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.
As I made my way to Craven Cottage for a second successive Saturday it promised to be the toughest test yet for Fulham’s promotion credentials. Stoke, who under Michael O’Neill have been playing far more attractive football than their historical reputation would suggest, were sitting in third prior to kick off and shaped up as one of the toughest opponents in Marco Silva’s brief tenure in charge.
My pre match preparation involved an extensive Dim sum luncheon in China town with the in laws and a commute to the ground accompanied by my girlfriend’s Chelsea-supporting brother. As he had never visited the ‘home of football” I felt it was vital to travel via Putney Bridge and give him the full match day experience and the hospitality that only Bishop’s Park can provide. This as many of you will know goes hand in hand with swarms of away fans and Stoke were certainly out in force. Many though had made the classic mistake of disembarking at Fulham Broadway and, after they had joyfully mocked the Fulham fans for “shopping at Wholefoods,” nobody saw it necessary to tell them differently! .The joke of course was not lost on my Chelsea-supporting companion either. On the walk in I observed no less than three “Muniz” shirts with fans desperately anticipating our first new forward in what feels like a lifetime.
The District line being as reliably slow as ever and the fact I had one too many dumplings at Dim Sum meant it was only a 20 minute gap between turnstile and kick-off left time for only a single pre-match Carlsberg. Clearly the away fans had rectified their tube station blunder as their end looked full unlike last week, while the Hammersmith End was in great voice. All seats now appear to be in place in the Riverside stand having clearly been filled in throughout the week. Our line up was fairly consistent with Odoi deputising at right back and Wilson coming back in on the right with Bobby Decordova-Reid starting wide left.
Any pre-game dissipated after only five minutes when Harry Wilson finished off a beautiful flowing team move to drive home following a clever Mitrovic lay-off. Despite what was in truth a rather routine win, it has to be said that Bursik in the Stoke goal was incredibly good. Without his efforts the score would easily have been even more comfortable. At the other end, Stoke showed signs of the quality that had seen them start the season so well although much of this culminated in peppering our box with crosses. Despite my reservations around Gazzaniga as our first choice keeper, this was far and away his best so far in a Fulham shirt. His handling with the exception of one missed cross in the 2nd half was faultless alongside a few decent saves to provide assurance on the odd occasions when Stoke did threaten our goal. With Kenny Tete seemingly being out for a while it was also nice to see Odoi put in a solid performance at right back and still to this day he amazes me at how a man of his stature wins balls in the air.
Even with the early goal we went in at the break only one better than our visitors having missed a host of chances. Carvalho seemed quiet by his standards and really should have passed to Mitrovic on a breakaway instead of shooting and Onomah despite being productive was guilty of some fairly loose passing. Competition for the three central midfield berths is high and, while Seri seems like a new signing given his form and renewed interest in actually wanting to be here, one of the biggest cheers came at the sight of seeing Harrison Reed warming up for the first time this season.
Many of our wasted chances in the final ten minutes of the half had been missed by the hoards hurrying for half time refreshments – and this exodus is taking place earlier and earlier every week. John Mitchell received a well deserved welcome from the Hammersmith in his half time appearance while my Chelsea supporting guest expressed his bemusement as to why we only got updates of Championship scores and not the Premier League as well. I informed him this was a privilege we as a club needed to earn again before we finally managed to get enough signal to check them ourselves and have a good laugh at Arsenal’s expense.
It was fairly clear that O’Neill had told his team to get stuck in for the second half and tackles flew in as frustrations grew. Fulham seem to have the knack of scoring at the right time and the second came barely ten minutes into the second half with some good work from Mitrovic resulting in a rebound falling to Decordova-Reid, who slotted home from close range. Much like the majority of the first half every Fulham attack was accompanied by the posh kid behind me gleefully telling his mate that he expected Fulham to “put it in the top bins” each time a shot was registered. Needless to say this grew old incredibly quickly but i resisted the urge to say anything.
