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.