By Morgan Phillips
So far, the road to promotion for the Whites is looking even longer.
A late run of points catapulted them into the play-offs last season. This time around, despite three excellent away victories at Ipswich, Nottingham Forest and QPR, they proved unable to spoil Aston Villa's home record a fortnight ago.
The first half displayed Fulham's strengths and weaknesses. Floyd Ayite, Ryan Sessegnon and others made the openings – but sadly there was no one to convert them. According to official statistics the visitors' passing was 86% accurate, yet produced only two shots on target in the whole game.
John Terry must have been practising for the 23rd minute of this match ever since he joined Villa. It seemed that only he anticipated the flight of Conor Hourihane's corner kick, and he calmly nodded the ball past Button.
Villa held their lead almost to half time but just before the interval Ayite was fouled outside the area and Stefan Johansen showed again his mastery of free kicks.
Another creditable away win suddenly looked possible but Villa regained the advantage too easily. The home goalkeeper then saved the second of Fulham's shots on target (an unimaginative effort by Ayite) and it needed some fine anticipation from David Button to prevent a heavier defeat.
Any hopes that Bolton would be easy victims this past Saturday were soon dashed by yet another poor first-half display at Craven Cottage, where the repetitive short passing looked more like a training session. Jokanovic may well be right in claiming that Ayite's 14th minute effort should not have been deemed offside, but Fulham should have offered far more in attack than that disallowed goal and a couple of promising strikes by Aboubakar Kamara.
Bolton took the lead when their keeper Ben Alnwick punted the ball almost the length of the field. Presumably Jokanovic's training sessions do not include such archaic tactics because three Fulham defenders watched in amazement as Sammy Ameobi elegantly gathered the ball and turned it into the net.
The half-time whistle was met with boos, not aimed at anyone in particular but to register disappointment at a lacklustre display. There was a slight improvement after the interval with the arrival of Kebano, though he failed to capitalise on a one-to-one joust with Alnwick. David Button the home goalkeeper then presented Adam Armstrong with an open goal, but his shot went wide.
Like Preston the other week, Bolton wasted as much time as they could. Alnwick used every opportunity to carry the ball more than the allotted six seconds (on one occasion the crowd counted 21, a slight exaggeration). He eventually received a yellow card for excessive delay but an indirect free kick would have concentrated his mind more effectively. Anyway it was fittingly in the 94th minute that Kevin McDonald laid on an equaliser for Tom Cairney after Alnwick's misjudged parry. If the keeper had caught the ball, the goal would not have happened.
Two goals of quality illuminated the game. The Whites' supporters left in better spirits though with a strong feeling of déjà vu.
The first half hour of Tuesday night's Carabao Cup home match against Bristol City was more encouraging, with Johansen and Sessegnon in positive mode. Then with disdainful ease the visitors put two goals past a static defence. Fulham's comeback looked unlikely and became impossible on the hour when Kamara was sent off. Though sitting near the incident I only saw the City player hitting the ground as if pole-axed.
Other spectators reckon that Kamara, who has endured some rough treatment in the Championship, pushed his opponent in the face. The referee had also failed to witness the incident and needed to consult his assistant at length. The victim's fall was surely overdramatized but the referee had to dismiss Kamara. The game fizzled out with the 0-2 score unchanged.
It is too early in the season for the club to issue worry beads instead of clappers but something is clearly not right.
New Riverside Stand proposals
The club has just unveiled its proposals for a new Riverside Stand. Supporters had two opportunities to visit an exhibition at the ground.
As Hammersmith & Fulham Council is the planning authority involved it is inappropriate for me to say too much in this blog. But personally, I am quite relaxed on the issue because the existing stand has much in its favour. Nevertheless, I do applaud the club for involving the fans at this comparatively early stage.
The inevitable questionnaire handed to those visiting the exhibition included the following: “Do you support the club's ambitions to stay at Craven Cottage and expand its capacity from 25,799 to 30,000 seats?”
I vehemently support remaining at the Cottage. If expansion is necessary then so be it. However, living in the area, I realise that some residents have genuine environmental concerns. The new design is meant to address these. Inevitably, it may not placate the dwindling band who want the Craven Cottage ground erased from the map.
The exhibition basically showed artists’ impressions and a modest scale model. It was low-tech but redeemed by the presence of numerous experts ready to answer all manner of questions. The model included the two existing stands behind the goals, and one fan thought that his present seat was being replaced by a stanchion. He was relieved to learn that it was only there to prevent the model’s roof from collapse!
Increased capacity will only be needed when Fulham regains its place in the Premier League. And there’s much work to be done before we can celebrate promotion.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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