Harry Wilson was inches away from bagging his second and Fulham’s third hitting the post before minutes later bravely sacrificing himself to lay on the third for Mitrovic. The biggest takeaway from the second half outside of the fact that we really are very good (despite still not being able to take penalties) was just how big Stoke centre back Harry Souttar is. He dwarfed Mitrovic although luckily in a game that was won on the floor rather than in the air. Reed managed a brief run out to a rapturous reception that was quickly followed by a moment of action after a hefty challenge on his previously injured ankle left him in a heap. Reed was fit to carry on, but with all three substitutions made, we didn’t get to see Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa do anything other than amble along the touchline. I suspect it may be the last time we see him in a Fulham squad.
Oddly enough, Fulham finished with 51% possession in a game that was so much more comfortable than anticipated. Maintaining our place at the top of the league going in to the International break caps off an excellent first few weeks under Silva’s tenure with the only real negative being the rumours swirling around AEW potentially coming to Craven Cottage in the future, but we can’t hold Marco accountable for that. Here’s hoping Harry Souttar is the closest thing we see to a wrestler on the pitch in the near future as we look forward to a trip to see the lights in our next outing away in Blackpool.
Any Saturday that starts with a Katsu Curry and finishes with us being top of the league cannot be classed as a bad one. In what felt like a continuing trend for the season my trip to the cottage went hand in hand with yet another wet and rainy walk through the residential streets of SW6. In anticipation of this my acquaintance and I had quadrupled down on our intake of high quality Japanese beer over said katsu in Central London prior to heading out west on the Piccadilly line instead of risking the uncovered but still packed beer gardens of Fulham Palace Road. There was however just about enough time to squeeze in one of Fulhams famous barely cold bottles of Carlsberg in the ground before finding our seats in the Hammersmith end.
As the wet Craven Cottage pitch received an additional soaking from the sprinklers before kick off it became clear that the club shop had been doing a roaring trade with their Boa Morte name printing in recent weeks. Our Assistant manager must be way ahead of everyone bar perhaps Mitrovic when it comes to fan shirt real estate. Being only the second game of the season I’m still to familiarise myself with my season ticket neighbours in H5 although luckily I’m already on first name terms with the concrete pillar that obscures my view. Off the back of 2 straight wins there seemed to be a real air of optimism among the crowd and while the weather had dampened the cardboard clappers it had certainly not subdued the atmosphere.
Fulham remained unchanged from the Millwall game with the born again John Michael Seri anchoring Midfield alongside Josh Onomah and the boy wonder Fabio Carvalho. Gazzaniga, fresh off a mid week endorsement from Mark Crossley describing him as one of the best keepers in the league continued in goal despite my longing for Marek Rodak. Our opposition lined up in their tiger stripes with very few familiar names. The most recognizable being the aging figure of Tom Huddlestone warming up as a substitute. His long hair bringing back bad memories of that season in the Premier league when he vowed not to get a hair cut until he broke his goal duck which of course came during our trip to the KC and a horrific 6-0 defeat. Unlike Middlesbrough Hull seem to have struggled in selling their allocation given the Putney end only seemed at best two thirds full.
Fulham as usual started quickly with lots of possession but not much in the way of clear cut chances. A decent Onomah volley went wide of the post and Seri took what had to be one of the worst corners I have seen in a long time. It would have been one that even the king of hitting the first man Bryan Ruiz would have been proud of. Whether or not the delay to the game that saw Tim Ream hobble off injured and replaced by Alfie Mawson affected Hulls concentration I can’t be sure but Mitrovic’s headed opener from a much better Seri corner occurred before Ream had even made it down the tunnel. As much as Ream has been good in the first few games I can’t help but feel his tenure in the side has limited longevity should we achieve promotion and Alfie Mawson (If he is able to stay fit) could well still develop in to a solid Premier league level defender and deliver on that promise he once showed at Swansea. It has to be said that he was imperious in the air all game and I don’t remember him losing a single header.
Barely ten minutes after the first we found ourselves two up with Carvalho yet again finding the net following some good work by Robinson. Alongside the obvious cheers this resulted in continued “sign him up” pleas from the Hammersmith end as we seemingly again run the risk of mismanaging a promising product of our youth academy out of the club.
