In isolation that was the archetypal Premier League game: even steven, home team edges owing to a few things here and there. In the context of our season so far it’s deflating. We never expect to win away, but Newcastle are a team going in the wrong direction, who played extra time in midweek, and who were there to be beaten.
We had a decent crack at it. The first part of the game was all Fulham, crisp passing suggesting that Jol had asked for a quicker, almost one-touch tempo. We didn’t make anything of this, but as Spain and Barcelona show, when you have 70% of the ball wins tend to happen one way or another. But Newcastle, aided slightly by some lenient refereeing (if you book players for persistent fouling they stop persistent fouling), grew back into the game and by half-time we were hanging on.
Then in the second half we lost the game. A dipping volley from distance was parried onto the bar by Schwarzer, and Leon Best beat Hughes to the rebound from a yard or so. Hard to know what was what in that, although the closest Fulham player to the original shooter seemed to be Dembele, which might suggest that a holding midfielder could have been useful.
Then it was two. A bit lucky this one, as Demba Ba drove a volley across the area speculatively, it flicked off a defender and found Best again, and he (again given too much room) buried it. More slightly not quite there defending.
Fulham turned it up a notch and forced a few decent saves from Krul in the Newcastle goal. Decent, not great, because headers from Sidwell and Murphy were straight at him when both really should have scored. Credit for the positioning, of course, but missed opportunities from the men in dull yellow. Chris Baird – back in the team today – hit a free kick hard at Krul, but for all this bustle there was no coherent sense of attacking play. We seem to have regressed to Coleman-era coincidence attacking, pile forwards and see what happens. Under Hodgson we could all predict where the ball was going next in most moves but there was a certainty to the team’s play. Murphy to Zamora, Zamora to Gera, Gera to Murphy, Murphy to Konchesky, etc. Patterns, boring but authoritative patterns. Not that we scored lots of goals in those days – we didn’t, and were legitimately awful away from home – but our forward play at the moment just seems so rudderless.
It doesn’t help that Zamora’s still not playing. No manager has managed to get this group to win games without Zamora so it’s no surprise that Jol should struggle, but this perhaps only underscores the importance of quality reserve players. We’ve always been well off for attacking midfielders and generally the squad has an okay feel about it, but at centre-forward we seem really iffy. Dempsey and Dembele did moderately well given service available to them (next to nothing), but in these situations you need someone clever to link up midfield and attack, or someone fast to liven things up, or… well, just something. Dembele continues to puzzle, and seems to have lost half a step from his early Fulham career. We must hope that it’s merely mislaid, because he presently looks ponderous on the ball, and is not helping the team to construct dangerous attacks. He needs options, he needs help, but as our luxury player it’s his job to thrive in these tight games, and at the moment he isn’t.
Transfer deadline week. You can’t expect a magical fix in three days but a couple of good players might give the squad and the fans a lift, which is probably what’s needed more than anything else at this point.
Clint Dempsey made it 2-1 late on with a pleasing header, incidentally. That was our first goal of the season, so hurray for that. Early days.