By Morgan Phillips
In last Friday’s Evening Standard, former Fulham captain Danny Murphy contemplated the chances of Southampton suffering an FA Cup upset at Craven Cottage.
He wrote: “You never know what you are going to get with Fulham but they have been on a good run and Southampton look like a team lacking confidence.”
As Danny suggests, his former club are notoriously unpredictable. However, some clues should not be ignored. Southampton were on a run of nine matches without a win. The club had just sold a vital member of the defence. Fulham had recently capitulated to Sunderland, who had gone 12 months without a League victory. Would the Whites offer similar relief to Southampton?
Murphy could also have considered where Slavisa Jokanovic sets the FA Cup in his priorities. Last season, Fulham reached the fifth round before losing to Spurs. That cup run is a distant memory now, but every fan will remember with gratitude the head coach taking the club to the playoffs.
His team selection for the Southampton tie suggested either overconfidence or else a wish to save some key players for the promotion race. The highly influential captain Tom Cairney was rested and Aboubakar Kamara, Neeskens Kebano and Sheyi Ojo, all of whom have scored in Fulham’s recent revival, were named as substitutes.
There was no lack of effort in the first half. But apart from Ryan Sessegnon and Tim Ream, the performance fell well below recent standards. While Southampton – desperate for a win – were only marginally better. Shane Long, having recently ended his melancholy run of 23 games without scoring, put the ball in the net after ten minutes but was judged offside. The visitors took the lead on the half hour when Steven Davis’s pass penetrated a packed Fulham defence for James Ward-Prowse to score.
Jokanovic finally sent on Kebano in the 56th minute followed in 10-minute intervals by Ojo and Kamara – but Fulham’s only shot on target was a tame effort from Stefan Johansen.
In response Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg drew a good save from David Button, and later the Saints hit the underside of the crossbar. Fulham had one opportunity when the Saints’ keeper failed to gather Oliver Norwood’s free kick, only for Denis Odoi to shoot high and wide.
Tim Ream, chosen Man of the Match by more than half of the participating supporters, summed up the match by saying: “We took it seriously …. Now it’s time to switch our focus and concentrate on the League.”
A victory at Middlesbrough could certainly ease the disappointment of that early FA Cup exit.
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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