By Morgan Phillips
It happens so often.
A run of consecutive victories attracting praise from unexpected quarters (‘The best team I have seen in the league until now’ said the Derby manager) but ending in anti-climax. Was it overconfidence that led Fulham to such a feeble performance against their close rivals Bristol City?
A fortnight previously, the Whites had started ineptly against Queens Park Rangers but still inflicted a convincing defeat.
Perhaps Bristol were aware of this and did not get too excited by how easy it was to contain Fulham in the early stages. Anthony Knockaert spurned one simple chance (fortunately for him he was offside anyway), and Tom Cairney carelessly provided a similarly wasted opportunity to Bristol’s Famara Diedhiou. The home side looked jaded, their tactics laboured and predictable with Aleksander Mitrovic for once failing to inspire.
City went ahead in the 26th minute. Niclas Eliasson collected a stray pass and sent the ball swirling into the penalty area, where the unmarked Josh Brownhill calmly headed past Marek Rodak. Fulham’s response was muted and there was little improvement after half-time.
Eventually, in the 68th minute, Scott Parker heeded the supporters’ pleas and sent on Aboubakar Kamara, followed shortly afterwards by Neeskens Kebano. This virtually doubled the pace of the match but the visitors received the initial benefit. Clever passing disrupted the home defence, leaving Diedhiou to tap in the second goal. Finally, the fightback began. Kebano’s shot was palmed away by Daniel Bentley only for Kamara to follow up and score. No-one could have tried harder to equalise than Neeskens Kebano. His brilliant header rebounded from the crossbar, but it was an earlier effort that caused the sensation. As the substitute cut in from the left, Callum O’Dowda ran behind, knocking him off balance.
Unaccountably, referee Mr Simpson saw no infringement. Tom Cairney and his players berated the official, earning two cautions in the process and two more shortly afterwards. Their ire was understandable but not their lack of discipline, considering the scant animation shown in the rest of the match. Though Fulham were robbed of a penalty kick they scarcely deserved a point. The controversy made a sad ending to a match that had started movingly with both sets of fans paying their respects to the family of City’s Benik Afobe, whose baby Amora had passed away.
The following Tuesday Fulham might have expected an easier time against Preston, who were on a losing run, but once again the Londoners suffered an unimpressive 2-1 defeat. Lax marking for a corner kick permitted Sean Maguire to embarrass Rodak in the 23rd minute, and almost immediately afterwards Denis Odoi flung himself against Patrick Bauer and received a red card.
This was a disappointment, as Denis seemed this season to have controlled his wilder instincts. Just before the interval, Joseph Rafferty inflicted a similarly crude assault on Joe Bryan, so each team ended the half with ten players.
Unfazed the home side went further ahead in the 52nd minute through David Nugent. As against Bristol City, Fulham only began to compete in the final half-hour particularly after the introduction of Kebano. Stefan Johansen and Mitrovic went close before Kebano created a goal for the Serb. The latter strike was more or less the Whites’ only effort on target in the whole match.
This was not a good time to visit long-term rivals Brentford, and Fulham, suffering their third consecutive defeat, were fortunate to concede only once. Surprisingly these setbacks did not dislodge the club from the play-off places, but Leeds and West Bromwich are moving clear of the pack.
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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