Thoughts on the QPR thrashing

A win that raises all sorts of questions.

What is the modern Fulham? The team that crushed QPR 4-0? Or the team that has been beyond ordinary for as long as we can remember?

Realistically you have to err on the side of caution, but just as there were reasons to be negative before, there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful on Friday too.

I think this was a crucial win in this respect. Few of us, I suspect, felt that the team had this kind of performance in them. That being so, where did it come from?

1) Ryan Tunnicliffe is not as good a footballer as some of the recent centre-midfield candidates, but he has a role and he sticks to it. Without overplaying this, a few of us have been moaning about this for ever. Football is a team game and sometimes you need less talented players to make the overall unit function. Tunnicliffe showed glimpses of this in a couple of very disciplined and restrained performances under Renee Meulensteen, and it’s been pleasing to see him used now. So merely accepting the need for a player like Tunnicliffe feels like a big thing.

2) I recently read the latest Secret Footballer book, and there were a couple of interesting parts in particular. In one, the player – Dave Kitson we believe – talked about how fans are overly impressed by players who throw themselves around, but not by players who show real bravery, trying the difficult pass that has high rewards but which, when it’s not successful, leads to groans from the crowd. For whatever reason – and it might be just how QPR defended – the players seemed somehow bolder. I think it helps having a genuine playmaker like Jamie O’Hara in the side. O’Hara – and I was quite wrong about this – isn’t just about the spectacular for the sake of it. There’s an intelligence to his play that opens up opportunities. I think perhaps that confidence spreads to his teammates.

3) alright, let’s be honest, the back four is new and improved and this makes everyone else better too. Whatever the merits of those no longer playing, it must be said that Ream and Stearman have a steadying influence on the middle of the pitch, and the full-backs are on another planet altogether. James Husband looked good last year and has continued this. He just gets it. He seems – for this level – to have just the right kind of mentality for a full-back, good instincts, good decision making. The covering across in the second half, where he ended up sweeping up on the other side of the field, was a good example here. I don’t know how the Garbutt situation will play itself out but Fulham have the player they need, and while full-backs aren’t typically very exciting to those making transfer offers, we’ve all seen how hard it is to get good ones. Just make a deal, Fulham.

4) I don’t know if Ryan Fredericks can defend but if he can he’s too good for this level.

5) I confess to having had my doubts about Dembele. I thought I was seeing an age group bully, someone whose physical attributes made him a destroyer down the teams but unlikely to figure out the professional game. Of all our young players I was least impressed with him. Like all of us, I like to think I can spot a player, but clearly missed big here. He was immense on Friday and played an intelligent game in partnership with McCormack. And you can see plenty of room for improvement, too.

QPR were pretty awful but Fulham were excellent. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but just showing that we have this kind of performance in us is enough to bring about some optimism.

Reasons to be cheerful

I am miles behind on watching the games, but here are some reasons to be happy:

  1. I’m about halfway through Hull but it seemed immediately obvious to me that Hull are a Premier League team playing in the Championship.  Not literally a Premier League team, they’ve lost some players I imagine, but they had something about them that isn’t always evident at this level.  In that sense, losing there was rather like the old losing away in top division used to be: mildly disappointing but overwhelmingly the thing most likely to have happened.  Seen in that light, our start to the season isn’t maybe as bad as it felt at the time.  This said, I haven’t watched Huddersfield yet so there’s that.
  2. Being unbeaten in three games is a fine thing to happen.  Whatever the shortcomings of Kit Symons, teams playing with confidence can achieve a good deal.  I’ve long felt that the current squad is better than popularly realised; if they play without fear then there’s a chance to do something in this division.
  3. Particularly with Alan Curbishley sitting in his Motspur Park Volcano plotting devious things.  Look, I’m not saying he’s any kind of messiah, but he’s been around the game long enough to know what’s what.  He’s a bright man.  I think part of the frustration early in the season was a general feeling (I’m sorry for what I’m about to say) that Kit Symons might not have had the wherewithal to organise the team, to iron out failings etc.  But with Curbishley around we can feel more confident that the right things are being addressed in the right way.
  4. And we have new players.  I am perplexed that we still don’t seem to have the destroying midfielder we so badly need, but against that our midfield is full up and talented, so maybe we don’t need one.  We have decided that part of the issue with the defence is personnel and brought in some personnel who have a track record of performing.  As Ben Weeks noted on twitter, Ream and Stearman were both good statistically in the past, the latter I think particularly strong in blocking shots. And if there’s any single thing this team needs it’s someone to make opposing shots a little less straightforward.   It also adds to a bewildering collection of recent fans’ player of the year award winners, which suggests that the players we have are the kinds that supporters can get behind, but also who won’t shirk responsibility, this being a big part of fans’ evaluations, I suspect.  Which can only be a good thing.
  5. We’re probably okay then.  People want pace up front but I don’t think any team is ever ‘one player away’ from anything.  Dwight Gayle would have been lovely but his absence doesn’t change much, not really.  If the defence gets better, if O’Hara maintains what even I have to admit has been a scintillating start, and if Ross really does get to play centre-forward, I still think this team can contend.  I really do.

