The sort of game that makes you want to kick a dustbin. Fulham, so lively and so bright in recent times, stunned by the usual mess from Stoke, a team of trees that is always greater than the sum of its parts, always seems to have extra players on the pitch. Stoke seem to fill every area, and Fulham’s players rarely found space until a frenetic last ten minutes when we threw the kitchen sink into proceedings. And even then there wasn’t really anywhere to construct anything, as Stoke were packed deep and determined.
It’s hard to know what Martin Jol might have done differently. Without Ruiz the team tried a moderately successful approach that involved Baird, Sidwell and Karagounis in the middle and Berbatov and Petric up front. Dejagah was the true winger in all this.
But the trouble was, we couldn’t settle on the ball, despite having all these midfielders. Stoke eventually scored a very Stoke like goal, a deep cross knocked down by Peter Crouch and swivelled on by an advanced Charlie Adam. It’s not a goal you’d want to concede and it was a shame that Crouch wasn’t troubled more, but this is what Stoke do so well. The disappointment is more that we weren’t able to impose ourselves on them at all, which meant that Begovic had absolutely nothing to do until some late efforts from Berbatov and Petric, the latter in particular making us wonder what might have been: a devilish swirling shot that Begovic didn’t like one bit and spilled.
By then we had Duff on, Rodallega too, but there wasn’t enough exact football in the final third, mainly because Stoke were defending well. What do you do? We have no big target man, that’d be playing into their hands anyway, so the only option was to keep trying to play. Perhaps we might have tried to go through the middle more, and Sidwell’s occasional bursts hinted at something, but it didn’t feel like there were any good answers. We had most of the ball but just couldn’t make anything happen.
We defender okay too. Tony Gale in commentary seemed keen to adopt the fashionable “Senderos is an accident waiting to happen line” whenever Stoke attacked but he didn’t look so bad to me. An average performance in trying circumstances. And Stoke only had two shots on target all game (so did we, of course), so there’s that, too.
You have to look at these games in isolation and in context of others. In isolation it’s a tight defeat at a difficult place to go. In context it’s another game without getting what we want, but at this point nobody need worry – we’ll start winning again soon.