By Morgan Phillips
After Fulham’s poor showing at Griffin Park, their next opponents were Birmingham City, a team with a melancholy away record.
On a day when Chelsea, QPR and Brentford were all defeated, the Whites’ 1-0 victory restored the fans’ spirits though the game was short on quality. The result was decided by two players on loan from Premier clubs, Fulham’s Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool) and Birmingham’s Jeremie Boga (Chelsea).
The return of Marcus Bettinellli and Tim Ream undoubtedly strengthened the Whites’ defence, and for most of the match Birmingham provided little threat. There was also an improvement in Fulham’s passing, as shown by the 14th minute combination of Kevin McDonald, Ryan Sessegnon and Neeskens Kebano that allowed Ojo to flick the ball past David Stockdale, the Birmingham goalkeeper.
Just before half-time Kebano injured himself when trying for a goal and had to be replaced by Aboubakar Kamara. Last week I wondered if Kamara should have been given his chance at Griffin Park. Sent on against Birmingham he showed his usual enthusiasm without making a strong case for inclusion in the starting line-up. By contrast Rui Fonte gave probably his best performance so far.
Once again, Slavisa Jokanovic relied on his midfielders to score, and once again they proved erratic. In the 57th minute Stockdale saved from Stefan Johansen, after which the Blues fans taunted Fulham, ‘How bad must you be – it’s only one-nil.’ (Or words to that effect...)
Shortly afterwards Sheyi Ojo could have increased his tally but he sent the ball into the stratosphere.
This might have proved costly as Kevin McDonald was then penalised by the referee for dangerous play just inside the area. Fortunately, Jeremie Boga’s spot-kick flew over the bar. On average the Blues score a goal every two matches, so their problems are not really in defence.
Just before the finish David Stockdale beat out a decent shot from Kamara, whose second effort went even higher than Ojo’s, so the score remained 1-0. A reasonably entertaining match was enhanced by the warm welcome given to our former keeper Stockdale – and by the half-time appearance of three stalwarts from the 1989 play-off team, Peter Scott, John Marshall and Big Jim Stannard.
The crowd also enjoyed the accurate shooting of youngsters from the Fulham Foundation – though one or two participants needed assistance from the generous goalkeeping of Billy the Badger.
I will leave the final words to a wry Slavisa Jokanovic: “We won two games at home with two clean sheets. It’s a new experience for us.”
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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