Selling the farm

More news about a young player we’ll never really see.

A source close to the situation divulged on Tuesday afternoon that the 19-year-old will be allowed to leave Craven Cottage for training-only stints with prospective buyers as the Championship season unfolds. It is in this manner that he can choose his next employer.

The 19 year old is Emerson Hyndman, who actually looked pretty capable in the team’s engine room under Magath, has shown composure beyond his years, and is now certain to go somewhere else.

It’s probably too soon to mark this down as ‘an alarming trend’, but equally, we had high hopes for this generation of Fulham youngsters and one by one they’re all disappearing.

The article above notes that Fulham have offered a new deal to the player, but, just as happened with Patrick Roberts, have little power in the situation with the contract on the verge of expiring.  I appreciate that it’s easy to sit here and criticise things that are presumably much harder to control than we might ever imagine, BUT it’s dismaying to see another talented player about to leave.  Dan Burn can go in the summer, so too can Moussa Dembele, and Lasse Vigen Christensen can be off a year later.

Part of me wishes the club had done what Magath actually tried to do, namely commit to youth. We all saw how dangerous a tactic that could have been, but in many ways it’s hard to disentangle the general idea from the executioner of this idea: could someone like Dario Gradi have made this approach work?

You can build a team any way you like, but if you’re somehow able to grow one from within then there’s a suspicion that somehow this is a better thing, that this leads to better outcomes.  In a parallel universe out there is a team that’s competing for the 2019-20 Premier League title, with grizzly veteran David Stockdale in goal, twin pillars Burn and Burgess (together as a pairing for 5 seasons) at the heart of the defence, and Hyndman and LVC running games from the middle of the park.  Patrick Roberts is unstoppable on the wing, and Woodrow and Dembele are almost telepathic by now.

No, I know.  This couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened, but it’s a future that’s within the realms of the dreamable, a path the club might have taken, a path that could scarcely have been worse than the one the club *did* take, and one that would have united the fan base for some time.  Everyone likes to see the kids getting a chance, and a home-grown team would have felt special.

Naive, nonsensical, I know, I know.  But every time one of these gifted young players leaves the club for not much we’re reminded of the extent to which the whole organisation has made an absolute dog’s dinner of the last few seasons.  It’s been beyond shambolic.

Fetch Dan Burn

The race against time is a plot device beloved of many film makers.

Who can forget Crocodile Dundee, in which Mick is on his way out of town, only for Sue to realise what she’s about to lose. She gets to the station in double quick time but has to relay her message to Mick via other passengers, so crowded is the concourse. Memorably, she shouts “I’m not going to marry Richard!” and this message is bounced along the platform and Mick gets it and changes his mind.

In fact I even saw an example of this yesterday, in Hotel Transylvania, when Count Dracula had to chase down an aeroplane containing the man his daughter had fallen for, a man driven away by the Count’s attempts to do exactly this: make him leave! Of course the Count realised he had made a mistake, but it was very nearly too late to rectify the situation. In the end he had to catch up an aeroplane then trasmit a message over the flight’s intercom by effectively ‘possessing’ the pilot. But it worked, so.

(Note: I can’t convey this easily here as photos aren’t backing me up, but Dracula looked a lot like Rene Meulensteen).


And so on. There are millions of examples, most requiring the retrieval of a person of a person ‘on his way’ following the realisation that a mistake has been made.

