Fulham FC at Craven Cottage

Statistics alone won't do it



Carabao Cup Second Round match between Fulham and Southampton at Craven Cottage. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Morgan Phillips
Morgan Phillips

By Morgan Phillips

After three successive victories some supporters and some pundits seemed to regard Fulham’s promotion as inevitable.

They quoted statistics that would have satisfied Mr Micawber: 84.3 per cent possession (as in the Millwall match) = happiness, 15.7 per cent = misery.

Other observers recognised the wisdom in the song that taunted the East London side ‘Can we play you every week?’

Nottingham Forest arrived at the Cottage content to yield possession to Fulham but determined to block all scoring opportunities.

With such a strategy an away point was achievable and there was always the possibility of a Forest breakaway goal.

To their disbelief the visitors found themselves ahead in the fourth minute of the match. An impeccable sequence of passes ended with Jack Robinson crossing the ball from the left to allow Lewis Grabban a tap-in.

Fulham stuck to their own Micawberish plan, dominating possession (77 per cent this time) and actually having more shots than they had against Millwall.

Many of their efforts were disappointing, however, leaving goalkeeper Brice Samba unperturbed.

At the other end a long pass by Michael Dawson set Grabban free on the left and Marcus Bettinelli’s alertness prevented Forest from leading 2-0 at the interval.

The visitors did increase their advantage on the hour when Steven Sessegnon dwelt too long on the ball, allowing Grabban a well taken opportunist goal.

Forest only had three efforts on target in the whole match (all from the same player) yet they were heading for victory.

Sessegnon almost atoned eight minutes later with Fulham’s best shot of the match, which Brice managed to turn away. Then Tim Ream’s effort was blocked by a defender; the referee Peter Bankes rejected cries of handball.

Fulham finally scored after Abou Kamara came on as substitute. I have expressed reservations about him but he certainly rallied the team with his lively wing play, and he produced an 83rd minute goal for Aleks Mitrovic that was similar to Forest’s opener. The home team strove in vain to find the equaliser.

Forest had outmanoeuvred Fulham but they lost credibility by excessive time-wasting. Surely the officials could have done more.

Mr Bankes did book Samba for his interminable delays over goal-kicks, but the keeper refused to speed up.

Samba was also guilty of carrying the ball longer than the stipulated six seconds (as are all keepers).

Furthermore neither Forest nor the referee seemed aware that substituted players should leave the pitch by the nearest point on the boundary line.

Eight minutes were added to the final 45 but as the second half contained five substitutions, and two goals, the Forest got off lightly.

Stricter refereeing would probably not have altered the result but it would have improved the game for spectators.

For the EFL Cup visit of Southampton, Scott Parker rested most of his first team and sent out a shadow side, which lost 1-0.

The match will soon be forgotten except by Tyrese Francois, Ben Davis and Martell Taylor-Crossdale, young prospects who came on as substitutes late in the proceedings.

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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