Fulham beat Norwich, stay alive

The difference between this Fulham and that Fulham is that this one won 1-0 and that one would have lost 3-0.

Norwich came at Fulham with some gusto and did more than enough to earn at least a point. That they didn’t was down to Fulham players doing the right thing at the right time: Stockdale’s save when a goal seemed certain; Rodallega’s terrific finish just when Fulham needed the reassurance that a goal can bring; Hangeland getting close enough to the ball on the edge of the six yard box that the resulting shot slipped wide rather than into the empty net.

About that goal: how many things have to go right for the ball to end up in the net? Holtby’s delivery needs to be perfect, Sidwell needs to apply just the right amount of hair to the cross, Rodallega needs to make the right run at the right time, then get his feet in the right place to divert the ball into the net, which was not as easy as it looked given the speed and trajectory of the cross. I thought it was a fabulous goal, and while Norwich might wonder why nobody in yellow was able to interrupt, Fulham’s work was good here.

Beyond that it’s more of the same, isn’t it? A team now blessed with some sort of togetherness and tactical nous, having the luck required to take three points, and yes, the determination needed to compete against dare we say better players.

The latter is always hard to talk about. English football fans see determination as the answer to everything, and while it’s easy to be cynical about this (determination won’t get you an organised defensive unit) it’s equally true that at the top level you do need to be mentally ‘on’. I’ve just been reading Andre Agassi’s “Open” and clearly his mind ran away with him in various tournaments to the point where this was clearly impacting results. A football team has eleven minds on the pitch at once and if all eleven are not in the metaphorical ‘right place’ then bad things can happen. Pep Guardiola obsessed about how to get his Barcelona team mentally sharp, knowing that this would turn a really good team into a great one.

It works at the other end, but when confidence is low and ability not all that either you get runs of form as witnessed in late 2013. The ability might not quite be there yet but there does appear to be some belief and mental sharpness about FUlham. Yes, we can let narratives get ahead of things when apportioning credit like this (win = determined and mentally strong; lose = feeble-minded lazy overpaid….) but there really is a sense of a *team* coming together now.

Added to which, I’m fairly sure it’s not a coincidence that Fulham are P2 W2 with Diarra in the side. His performance was again stupendous. I particularly liked a situation in the second half when he looked to have been harried out of possession, but instead niftily moved the ball away from both assailants and collapsed to win a free-kick. Later he left his feet to halt a counter-attack, a tackle that was all about timing and technique and which had a kind of ‘no you don’t’ air about it.

It’s two wins. Aston Villa, Norwich. Six points were needed, six achieved. This is just the start. Spurs are better than their current coverage would suggest, Hull are a decent team (albeit one with an FA Cup final to think about… hmmm… sounds familiar), we won’t get anything at Stoke, but Palace is winnable. We’ll just have to see won’t we? There is no form-book and there is no window, but if there were, one would go out of the other for the run-in. Norwich will not necessarily lose all four of their games, Sunderland might go medieval, Swansea and West Brom might sleepwalk into something they’d rather not be getting involved with. There’s still a long way to go.

7 thoughts on “Fulham beat Norwich, stay alive

  1. …and Cardiff’s run-in is no worse than ours. In which context, Stoke become of special interest, since they visit Cardiff soon after our Spurs match ends — before ending their home campaign against us. I have a seat for that in expectation that it’s not the no-hope fixture you suggest it is. Your overall point supersedes all, however: that over so few matches pretty much anything can happen.

  2. Wowser – Saturdays day out to the Cottage was draining! The result was all important, and we got it & we can dare to dream for another couple of weeks at least. It was fabulous to feel the team & crowd in it together, and the relief/joy/celebration at the end felt similar to the elation of that win over Birmingham 5 or 6 years ago. If there is one thing we can say Felix appears to have engendered, it’s a real sense of team spirit & camaraderie again – players are playing for each other, for the shirt & for survival.

    That said, I’ve never seen two more nervous performances from both sets of players. Magath made a big call at the start, going 3-5-2. I’m sure the plan had been to spring a surprise for Norwich, pressure them high up the park giving Reither & Richardson license to play almost as wingers, score early and then utilise the defensive shape well to control the game.