Much like the first goal the second came only seconds after another enforced change for Fulham having had to replace Kenny Tete with striker come wide player come full back Bobby Reid who as per usual did everything that was asked of him. Despite every shot Fulham had seemingly going on target we once again struggled to kill the game off completely with a third goal. Cheers of “Shoot” when Tosin picked the ball up just outside of the box would usually have resulted in a ball in the Thames but even this tested the keeper. Hull on the other hand offered very little going forward but as we reached half time the words of my acquaintance “a decent team talk and a swig of Lucozade and there is no reason they can’t get back in this in the second half” suggested we still needed another to be certain of a result.
Evidently the Lucozade didn’t help and a fairly uneventful 2nd half saw no change in the score line. I’m not sure what the referee had to drink but it certainly didn’t result in Fulham getting many decisions going their way after the break. The closest we came to a third was a misplaced Mitrovic header from another better Seri corner.
The embarrassment of riches we have in our squad was highlighted again with the introduction of Anguissa for Carvalho after seventy minutes. As comfortable as we were with a two goal lead I certainly wasn’t comfortable enough to embrace every Fulham pass with an “Ole” like many others and instead chose to keep tabs on the West Brom game ensuring that even at this early stage of the season our goal difference was enough to put us top of the pile. The noise from the away end never seemed to get going either. Not that there was much for them to cheer about but another flap at a cross from Gazzaniga in the final few minutes could on another day have resulted in a nervy run in.
It certainly wasn’t a match that will live long in the memory. Just as two weeks on from the last home game the Riverside stand is a few more plastic seats towards completion, Fulham are another three points closer to where they want to be as well. The difference in style under Silva is slowly becoming more noticeable and was evident in one of Antonee Robinsons best performances I have seen in a while.
We departed the Cottage under cover of rain again having gained the win that was expected. The feeling of optimism has perhaps been replaced with entitlement and expectation already but it’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. Upon arrival at Hammersmith we were greeted by a hoard of QPR fans more cocky and antagonistic than you would expect from people who had just witnessed a 2-2 home draw with Barnsley. Sometimes I take for granted the nature of our own fans when compared to other less desirable traits of our neighbours. It’s easy to forget the pains of last season so perhaps we should enjoy the comfortable home wins while we can.
Needless to say Stoke will be a much tougher challenge on Saturday!
The first game of a new season is always a special one in any football fan’s calendar. When you haven’t seen your team play competitively for nearly eighteen months having missed both their promotion and subsequent relegation from the Premier League during that period, having to wait another 24 hours for a 1.30pm kick off on a Sunday feels like a low blow. I suppose we should be thankful that at least we didn’t have to travel down from Teesside for that same kick-off time.
Arriving into Hammersmith the vast majority of fans were robbed of undoubtedly the greatest walk to any football ground in the country by London transport and its “planned engineering works” rendering the district line and subsequently Putney Bridge useless on this wet and windy Sunday morning. The lunch time kick-off gave even the keenest of drinkers minimal time to consume the adequate amount needed to face the prospect of having to play Neil Warnock on the opening day especially when discovering the majority of local pubs weren’t due to open until noon.
My associate on this Sunday an Arsenal fan so disillusioned with life at the Emirates he was hoping a trip to the Cottage would jump start his love for the game prior to their season opener against Brentford next week. Sporting a Black and White Rage against the machine shirt in an effort to fit the colour scheme the irony that the vast majority of Fulham fans would be Arsenal supporters next week wasn’t lost on me. The pre match meal was a time appropriate fried breakfast on the Fulham Palace Road. The torrential rain only seemed to worsen as we swapped the café for a pub and didn’t relent during the albeit less scenic route to the stadium until the turnstiles were almost in sight.
The season tickets having arrived with barely a day to spare actually worked first time on the turnstiles granting access to the rear of the Hammersmith End and shelter from the now thinning rainfall. The hustle and bustle of the concourse was a sight for sore eyes and the chance for one final beer stood by the river with a close up view of the new Riverside stand was an opportunity not to be missed. My designated seats in H5 were adorned with the infamous clappers on arrival but even ten minutes prior to kick off it was clear to all that they wouldn’t be required to create a raucous atmosphere. The sight of away fans crammed into the Putney end coupled with being shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers signalled that football for the fans was finally back.
