been decent so far this campaign, last night he was like a man possessed! From the first minute every time he was on the ball he was looking forward either to pass or to drive himself. Recently we have had to watch as one of our most talented midfielder has frustrated us a bit with some unadventurous play. Playing in a deeper role hasn’t suited him and he had been caught out defensively a bit. This hasn’t necessarily been his fault as that isn’t at all his favoured position and I’m so glad that Parker has seen the light and played him in that number 10 role last night. And oh how he repaid his managers faith! He was involved in everything good last night and the Baggies had to resort to cynical fouls to stop him. His decision making was spot on and it was so refreshing to see him drive forward instead of passing backwards. When he is on form he is so hard to get the ball off. This was like watching prime Cairney from our first promotion year and if we are to stay up, we need more performances like that from him. It’s imperative that Parker keeps him in that number 10 role. He just isn’t as effective in the deeper role, but when played behind the striker in the hole he can hugely impact our results.
It looked like the shackles were off for Cairney, and therefore the whole team, last night. It was wonderful to watch us not only win, but to look so comfortable. Yes, there were a couple of mistakes that might be punished against better teams, but all in all we controlled the game from start to finish. We move onto West Ham now with confidence. Play like we did last night and we give ourselves every chance of coming away with another three points.
Rightly or wrongly, it looks as though Scott Parker is entering a perilous stage in his young managerial career. Just one point won from a possible 18 in the Premier League so far has left us rooted to the bottom of the table. Let me make something clear from the very start, I don’t believe that Parker should be sacked right now. It would be incredibly harsh to give a relative rookie a job, see him take us up (even if we made very hard work of it) and then sack him only a few months after. I’d personally rather that we stuck with him for now. The transfer window has barely slammed shut so he is working with a group of players only recently fully put together and the recent performances have at least looked more positive than what we saw in the first 3 games.
I’m not saying that I’m happy with how things are going. Of course I’m not. But I also don’t believe that sacking Parker right now would help us in the long term. Our problem is much more than what we see on the pitch right now. In fact, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. For me Fulham as a club are reactive and not proactive. One of the biggest lessons my old school hockey coach taught me was that if we are constantly being reactive, we will never get to press on towards our own ultimate goals. If we only focus about what the opposition are going to do at a particular moment in time then we aren’t focusing on our own game. To be successful in sport, you cannot be just focusing on the next fire to put out. No, to be successful you have to ensure that the fires don’t get lit in the first place. I’m not talking about Parker and his tactics here, I’m talking about the thoughts and processes that went in to putting together this particular squad. Now I know that’s perhaps an oversimplified way to think about it, but I believe that the point stands. We need a proactive approach that is built on planning and sacking Parker right now would once again highlight the reactive and not proactive approach of our owners right now when it comes to matters on the pitch. If we were proactive, the planning into our squad would be much better. If we were proactive we wouldn’t have left it until the last minute to do business. But instead of doing that our DoF has reacted to the poor opening performances and scrambled to bring players in at the last minute and has needed them to perform like a well oiled machine instantly.
This has been the approach at Fulham for years and it has resulted in managers losing their jobs and often a poor choice of candidate being brought in. The Slavisa Jokanovic to Claudio Ranieri change still baffles me. You can’t turn a squad build for free flowing, attacking play into a defensively rigid, play on the counter side overnight The tactics of the two managers were the complete opposite. If we were going to replace Jokanovic we needed to have a better version of him really, not someone with the polar opposite footballing philosophy. Then if we look back further to 2013/14 we became a real laughing stock with our approach to managers. Martin Jol had until December, Rene Meulensteen had until mid-February and then Felix Magath saw us relegated. Magath himself was then sacked after a disaster of a start to the Championship campaign and then we had Kit Symons in charge as caretaker before eventually getting the job itself. In less than two years at the club, we had went through 4 managers and every appointment was unsuccessful and made with what looked like no planning.
I’m annoyed at how things are going right now. While I think Parker was always going to be a risky appointment given how inexperienced he is, I think it would be a crying shame if he became the latest managerial casualty at Fulham when the problem lies further behind the scenes. We need planning at Fulham, not firefighting. For now Parker can only do his best. It’s clear that he maybe needs a change of tactics or more than one trick up his sleeve. This is a huge test for him but he also needs to rise to the occasion. Just because I’m frustrated at things off the pitch at Fulham, it doesn’t mean that he gets off completely scot-free. Time for everyone at Fulham to up their game and give survival a real go.