    In fairness, I thought we looked fine in defence with that shape, but we looked a bit clueless in possession – Holtby was dropping far too deep & didn’t have the influence he’s had further up the pitch. Reither/Richardson struggled to know whether to twist or stick on the flanks, and looked unsure as to what they were aiming to achieve. Kasami didn’t offer much outside of hard graft, which it must be said the team provided in absolute spades – the effort shown was magnificent. The 3 centre halves though looked pretty happy with each others company.

    Indeed as 20mins, 25mins, 30mins wore on it was Norwich who seemed most at ease with their shape & play, with Fulham looking somewhat indecisive and a bit unsure as to how they were going to break them down. It was easy enough to revert to 4-4-2 and did so later in the half, after a Stockdale worldie and a fantastic piece of anticipation from Hugo, and I think we seemed more settled then.

    I’m not sure the plan of short corners was very successful. It seemed like when we crossed the ball in with our 3 hulking centre halves we were a threat to Norwich…..so to repeatedly take short corners which failed to deliver a ball into the box seemed a complete waste & something to work on this week in training definitely. Indeed, Richardson winning the free kick & Holtby just delivering it into the box led to the critical moment for us.

    I’m very glad you picked up on the performance of Diarra, Rich, because he was an absolute rock for Fulham. He was the one player who stood out from the nerves, composed himself and put out fires all across the pitch. The sight of Norwich players breaking with pace & threat only to be halted by Diarra is a recurring vision I’ve had when thinking back on the game – time & again he broke things up, retained the ball & calmed the team. I think he was a key difference between the Fulham sides we saw earlier in the season which would likely have conceded on the break, and probably repeatedly! I was very surprised to see that there was little comment on his performance in the press, on MOTD etc. – maybe I have White tinted specs, but I thought he was a key feature in this match, and man of the match with Stockdale.

    So four to go…..the hard work of the past 2 weeks has brought the reward of a clear opportunity to get out of this situation. 2 wins seem the minimum requirement & should hopefully prove enough, but as you say – anything can & will happen. No-one thought Cardiff would win at Southampton, and that’s a real spanner in the works. But it feels like it’s in our hands for the first time since we played Sunderland back in January, and we’ve been granted a reprieve here – I really hope we can take it. With the youth team set up & a manager who’s brought back some shape & tactical nous to performances, you feel that staying up could be a real platform for the next few years.

    Critical to winning two games though are going to be performance levels a little closer to the Everton/Villa performances for me – I’m very hopeful the caginess of Saturday was purely down to the nerves of this being ‘the make-or-break’ one – had we lost, it would really have been curtains. But, we didn’t & the whole team deserve huge credit for keeping a clean sheet with everything they had.

    1. Re Diarra: “I was very surprised to see that there was little comment on his performance in the press, on MOTD etc”

      Agree wholehearteadly. (The Guardian had him as MoTM this morning. So some in the media saw it – or read the fan’s views and repeated it!)

      1. It’s about filling in the gaps.

        I thought Boateng did that well in the first match of the season but none of our managers or coaches seem to agree. It’s a vital job though and Diarra does it with wonderful intelligence and skill.

        It’s both fire fighting and enabling – long may it last.

    2. The TV commentators seemed a bit confused by our defensive shape, but I rather like the versatility it gives us. With Hangeland in the “middle” able to play either side of center back passably well, Amorebieta on the left and Heitinga on the right both able to play center back or full back, and Riether and Richardson on the outsides both capable of playing full back or midfield (when Wolfsburg won the Bundesliga under Magath, Riether played right midfield about as often as right back), we can play a five-man back line, a 3-5-2 with Riether and Richardson as wing backs, or a four-man back line with either Riether or Richardson pushed into midfield, without changing the personnel around.

  3. If I’m thinking about the same Diarra tackle, and I think I am, what most amazed me about it was that for a 10-15 minute spell in the second half he looked totally exhausted, his play becoming ragged. Then suddenly, he managed to find something left in the tank to make that tackle and a couple of other notable interventions before being subbed. Given the context (both the importance of the match and the fact that he just came back from long-term injury) I thought his performance was one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a Fulham shirt.

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