Here’s another: Dan Burn is, as we speak, being talked about as a potential signing for Sheffield United. If this is true – if there’s any truth to it – Tony Khan needs to get on the phone, get on an aeroplane, just do something, to stop it. Burn is young, has played quite well, and statistically looks reasonable (whoscored had him as our best player last year, and we found in deeper analysis that only LCV and Ruiz were more important to Fulham).  He won’t peak for a while.  And we shouldn’t just keep giving away our youngsters.

Building from within

The Swiss Ramble is always a good read, but this profile of Ipswich Town contained an interesting nugget:

To that end, Evans initially provided his managers with enough funding to be competitive in the transfer market, but this did not achieve the desired objective, as the owner explained: “You would have hoped that money had resulted in better things, but look at Nottingham Forest – they lost £25 million last year and got nowhere. Look at Leicester, they spent 25 to 30 million for a couple of years running, I think, and didn’t manage to get promoted. So there are a lot of clubs out there that spent a lot more than Ipswich did and who ended up in exactly the same situation.”

This led to a change in Evans’ strategy, “I wanted to work with a manager who was going to try to and coach and make our players better, rather than give the manager the opportunity (to simply buy players).” The drive to more sensible cost management was also influenced by the introduction of the Financial Fair Play rules, which essentially force clubs to live within their means.

As a result Ipswich have spent virtually nothing on player purchases in the last three seasons, but paradoxically this approach has delivered better results on the pitch, thus defying the conventional wisdom that high spending equates to success. Whether the reliance on free transfers and bringing through young players will continue to work is debatable, but the recent improvement is there for all to see.

Ross McCormack scoring goals

One for the “no sht, Sherlock” file.

“It’s similar to last year in that it took a little while to get going, but I had a good chat with the Manager on Sunday and just said that when I came to the Club I was a striker and I think it’s best if I can get back to that, being in and around the box.

“So I’m pleased that I was up front in the cup and I got two goals to repay that faith. When I’ve been playing in the hole in behind strikers then it’s my job to come deep and link the play, but I feel a lot better when I’m further up the pitch and I’m around the box, as the second goal showed. When you’ve got the chance to come inside and get shots away and stuff, I feel a lot more comfortable.”

As a reminder, in the past McCormack has had seasons where he’s scored 21, 18, 28 and 17 goals in the league.

Think about it this way: by taking him out of the position where he’s doing this, are you confident that his “link up play” will be sufficiently productive cover this goals shortfall? If your option is McCormack behind Smith or someone else behind McCormack, you don’t just go with the former to fit Smith into the side.  You put your star player where he’ll do most good for the team. The game is about scoring goals and not conceding goals. Everything stems from these two things. You don’t deliberately inhibit your options for doing this without good reason.

Manager personalities

While I catch up on video (currently watching Hull game), a brief note I’ve been meaning to post for a while about how Kit Symons got a bit of a boost post-Magath.

The below is taken directly from the Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. I believe this to be absolutely true.  The team probably had the right idea in hiring Magath, but got the wrong version of high pressure. Kit was in some ways exactly what the club needed after Magath, but the board/committee/whoever may have (probably did) err in misjudging the improved results that followed.




T:Ream – Things can only get better

Sorry.  It was that obvious.  I couldn’t not.

Tim Ream joins, and re-establishes Fulham’s link with American players, and let’s face it, it’s been a fruitful link.

Hurray.  He’s been supporters’ player of the year twice and plays for America.  He looks like a CB, and is 6’1′, but people understandably want him to be a left-back.  But I think really he isn’t.

Meanwhile, in the manager’s press conference, Kit Symons says that he can’t quite work out how we haven’t earned more points.  That would be a function of being outplayed in three games, relying on flukes and worldies for our own goals, and generally not being able to defend for opponents’.  Yes, we could very easily have shambled our way to at least 7 points by now, but that would be papering over cracks that probably need to remain exposed lest some kind of Crystal Palace/Kasami effect happen for a second time.

What’s happened to Ben Pringle?

It’s been a rough start for everybody, but Ben Pringle has been particularly underwhelming.  It’s not that he’s been bad – he just hasn’t seemed to be anything.  Just there.  And really, not particularly there.  I even wondered if he’s playing through an injury or something, so uninvolved has he been.

For Rotherham last season Pringle averaged a shot a game, 2.5 key passes (which set up a teammate for a shot) per game, 31 passes per game overall, 3 crosses, and 1.7 long balls.

