By Morgan Phillips
If you are a Championship club with only one point from six home games, which visiting team would most likely boost your flagging confidence?
It was almost inevitable that Stoke City would find Fulham in a generous mood, notably in the 16th minute of the match when home keeper Adam Federici’s long kick allowed Kevin Campbell to catch Tim Ream off balance and to score with ease.
‘Route 1’ may be old-fashioned but it is a legitimate tactic (ask Manchester City), which should not take experienced defenders by surprise.
This early goal provided most of the excitement in a tepid first half. Not until the 51st minute did the visitors really threaten Federici’s goal, Harry Arter shooting from 20 yards.
As usual Fulham showed more purpose in the second period but the finishing was poor. Arter was badly injured and another defensive lapse allowed Scott Hogan a free run at goal. Marcus Bettinelli chose to bring him down and Lee Gregory scored from the penalty spot, ending Fulham’s hopes of saving a point.
Despite this set-back the mood at Cottage for the Wednesday evening match against Luton was cheerful and optimistic. True the home defence still looked vulnerable (the visitors spurned four good openings in the first half), but as a team Fulham moved the ball to good effect. Marek Rodak in goal brought a welcome urgency to the familiar tactic of playing from the back.
Perhaps the most encouraging feature was Aleks Mitrovic’s return to his best form. As at Stoke the scoring opened in the 16th minute but this time it was Fulham’s turn, Mitrovic turning and shooting through a crowded penalty area.
There ensued a series of raids on the Luton goal but at half-time the score remained 1-0.
Soon after the interval Mitrovic doubled Fulham’s lead when Bobby de Cordova-Reid centred from the right.
Then an unwise foul by Ryan Tunnicliffe gave Fulham a free kick just outside the area. Instead of shooting, Anthony Knockaert slipped the ball to Joe Bryan, whose centre was headed home by the Serb striker, completing his hat-trick.
Although Luton had scored between Fulham’s second and third goals they looked well beaten. Astonishingly they mounted a rally in stoppage time and Kazenga Lualua notched a goal similar to Mitrovic’s second.
Home supporters found themselves whistling for Mr Brooks the referee to end a game that had previously seemed so one-sided.
The week-end match at Middlesbrough contained only one incident of real importance. In the 18th minute Marek Rodak raced from the penalty area to intercept Ashley Fletcher, who tried to outwit him by shooting early.
What happened next was hard to descry from the video but the Fulham website admitted ‘The Slovakian raised both arms through instinct and deflected the ball. The referee had no choice but to produce the red card’.
Bettinelli replaced the keeper and the reorganised ten men of Fulham efficiently frustrated the home side for the remainder of a drab match.
Scott Parker was right to praise his team’s spirited display, which achieved a ‘clean sheet’ away from the Cottage for the first time this season. A tighter defence would markedly improve the Whites’ chances of 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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