The next two games are effectively a mini-tournament. We have been drawn against Birmingham and then Portsmouth. If we win those two matches we win the mini-tournament, if we don’t we’re knocked out. Ordinarily these two wins would seem impossible for Fulham 07/08, but this is not an ordinary situation. Anything really can happen now. The old footballing cliche about taking a game at a time could not be more relevant: beat Birmingham and it’s a one-off battle on the South coast.
We can only hope that the Craven Cottage crowd is in good humour on Saturday. As a group we seem to have become spoilt, quick to voice displeasure at anything that is not perfect, or anyone who doesn’t appear to have the sufficient fire in his belly on that day. After the Liverpool defeat a number of fans in the Johnny Haynes Stand shouted at the departing Roy Hodgson as if the manager had just insulted their nearest and dearest. Such venom, such hate. This sort of thing transmits itself to the pitch. Had we been 2-0 down at home to Man City the crowd would have jeered the players off, would have muttered, stopped shouting, and flatlined towards 90 minutes. There would presumably have been no comeback.
So we must hope for an early goal to settle everyone’s nerves. The other helpful thing is that the crowd ought to be running out of scapegoats. A feature of the early part of the season was watching Chris Baird’s game fall apart as the crowd seized on his every lapse. He would start solidly enough, misplace a pass (as everyone does), and unravel from there. Which is not to defend Baird, but to suggest that he wasn’t helped very much either.
Danny Murphy remains on a short leash among fans in Johnny Haynes, but should have done enough by now to get some leeway. If he missed a penalty at City, at least he had the composure to put the ball back where it should have gone in the first place. And his slide rule pass to set up Kamara’s winner was an exquisite illustration of the damage that vision, technique and timing can do to tired defences. It was a beatiful pass and one that Kamara did justice to with a thrashing, joyous finish.
Kamara… another who has been berated this season. But there have been some goals, some very good goals, and he has also been quite unfortunate on occasion. At least two disallowed, a shot at Villa that hit the very inside of a post, and some interesting, scuttling runs that have led to important free-kicks (I’m thinking of Blackburn at home in particular here). Not everyone’s cup of tea, but another player who may be benefitting from our new manager’s insistance on passing the football and from a more clearcut role in the team (is he a winger, is he a forward?). We have small players, it makes sense to keep the ball on the deck. Several of the squad are benefitting from this.
Things seem to be coming together. At this point Hodgson seems to know his best team, and would be wise to stick with it. Changes could very reasonably be made, but the Kamara and Nevland partnership would seem most effective in breaking down a tiring defence late on, rather than doing the spade work when the defence is packed, committed and unbroken. McBride and Healy are capable of making things happen too and deserve the chance to play.
Otherwise me must hope for more good fortune and no more injuries. It’s doable now. The good thing about running out of games is that the task seems less daunting. Over five matches anything can go wrong, the series is too big to think about. Two is different: win one, win the next one, job done.