The last moment

Every vantage point in Craven Cottage has its pluses and minuses. I used to sit at the back of Johnny Haynes and from there I felt I had a really good appreciation of the game overall. Then we found a loophole that presented the chance to sit at the front of the Riverside at bargain prices. This meant a loss of overall perspective but a real sense of the game’s hurly burly, how physical it is, how little time there is. I once sat by the dugout on the halfway line and that brought home just how bunched the game is, how congested the middle third can be.

On Sunday we were right behind the goal and this showed me how little room for error there is in the penalty box. Split seconds determine absolutely everything. I’m a naturally worried person when teams attack Fulham so on a number of occasions early on I thought Fulham were in big trouble, only for someone to intervene at the very last moment.

The trouble is, “the last moment” can vary. I’ve harped on in the past about how goalkeepers can mislead us. Slow footwork from the outset can give the impression that a shot couldn’t be reached. But a good goalkeeper will be well positioned and well set so early that he might have made the save comfortably. This is how Kasey Keller, who never seemed to move, and Antti Niemi, who was an acrobat, can end up conceding about the same number of goals. One is in place early and doesn’t need to dive; the other isn’t but is agile enough to compensate. I haven’t mentioned him for a while, but this is partly why our old friend Paul Robinson routinely led the league in being beaten from outside the area. Robinson was world class close in but awful from distance. (Fulham never once tested him on this either.)

Anyway, I digress. One of the reasons Fulham have let in 80+ goals this season is that the last moment is too late now. With the lack of midfield protection our defence are being drawn into situations they don’t like. Our midfielders, who are under pressure, too, aren’t closing down quick enough. We’re too porous.

It’s not a massive thing. My sense is that the players are just a second too slow, a fraction under-organised, half a yard out of position. These are the margins you’re working to. Palace’s first goal on Sunday was typical. A free shot on the edge of the area, a centre-forward who was both unmarked and onside deep in the area, and in. There are no blunders there, but there are probably three or four small things that ought to have been done better. And again, that’s all it takes. Football is a very complex game and goals are rare, and as many teams are finding, the fine line between success and failure is tiny. Fulham were just off the pace in too many ways, a second too late to everything. This has been Fulham’s problem. It’s not the obvious mistakes that everyone said Philippe Senderos made – those were rarer than advertised and not usually costly – it’s the little things, those hundreds of moments where a good team gets things right and a bad team doesn’t. That’s how you concede 80+ goals a season.

3 thoughts on “The last moment

  1. Interesting article which got me thinking a bit. Is football that complex? I don’t really agree that it is. I agree it is not as easy playing it at the top level as we often think it is and you are right last season there were many last ditch tackles and interventions but to concede as many goals as Fulham (we) did is truly appalling.
    Why did Fulham concede so many? Now this is not easy to answer because three managers failed to find answers this season. Jol an experienced manager at this level, Rene a vastly experienced coach and now Felix who has done it all and got the t-shirts- all of them failed in some way to stem the flow of goals going into the Fulham net. The goals came from all angles and in all ways- flukes such as the one that Hull got to get back in the game at the Cottage, defensive errors such as the free headers Cardiff scored against us home and away, defelections such as Liverpool’s equaliser at home and Swansea away incompetentence such as Hull’s equaliser and Stoke’s first goal at the Britannia- it is endless! I have debated long in pubs after games what can Fulham do and I have come to believe it is really is not that difficult. The problems I think stem from the actual players that Felix was forced to work with and I just believe that they were all collectively not good enough to be in a Premiership football team and coupled with bizarre tactics you therefore have a recipe for disaster. Look at the defence. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of these players but starting with Riise -he has long failed to find his top form and is often exposed as a defender on the left. He should have easily dealt with the ball that came back in the box from the by-line for Stoke’s first at the Britannia and overall he is better going forward than defending as he gets into some superb crossing positions but what was Felix thinking playing him left mid in the first half against Hull because it did not work at all as an offensive plan- Riise is neve going to score for Fulham! Amorebieta, marginally better as full back but generally lacking in pace, heading ability, positioning and overall awareness. Unforgivable mistake in Hull’s equaliser at home and general lacklustre displays all round – he has been a disater, a real liability. Brede meanwhile has just lost form in general. His positioning has been off at times and his distribution suffered through lack of confidence but he is still a hell of a player (V Norwich he was excellent) and in my opinion I hope he is still around next season. Johnny Hietinger was marvellous I really hope he can stay. Riether, another major disappointment this year. What was he thinking when he got sent off against Man U (and then wearing their bloody shirt-****) and his tackle in the area against Liverpool -what!!
    I could analyse the midfield next but that one is easy -old and tiring players. Look at the Chelsea game at home and how Sidwell (he did his very best) and Parker faded alarmingly after having a brilliant first half. Fulham lacked creativity in midfield, lost the ball far too easily or gave it away sloppily and relied on ageing or injured players – I love Diarra but if he’s unfit then he’s unfit – he was playing on one leg against Hull and struggled alarmingly contributing to a game we lost from the jaws of a vital win. Then we have the forward line which lacked passion under Berbatov and Ruiz and made Fulham so open you could see enough room for a jumbo jet to go through. Then we got a combination of Bent or Rodallega ( too nice) and some youngsters (Woodrow, Moussa well-done) and of course Dejagha who when playing was fantastic especially at home. Where were the goals going to come from though?
    So back to what Fulham should have done and why it is so simple -in my opinion of course. Look no futher that what Roy Hodgson did. Fulham should have parked the bus home and away until they stopped conceding goals. They should not have used so many players and chopped and changed the team around (Dan Burn at Full-back has to be the worst decision I have ever known -please tell me what you were thinking Felix). They needed to be drilled at defending as a unit – the two banks of four so solid four years ago in Europe -look at that game Shakter -we never touched the ball but those Brazialians in that team hardly got a sniff. Fulham was a solid team built on firm foundations, they had a solid no-bullshit Manager and a strong team ethic. I am not sure about Felix and his bizarre tactics – I half expected Brede Hangeland to be playing up front towards the end of this season! But I hope he stays for continuity and is able to spend the Chairman’s money on some, solid, decent players whilst maintaining the fantastic crop of youngsters we have thanks to people like Steve Wiggley (best wishes in his new job). Come on You Whites.

    1. This is my point though. The hull goal was only a fluke if you excuse Riether for getting caught so far upfield and the midfield for allowing them to take time to pick a pass.

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