After last week’s disaster at home to Hull, it’s imperative
that Scott Parker and his team get a result away to Birmingham tomorrow. With
the rumblings surrounding Parker’s position, we are past the stage were he can
get away with the team putting in a decent performance. He needs all three
You can describe Birmingham’s season as being inconsistent. Seven
wins, which is one more than Fulham have, go alongside seven defeats and a draw
leaving them down in 12th. We are just one point better off than them
in 8th, highlighting once again just how tight this Championship
season is. They are in pretty good form with nine points out of the last 15
available, but they did lose last time out to Cardiff City.
Goals have been reasonably hard to come by for Birmingham
with only 16 scored and with top scorer Lukas Jutkiewicz having just scored four.
They’ll be facing us without captain Harlee Dean after he was sent off against
Cardiff last weekend. Outside Dean and Jutkiewicz, a lot of the Birmingham
squad are relatively unknown but we should be aware of 16 year-old Jude Bellington.
We know only too well how exciting it is when you can include a youngster who
has come through the youth system at a club. He may be just 16, but that doesn’t
mean that he should be underestimated. He’s scored two goals from midfield this
season and looks to be a real prospect.
For Fulham we will be missing Joe Bryan after he picked up
an injury last weekend. Parker will have the same old question about who to
start in goal with Marek Rodak available again after his one game ban for his
red card two weeks ago. Bettinelli didn’t cover himself in glory up against
Hull last weekend, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t get the nod ahead of Rodak.
In the matches were Rodak has been included he hasn’t done anything for me to suggest
that he is the stronger option. It’s an area that needs addressed in January,
but maybe for now we stick with Betts.
Despite the fact that we have the league’s current top goal
scorer in Aleksander Mitrovic, we haven’t managed to score in 3 of the past
four games. We need to take advantage of the fact that Birmingham are without
their main leader tomorrow and rattle them early on. The good news is that we
haven’t went three Championship games without scoring since January 2015. We don’t
have a great record against Birmingham though, with four losses in the past six
History and form aside, this is a must-win game for Fulham.
We have dropped far too many points already this season, and the only reason we
are still within touching distance of the top too is because no-one in this
league seems to want to run away with it. It is still incredibly close, but
soon the gap will be too hard to pull back. We are getting to the stage were
Parker’s job is on the line. Hopefully he has enough in his locker to get him
It’s that time of the year again. You know the time when
nothing seems to go right for Fulham? The loss at home to Hull City was for me
the poorest result of the season, not because of the scoreline but because of
the absolutely dire performance that went along with it. Something just wasn’t
right, and it’s been that way for at least the last few games. Scott Parker is
in a bit of a predicament. His style of play has come under fire in recent
weeks, but he has hit back suggesting that he won’t be changing his ways
I can understand why Parker wants to stick with his philosophy.
He is a real student of the game, and won’t have committed to a style without a
great deal of thought, but his approach still needs some work. We have seen it
work, the results against Millwall and Reading being the two most recent
examples, but we have also seen too many occasions where it has been a disaster.
On Saturday at home to Hull, we had 75% of the possession yet had one shot on
target. When you have the talent of Tom Cairney, Mitrovic, Bobby Reid etc in
your side it’s criminal to think that we forced the Hull keeper into a save on just
one occasion. I can sort of understand what Parker is trying to do, but the
team aren’t executing it properly. Whether that is down to what’s happening on the
training pitch, or that other teams have figured us out, I’m not sure.
The question now around the fanbase is whether Scott Parker
is going to last as Fulham boss. I’m still avoiding the ‘Parker out’ campaign,
but I completely get why the question is being raised. I spoke with a work
colleague recently who thinks that Parker has lost the dressing room. Shahid Khan
was in town on Saturday, so if you can’t get the players motivated to play well
in front of the boss then when can he motivate them?
However, I just don’t think sacking him at this stage would
be helpful. The performances need to start improving, but I think to change the
manager now would just further disrupt the squad. When Slavisa Jokanovic
started slowly, a lot of people wanted him gone, but they stuck with him and it
paid off. We are only 15 games into a very long season, and we know that things
in this division can change so quickly. There are only 8 points between first
place and twelfth, with no team really running away with things so I’m not
going to take the doom and gloom approach. I believe that sticking with Parker
for now would be better than causing more disruption to the squad. I think that
he will have had an impact in the likes of Cairney and Mitrovic staying. And
let’s remember that he is still new to management and is learning his trade.