Fulham’s line up sprung a few surprises with the game coming too soon for Marek Rodak, so Paulo Gazzaniga continued in goal. Antonee Robinson seems to have edged out Joe Bryan at left back while clearly Tim Ream is being given a chance to bring some experience to a young backline. That youth theme continued through the midfield with the likes of Reed, Anguissa and Cairney all absent while Wilson and Kebano were selected to support Mitrovic in attack.
My reservations around Robinson and Gazzaniga certainly didn’t dissipate when in the first ten minutes the former nearly managed to wrongfoot his own goalkeeper with a backpass leaving half the Hammersmith End with hearts in mouths. Middlesbrough, whose new shirt looked like a nineties throwback to the Ravanelli era offered very little going forward, although despite the statistics showing we registered a total of 16 shots, I don’t remember us creating all that much either. Wilson’s goal on the half hour mark was certainly the highlight and hopefully signs of things to come from the Welshman. Mitrovic again suffered from any sort of real service and for all his shortcomings defensively Robinson offered very little going forward. The stark contrast between our left and right side in terms of quality was there for all to see.
What was refreshing was Fulham taking the occasional long goal kick. We all want beautiful passing football but over complicating things from the back seemed to become our trademark under Parker. It was nice to get to half time with a lead intact and some sense of optimism among the crowd. Led Zeppelin’s – (Rock and roll) blasting out “It’s been a long time” said what we were all feeling.
The second half was a familiar story in terms of us enjoying possession without ever really threatening to kill the game off or carve out any meaningful chances. With the exception of a Kebano header straight at him I don’t remember Lumley ever having to make a save in anger.
The beauty of sitting in the Hammersmith End always comes in the second half with the anticipation of every attack unanimously lifting fans to their feet as we enter the final third. The counter balance to this is the complete and utter helplessness and disconnect you feel as the opposition attacks the other end. Something so far away seems so out of your control you can only hope the back four and keeper can perform their duties without having you in earshot to offer your uninformed advice and guidance. Predictably Middlesbrough scored with their only chance and as is the nature of being directly opposite the away fans we had a perfect view of their sickening ecstasy. There may still have been fifteen minutes to go but it never felt like we would be capable of creating that second goal. The introduction of Kamara left me wondering how is he still here and why we desperately need that second striker for the remainder of the season.
A second half downpour ceased just as the final whistle blew. The long forgotten halftime optimism had been dampened by our inability to hold on to a lead but at least we could now look forward to a dry walk home. Clearly Silva will be given time to build and to judge a man on a team missing so many key players would be harsh but equally it did feel that being back at the Cottage amongst friends somewhat papered over the cracks on a fairly average performance. Whether the combination of being in a stadium full of fans and seeing Luis Boa Morte in the flesh was enough to rekindle my Arsenal supporting acquaintance’s love for the game remains to be seen but his pre-match bet on Wilson as first goalscorer and a 1-1 draw couldn’t have hurt.
Here’s looking forward to a Saturday three o’clock kick-off when the District line and pubs are open but the Heavens are not. COYW!
I was somewhere around Stevenage Road at the ridiculously early time of 1.25pm on Saturday when the anticipation began to take hold. The clean slate of a new season coupled with the fact I hadn’t seen a live game in eighteen months had led me to grossly overestimating my time of arrival.
With the exception of programme sellers setting up shop and a few souls clearly as desperate as me to return to a place that inadvertently causes us such pain and suffering, the outside of the stadium remained deserted.
I attempted to waste time with the obligatory purchase of a new home shirt, size small in a bid to stave off any weight gain throughout the season but achieving this feat within a few minutes left me with a good ninety more before a ball would be kicked in anger.
Glancing towards the Cottage gates Charlton had just arrived on their coach with plenty of time to spare. I decided to join the handful of fans eagerly awaiting the home team but gave up after forty minutes as the overcast skies finally delivered on what they had been threatening for a while and hosed it down, with little sign of Marco Silva’s arrival.