Given the global pandemic, the window that slammed shut on Monday has been one of the strangest yet. Given the financial constraints that clubs around the country are facing because of a lack of fans it’s no surprise that the overall spending of clubs in the Premier League was down from last year. However the pandemic certainly hasn’t stopped some clubs from spending huge amounts of money to improve their squads. Chelsea were the big spenders with £222m spent, with Leeds United, Aston Villa and Everton all among the clubs splashing the cash for players.
For Fulham, we were promised that the club wouldn’t be making the same mistakes as last time in the Premier League. Promised that we wouldn’t essentially throw aside the players who got us up for a bunch of over-priced mercenaries. To be fair to Khan and co, we certainly didn’t overspend, but rather than make the same mistakes we just made a whole load of new ones. It may have come good in the end with the two centre backs that we craved so much coming through the Motspur Park doors on Deadline Day, but Tony Khan certainly hasn’t gotten it all right this time around. I doubt any Fulham fan out there was confident in our defence going into the new season. Denis Odoi and Tim Ream are both excellent servants to the club, but they weren’t up to Premier League standard two seasons ago so upgrades were needed – and badly. And unfortunately Hector doesn’t seem up to it either, but I’m still hoping that he will come good. He maybe just needs someone confident around him. The truth of the matter is that these deals should have been done a lot earlier than they were. Our season has started in disastrous form and this is because our squad was not ready for the opener against Arsenal. While I don’t doubt that the team behind the scenes were working to bring people in, there just seems to have been too many mistakes there that have resulted in deals being completed too late.
Tony Khan has also had to go against some of his earlier summer quotes in bringing in a lot of players on loan without any sort of ‘option to buy’ clause. He made a big thing at the start of the window of saying that he isn’t in the business of developing other teams players when they don’t have the space for them regarding Ryan Sessegnon yet he has brought in a number of players including Ruben Loftus Cheek, Ademola Lookman and Joachim Andersen all on loan but with no options to buy. That said, those three players undoubtably bring a heck load of quality to the squad and I’m buzzing to have them at the club. It’s just a shame that we are doing exactly what Tony said he didn’t want to do in developing other players that teams don’t have time for currently.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The business that we have finally gotten over the line seems to be very positive. We have recruited in the areas that we desperately needed too alongside giving the squad much more depth and quality in other areas. Speaking to a Manchester City fan today it’s clear that many of them are fuming that City have let Tosin Adaraboiyo go on a permanent with no buy-back clause and for such a small sum of money. That could prove to be a fantastic piece of business in years to come. We have also brought in the heavily sought after Antonee Robinson, Kenny Tete and the already mentioned Andersen in defence while Alphonso Areola and Marek Rodak will have a competitive battle over the number one jersey between the sticks.
Our midfield was probably the place that needed the least work but it has also been upgraded considerably. Frank Zambo-Anguissa has developed greatly after his time at Villarreal and adds some real quality to that box-to-box position so it looks to be a wise decision to keep him on. Harrison Reed was brilliant for us at the end of last season so the £8million spent on him for me was worth it. Mario Lemina and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both come with real Premier League quality and as for Jean Michael Seri, we’ll have to wait and see what he really contributes to the side. He clearly has quality but there have always been question marks over whether he really wants to be in West London.
Another worrying aspect of our squad was our wingers. Unfortunately Cavaleiro and Knockaert don’t look like they will have much of an impact this year. They, alongside Aboubakar Kamara and Neeskens Kebano, aren’t really much more than squad players. They so far haven’t been able to provide much support for Mitrovic up front which has been a worry. But while those players can provide decent enough options off the bench we really needed someone who would come in and take a game by the scruff of the neck. Someone with proven quality but who has a real thirst top prove himself in England. Enter Ademola Lookman. How good has he looked in both cameos so far? He changed the game against Wolves on Sunday and provided a chance that Kamara should have finished off. Lookman looks like someone who could really flourish at Fulham and I’d have him starting every week if he is fit enough.
So all in all I’d say that our transfer window has been positive in terms of who has come through the door, but just poorly executed in terms of timings. I’ll give Tony credit for the players who have been brought in, but none whatsoever when it comes to having this squad ready for the start of the season. The worry is that the positive signings that have been brought in, players who could really make a difference, have come too late. We are four games into the season and have no points. Tony will practically be praying that he didn’t move too late. Let’s hope that he didn’t.