Mistakes are going to happen early on, yet we are still doing enough to still
be in contention for promotion.
In recent history, Fulham generally haven’t had fun when we
have travelled to Stoke. We have played away at the Britannia Stadium, or the Bet365
Stadium as it is now known, seven times since 2008, losing five times, drawing
once and winning once. One of those defeats was a League Cup fixture while the
rest were in the Premier League. During their Premier League tenure Stoke
became a side who no one liked facing. Well-drilled and defensive, they caused
one or two upsets as well as generally becoming a very difficult team to beat.
Our sole victory there in recent times was thanks to some Bairdino magic back
at Christmas of 2010. Two ridiculous strikes from the Northern Irishman inside
the first 10minutes helped us to a 2-0 win. Wonderful scenes.
One of the worst days for me as a Fulham fan was when our thirteen
year term in the Premier League came to an end after a pathetic 4-1 defeat to
Stoke under Felix Magath. That day was nothing short of a Fulham calamity in
the way we were set up and the way we played. Yes, relegation was looking likely
anyway, but that performance pretty much summed us up under Magath. For that to
be our last visit to Stoke, it’s understandable why so many of us have bad memories
and a feeling of unease when we look ahead to tomorrow.
But we are in a new era at Fulham. Yes, last season was
rocky, but Fulham under Scott Parker and the ownership of Shadid Khan are a
different force. We still have issues to sort out defensively, but we are a
side who could feasibly take points off anyone in the division. We still have
maturing to do under Parker, but our side consists of the talent needed to get
promoted again. However, tomorrow is also somewhat of a banana skin. Stoke have
had a horrible season and sit bottom of the table. They have taken one measly
point out of a possible 18 at home with Nathan Jones under a lot of pressure at
the helm. But fitting nicely with the Championship’s unpredictability, they did
beat then leaders Swansea City away from home last time out. Classic
We are currently unbeaten in six league games, but draws are
becoming far too frequent. If we want to go up automatically, we need to put teams
at the wrong end of the table to bed comfortably. If you have watched much of
Stoke this season you will know that defensively they have been all over the
place. Jack Butland in goal is an England International, but he has made
mistakes time and time again. Confidence is low in the Stoke camp. We know what
that is like after suffering so badly last season and we know that once the
heads drop, it’s very hard to get anything from a game. That’s what we need to
do to Stoke tomorrow, make their heads drop early on. The longer they feel like
they are in the game, the harder it will be for us.
We know that you should never underestimate a team
struggling at the bottom of the table, but we should be targeting 3 points
tomorrow. We can’t afford to slip up against the bottom placed team.
Yesterday’s result was for me the most disappointing of the
season. That might seem a strange thing to say given that West Brom are, on
paper, the best team that we have played against this season and will
undoubtably be fighting for promotion come May. But with how the game went, I can
only come away frustrated and disappointed. We were in complete control of the
game against a very strong side, but have handed the Baggies a draw away from
home on a plate. We have to learn from this, and quick if we want to stay
within touching distance of the teams at the top.
The big talking point coming away from yesterday’s game, is whether
or not we need a change between the sticks. Marcus Bettinelli hasn’t helped his
cause so far this season. He has always been a decent shot stopper, but isn’t
great in other areas. His distribution has constantly been called into
question, and he is now making mistakes far too often, costing the team points.
But before we start calling for his head, we need to look at things close up,
and then look at things in from a wider perspective.
Well it doesn’t look great, does it? A good corner into the
right area, but why is he flapping at that? And why is he trying to claim a
foul when Austin did what every front man in world football will do at corners?
He just wasn’t strong enough, and his reaction has only made it worse. He has
now come out and accepted the blame, and fair play to him for that, but really
the mistakes need to be cut out.
