My sense is that performances like that don’t just happen. Fulham, I think, realised that an intergalactic thrashing was on the cards unless they worked out some kind of plan, and in so doing reminded us (as if we needed reminding) what’s been missing all season. It’s too simple to suggest that the players haven’t had instructions or plans all year but let’s be honest, they’ve certainly played with, er, freedom, so yesterday’s performance was encouraging not just on the basis of the result, but because the team played like a team with an idea of what it was trying to do. It could have resulted in a 7-1 thrashing as well, but for once we got out with some dignity. That’s terrific.
The clever bits, as best I saw it:
Riether stopped this ridiculous bombing on that has been causing us so much danger lately and stayed in a very disciplined tucked in right-back role. He did pretty well.
Ryan Tunnicliffe then basically doubled up. It was a selfless display on his debut – he didn’t do much flashy, but he did a fabulous job for the team and between them they shut down the left flank (obviously United poured in 300 crosses but more or less on our terms).
On the other flank Kieron Richarson has clearly had a good, encouraging pep talk. Words to the effect of “this one’s all about you, Kieron. You are our outlet, our drive, our counter-attack.” He was fabulous, making some runs that defied belief. He could have scored, maybe should have scored, but contributed so much besides that it almost seems churlish to bring this up. He was at it again in the last minute when we equalised. I thought he was man-of-the match.
The defensive pairing was freshened up with John Heitinga, but it was Brede Hangeland, not Dan Burn, who made way. Heitinga looked like someoen who had played in a world cup final and his incisiveness and snap showed us a bit of what we’ve been missing. Burn had the game of his life, and while United played into his hands, you were waiting for the barrage to cause a mistake but it never did.
Scott Parker made way for William Kvist. We criticise Steve Sidwell but to his eternal credit he does have this eye for goal. Sidwell is the better player but his immobility is starting to be an issue, and in a game like this it felt like Kvist was the better option. Kvist is basically Etuhu 2.0, doing lots of unheralded work that makes the team better. Sidwell was the chief recipient of this and was able to get up and down as he likes to. His run for the goal was splendid.
Holtby-Tankovic(Bent) was good, too. I imagine the half time switch could have been pre-ordained: Tankovic did very well in the first half, particularly when he set up Richardson’s chance and pulled the centre backs from the middle of the pitch for Sidwell to run into (good spot, Frankie Taylor). Bent’s menace was less tangible but the whole idea of him coming to the club was to gobble up chances when they arise, and let’s face it, he’s been very disappointing. But he worked very hard today, often dropping into midfield leaving Holtby further up (presumably as a fulcrum for counter-attacks, which makes a lot of sense) when we didn’t have the ball. I was convinced he was going to miss with the final header but despite the occasion and everyone flying around him, he held his nerve and scored. Holtby was terrific but I think we knew he would be. The pass for the goal was sublime and his all around play is that of someone who has “big things” ahead of him. I only hope we can stay up and perhaps have a chance of hanging onto him.
Overall it felt like Fulham were finally running out of patience with what has failed all along and looking to the new, fresh, future Fulham to sort out this ungodly mess. We need to remind ourselves that this was a freak of a result – we won’t be parking the bus like that again – but if much of our problem has been psychological lately then this kind of thing can’t help but make a big difference. Mitroglou up front and a bit of luck here and there could see us back in the escape mix. The nice thing is that we’ve never seemed to have it in us to counter attack or to break at pace but we did it yesterday, which in turn suggests possibilities we didn’t know existed for this team. Maybe there is hope after all.