This seemed an appropriate moment to slip through the turnstiles and source refreshments before adjourning to my seat for a read of the programme. Just as I am informed that Cottage pies are not available today the paper bag containing my new home shirt perishes from its exposure to the downpour and dumps the pristine white on the dirty floor. I hope this is not an omen for the season ahead and seek solace in my second choice pastry… a Chicken Balti.
The decision to sit in the Johnny Haynes stand is a treat only for pre-season. I suspect I’m one of many displaced fans today finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. The opportunity to view a match side on rather than from behind a goal feels a little strange with the only familiarity being the cold black plastic of the seat having not risked splinters by pitching further back on the wooden ones. I sit a perfectly measured distance to get a smell of the turf and manicured bowling green with the added bonus of shelter above from the elements.
The announcement of a delayed kick-off from 3 to 4pm was to be expected given the coach’s no show earlier on. This allowed more time to appreciate the progress made on the new towering Riverside stand. Much of the seating and structure now in place, it occurred that glimpses of the river through the glass on the lower tier may soon be the only way the Thames can be seen from inside the stadium. As the corners are gradually filled in those of us in the Hammersmith end will no longer be able to seek comfort staring at passing rowers on those days when things aren’t going so well on the pitch. The only thing steeper than the Riverside stand in fact is the £3 I was charged for a Diet Coke (minus the lid) .. Oh how we missed this.
The rain ceased as we crept closer to the revised kick off. Fulham’s line up offered a blend of familiar faces, young prospects and players who we all fully expect not to be here for much longer. In Fabio Carvalho and Tyrese Francois we see glimpses of the riches that exist within our under utilised youth system while the likes of Tim Ream and Anthony Knockaert may again get the chance to prove their worth having been previously discarded. New signing Paulo Gazzaniga in goal gave us two “man buns” in the back line, something that inspired about as much confidence as Gabor Kiraly’s tracksuit trousers.
Aside from the only goal of the game which came courtesy of beautiful combination from Francois and Carvalho around the 30 minute mark, the highlight of the first half was the enthusiasm and banter brought by Charlton’s travelling band of fans, approximately three hundred of whom had made the trip. Naturally the atmosphere was flatter than usual, lone voices trumping anything in the way of a collective sing-a-long. Some would argue that many in attendance were as plastic as the coverings adorning the new seating in the Riverside stand. A point best illustrated by the number of people committing the cardinal sin of trying to drink alcohol at their seat. Something that would suggest they are not perhaps regular attendees but rather there for a nice day out. The inevitable “This is a library” and “We forgot that you were here” seemed fully justified although I will take my hat off and say that “Your ground’s too big for you” was particularly inspired. I draw a line at “Your just a bus stop in Chelsea” though as any cartophile will know Chelsea is very much a club IN Fulham.
To say the performance was a breath of fresh air from last season would be a stretch. Fulham certainly looked lively at times, neat passing from the back but as usual our crossing ability and cutting edge in the final third was predictably woeful. A season at Nottingham Forest has done little to dampen Anthony Knockaert’s enthusiasm but if he had been half as good as the digger currently situated between the Hammersmith and Riverside stands at burying things then Fulham’s advantage would have been much more commanding
Although Charlton gave a good account of themselves, Gazzaniga didn’t really have a save to make. Mitrovic certainly looked leaner than last season, but struggled to splutter out of first gear. The obligatory “Mitro’s on fire” was sung to inspire him, but the man himself barely got warm.
Fulham were in control for most of the second half without really ever exciting. The final twenty minutes were littered with substitutions and, with ten to go, Silva sent on Bryan and Mawson for Robinson and Ream leaving my preferred back four to play out time. I wouldn’t expect that to be the case against Middlesbrough, with Mawson’s previous fitness injury, but Robinson’s defensive shortcomings should at least bring Bryan into the conversation.
Predictably the game was over bang on the ninety minutes. The advantage of the Johnny Haynes Stand is the swift exit in to Stevenage Road, providing a prompt arrival at my dinner engagement despite the delay to kick off. It certainly wasn’t a game that will live long in the memory, an appetiser for what is to follow next week but one welcomed with open arms by fans who have been desperately hungry for a taste of seeing Fulham in the flesh once again.