However, while Betts made the error, there are a couple of other
factors involved in this particular occasion. Firstly, why on earth do we not
have a man in between Austin and Betts? For me, that’s a huge error in
judgement from our defensive coaches if it was supposed to be like that. Of
course West Brom are going to put Austin in there trying to put the keeper off,
so why was Ream, or anyone not there to give him some sort of cover? Also,
Mawson can’t come away from that scot free. He was supposed to be on Semi
Ajayi, but he has let him run off him so easily. For a big lad, he sometimes
doesn’t use his strength. So, while Betts has made the biggest error of all in
this situation, he certainly wasn’t helped by his defence.
Wider perspective –
A lot of people won’t like this, but I think there are a vocal section of fans who don’t help the situation. At Barnsley away I was a couple of rows from the front and Betts was having abuse hurled at him from the word go. His distribution from the start was at it’s usual level, but a number of fans were on his back in a pretty abusive way straight away. This isn’t helping. Now, I know we have all paid hard earned cash to follow the team up and down the country so therefore have the right to express opinions, but for me there is a huge difference between that and just hurling abuse non-stop. If you honestly think that will encourage our players to up their game then you are mistaken. All it does is make the burden heavier and heavier, until someone will turn around and shout back, which is what I hear may have happened yesterday, although I can’t confirm that this. Another example is Cyrus Christie. When he came on against Nottingham Forest a few weeks ago we had some numpties booing him straight away. The guy looked terrified every time he got near the ball, and unfortunately as a fan base WE have to take some of the blame for that. It’s embarrassing.
I have no idea who we will start in goal against Sheffield
Wednesday, but I do think that Rodak must be in with a chance. If Rodak does
get the nod, then it should spur Betts on to up his game. Competition in that
area of the pitch is important. But for us as fans, maybe it’s time to have a
think about how we respond to whoever is on the pitch.
With the first international break of the season complete,
it’s time to get our minds focused again on Fulham. We had just the four first
teamers in action for their countries in Mitrovic, Ream, Sessegnon and Christie
and it looks as though everyone has come away unscathed. We’ll find out tomorrow
if we have any other injury concerns, but I think that Parker has a squad with
a full bill of health. Harry Artur is suspended, though, so we know already
that he won’t feature this weekend.
We have our toughest match of the season so far coming up on
Saturday. At least on paper, that is. West Brom have always been a tough nut to
crack and now, under the leadership of Slaven Bilic, we are up against a side
vying for automatic promotion. They are unbeaten this season in the league with
three wins and three draws putting them in fourth position in the table. Last
time out they came back from two goals down against Blackburn to win 3-2, so we
know that this team has a bit of metal about them. Encouragingly for us,
though, they have failed to keep a clean sheet this season, so with our front
three of Mitrovic, Cavaleiro and Knockaert we should be able to trouble a leaky
We’ll have to look out for tricky winger Grady Diangana, on loan from West Ham. The England U21
international has scored three goals this season and is the sort of player who
gives defenders headaches. He, alongside Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore, will
give us something to think about. The Baggies squad has a tonne of experience
and know-how at this level, so we will need to massively up our game from the draw
in Cardiff if we are to get anything.
Winning this game would send out the message that we are
going to be fighting at the right side of the table come May. It will hopefully
give us a better idea of where we are as a squad under Parker’s management. If
I’m honest, I don’t think we have seen the best of this Fulham squad yet. OK,
the Millwall game was special, but we need to be playing consistently near that
level if we are to go up. Everything went right for us that night, but we are
going to have very few games were that is the case. We still seem to start
games slowly which is something that we desperately need to get out of our
system. With the talent in our squad other teams should be shaking in their
boots with the prospect of facing us, but everyone knows that defensively we
aren’t as solid as we could be. This gives other teams hope against us.
I suppose the biggest question at the minute for Parker to
be pondering is who does he play in goal. Marcus Bettinelli has been a great
servant for this club, but I worry at the amount of mistakes being made in goal.
While I still think that he is just going through a slump, and is a much better
keeper than what he is showing at the minute, I can completely understand the
calls to let Marek Rodak, our very highly rated number two, have a chance. I
think Parker will stick with Betts for now, but I’d imagine that he doesn’t
have too many chances left.
As I’ve said before, this will be our biggest challenge of
the season so far. Hopefully at 1430 on Saturday we can just enjoy the rest of
the weekend’s football after watching Fulham romp to another win.