By Morgan Phillips
At the end of February rumours abounded of managerial changes at Fulham. One local paper had to go to press while still waiting for official confirmation. Significantly the back page displayed a photograph of Claudio Ranieri with the headline THE PRICE OF FAILURE. However (just to be safe) the article reported the supporters’ discontent not with the manager but with the high cost of match tickets.
The latter issue also sparked a second-half protest during Fulham’s home match against Manchester City at the end of March. The public address system had already intoned its usual warning that Craven Cottage was an all seater stadium and spectators were forbidden to watch from a standing position. Such pronouncements are routinely ignored but on this occasion most of the home fans stayed in their seats throughout the game, not really expecting their team to score. Only the protestors in the 55th minute rose to their feet.
Twice in the opening moments of the first half Fulham had made defensive blunders against the potential Champions of the Premier League. First our goalkeeper cleared the ball straight to the feet of Sergio Aguero, then Timothy Fosu-Mensah gifted Bernardo Silva a fifth minute goal.
The Hammersmith End had a good view of both mistakes but I was spared from seeing the goal by spectators arriving late. Sky notwithstanding, perhaps these lunchtime games could begin at 12.35 because many people seem unable to take their places by half past twelve.
After scoring, City took total control, the home crowd cheering ironically whenever Fulham got possession of the ball. Then suddenly resistance flared with Ryan Babel, Floyd Ayite and Ryan Sessegnon testing the visitors’ defence. Just as Scott Parker’s strategy seemed to be working, his team made yet another howler. Joe Bryan’s limp pass led to Sergio Aguero scoring from an oblique angle the goal that settled the match.
Very little occurred in the hour that remained. BBC News described City’s display as stylish. They certainly dominated possession and used the whole pitch, but their accuracy often proved wayward. One effort from Nicolas Otamendi did not just go over the bar, it cleared the top of the stand and presumably landed in Bishops Park. Meanwhile Fulham failed to have a shot on target or even to win a corner. More than once Ryan Babel squatted on his haunches begging for a pass. I was reminded of Trevor Chamberlain reclining on the pitch like a Roman emperor, and Roger Cross applauding the opposition because they too felt ignored by their team-mates.
Even the officials seemed to be dozing, on one occasion allowing play to continue when the ball had clearly gone into touch. The referee woke up in time to punish some unpleasant fouls by Cyrus Christie, Maxime le Marchand and City’s Raheem Sterling, and the match dragged to its close. It was remarkable how many spectators remained after the final whistle to applaud (sympathetically) the home team.
In the same good-natured spirit some supporters promised that Tuesday night’s match at Watford would be a ‘relegation party’. Initially it seemed premature because Fulham looked capable of winning but a second half capitulation ensured the club’s return to the Championship. The excitement of last May seems so distant now. In the five remaining matches Scott and his players should repay the fans’ loyalty by serving up some entertaining football to give us some happy memories of this brief stay in the Premier League.
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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