For Fulham he has had one shot in three games, 1 key pass per game, 22 passes per game, 1 cross per game, and no long balls.

Alright, it’s three games, but decisions are made on much less evidence than this.  He’s been invisible.  The stats bear out what our eyes have told us.

One thing I wondered when we twigged that Fulham were raiding the Championship’s “chances created” leaderboard from last season was whether there would now be some cannibalisation.  It’s not like if I have a mars bar and buy three more mars bars.   I’ll have four then.  (Actually, a good example is Lucozade, which is being given away by promotional people at Waterloo Station this week.  I have seven bottles now.  Wrong?  No, not at all.  They keep handing them to me.)

Anyway, no, it’s not like that.   At Rotherham Ben Pringle was, presumably, the creative hub.  I wonder if, perhaps, somehow by being in a team with so many other creative types, he’s somehow lost his way and fallen down his team’s pecking order.

Maybe.  This is quite interesting:

Passes per game by Fulham midfielderspringle

The interesting thing here is that Cairney and Christensen seem to be playing as they always have.  Pringle’s not been that involved this year, to the point where he’s passing half as much as these two, but looking at his Rotherham numbers, he’s clearly not a player who sees a lot of the ball.  Alright, fine, but look at Jamie O’Hara!

I don’t know what that even means.  O’Hara’s basically becoming the team’s quarterback – everything’s going through him.  In many ways this makes sense, given his touch on the ball and ability to be available at all times.  That’s great.   I’m not going to suggest that Fulham need to share the ball around more because I have no idea if that’s true.   But it is interesting that at the same time O’Hara’s basically stepped up and demanded to see everything going on, Pringle has been struggling to get into matches.

Fulham: wasted talent

If you have a runny nose you wipe it. But the runny nose is the symptom, not the real issue. By wiping it you’re doing some good but not getting at the major problem.

I say this because Fulham have conceded three goals late in matches. In three games, in fact. In the only three games they’ve played, for that matter. But these late goals aren’t, I don’t think, about fitness, because these days most teams are fit enough to run for a whole game, if not more. No, the late goals are the snot on the team’s face. And the snot is there because we have a cold, or, to try to break out of this dreadful metaphor once and for all, the late goals are there because we’re awful defensively.

(Lots of goals are scored right at the end of halves)

So it’s not really that outlandish that a team that can’t defend might concede at this time.

The last time Fulham were afflicted by this particular bug was under Lawrie Sanchez, when, for various reasons, imprecise defensive work led to opponents gradually finding their way through late on in matches.

This isn’t chance, I don’t think. The last manager we’ve had who really didn’t do very well was probably Sanchez. I mean, I know about Magath, but you can almost discount him from discussions can’t you? Before him we had some halfway competent managers and after him came the master of defensive organisation himself.

I do keep on about Hodgson, and you might expect that, but I think a bit of the problem here, if we may be so arrogant, is that having watched Hodgson’s teams for a few seasons Fulham fans grew to understand that defending is something that’s taught, not just something that some people who cost £5m can do and some people we already have can’t. We saw how Hodgson took some supposedly lesser players and made them into a formidable unit. We know about this, so we know it can be done.

What’s galling at the moment is that this Fulham team, and let’s be honest, this Fulham manager, doesn’t seem to have a plan, or any evidence of having been coached. It feels like what would happen if you just bought a group of players and told them to run around to keep fit in the week, then to do their best on Saturday. This, I am aware, does the hard work of the coaching staff an enormous disservice, but what other conclusion can you draw when, by now, almost all of the division can say that they’ve outplayed Fulham at least once in the last year?

The fact remains, even Lawrie Sanchez had a plan. It didn’t work, but he had a plan. Martin Jol had a plan. Felix… certainly had ideas. But what’s Kit Symons trying to do? Does anyone know?

I, like all of you, like to think of myself as a reasonably good judge of a player. I look at the current lineup and I don’t have to do too much wishful thinking. I want a midfielder who knows how to defend, because we still haven’t got one of those, and I want a left back. We might even have the latter if Garbutt can play (and people say he can). So it’s really all there.

That’s partly why we’re all so fed up I think. Last year’s team was a cobbled together farce. This time we have a young, British core, and they are very capable. But we’re wasting it because we have a manager who, as best we can tell, doesn’t know how to make the most of the talent he has available to him. It’s really disappointing.