Monday, March 17, 2014

No Cottage industry

Fulham 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Maybe the Silver Fox's actions on the touchline at Hull were rational and sensible after all. In the wake of yesterday's game at Craven Cottage, getting himself banned from the stadium so that, unlike us, he didn't have to witness the performance of the away side looked a very shrewd move.

In truth, though, he did apparently watch the game, in his hotel room. Such was the quality of what he saw that it presumably wasn't long before he did an Alan Partridge: got drunk and rang reception to ask "Can you make pornography come on my telly please?"

Going into the game Fulham had lost their previous four at home, not won anywhere in nine and not kept a clean sheet in fourteen - so the appearance of the Newcastle team bus on Fulham Palace Road must have been a real sight for sore eyes, given the Cottagers had beaten us on their own turf in each of the last four campaigns.

Our cause was certainly not helped by the injuries to French duo Loic Remy and Mathieu Debuchy, who were replaced in the starting line-up by Papiss Cisse and fit-again skipper Sideshow Bob, whose return shunted MYM out to right-back.

Meanwhile, Felix Magath, Fulham's third manager of the season, reacted to the 3-1 defeat at Cardiff that left them adrift at the foot of the table by dropping five players including Maarten Stekelenburg, Tim Krul's rival for the Dutch number 1 shirt, and Kostas Mitroglou, the £11m January signing who didn't even make the squad. It smacked of a manager who didn't have a clue what he was doing.

There was very little for either set of supporters to shout about in the first half - watching the low-flying planes en route for their landing at Heathrow would have been more entertaining than a match in which both sides were regularly guilty of poor distribution and aimless long punts. The home defence looked very nervy, Fernando Amorebieta in particular.

Paul Dummett had our first chance of note, curling a free kick over the bar. De Jong then made space well for a shot but could only send a stubbed effort trundling into David Stockdale's arms. Worse was to follow, when he miskicked an inviting cross and Cisse's prod was put behind by the Fulham 'keeper. By that point Stockdale's opposite number Krul had seen a dipping volley flash over the bar and tipped away Spurs loanee Lewis Holtby's vicious curler.

Goalless at the break, then. The three points were without doubt there for the taking, and so, while Fulham's need may have been greater than ours, our limp second-half surrender was nevertheless utterly inexcusable.

Our opponents had the ball in the Hammersmith End net within minutes of the restart, the goal chalked off for offside. The same thing happened ten minutes later as Cauley Woodrow, the teenage forward who gave our experienced central defensive pairing a real run-around, followed up after a Johnny Heitinga shot had hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down a matter of mere millimetres away from crossing the line. All we had to applaud was the occasional storming but ultimately unproductive run from Moussa Sissoko and another dribbling shot from de Jong.

The game's critical moment came in the 66th minute, when a loose ball from William Kvist allowed Papiss Cisse a one-on-one opportunity that he fluffed - as he has all too often this season. Fulham promptly broke down their left, where first Alex Kacaniklic and then substitute Ashkan Dejagah had been posing an increasing threat. The German-Iranian winger was allowed to cut in on his right foot by MYM and seized the opportunity, driving a bouncing shot under an unsighted Krul.

Cisse was put out of his misery soon after, leaving the action to make way for Big Lad, while Sylvain Marveaux and debutant striker Adam Armstrong also came on. Our response to falling behind, however, was pathetic, consisting largely of one header off-target from de Jong and a direct run and shot over the bar from Armstrong. It's telling that the closest we came to an equaliser was when Krul, up for a corner in the dying seconds, had a shot that struck Heitinga's outstretched arm. It should have been a spot-kick, but that would have been more than we deserved.

As stacked in our favour as the odds were prior to kick-off, in terms of form, another defeat without scoring always looked the depressingly likely outcome given Remy's injury. It's no coincidence that without him (as well as HBA and Dreamboat) we carry very little threat - in de Jong and Cisse we have two strikers who couldn't be more out of form if they tried. The result (coupled with Southampton's win) dropped us to ninth, but did also ratchet up the pressure on the Mackems, who remain in the relegation zone and who are now just one point off bottom.

This tale of woe wouldn't be complete without a moan about my personal experience of the day. An ill-advised trek in the unseasonable heat along the Thames Path from Mortlake during which I got lost meant I missed the first ten minutes of the game, only to discover I'd paid £40 for the privilege of sitting in a home area surrounded by rugger-shirted toffs more interested in the Six Nations, teenage tossers complaining about the assistant referee being a "spastic" for making offside calls, and (with apologies to some of our readers) the very worst kind of American fan - club shop-fresh scarves and baseball caps, father telling chubby son things like "that's what they call a 'handleball'"...

All things considered, then, it wasn't the most enjoyable afternoon I've ever had. Here's hoping they get relegated, just so we don't have to go there and lose yet again.

A Fulham fan's perspective: Craven Cottage Newsround

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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