Before the kick off there was a tribute to one of Fulham’s finest sons, Graham Leggat. He played 277 games for Fulham, that is more than is double the entirety of the players that took the field. Not one of them was playing for Fulham two seasons ago. I believe this is one of the reasons we had such a poor season. If you take the early Alex Ferguson sides a cadre of kids grew up together – the Nevilles, Beckham, Butt, Scholes – and forged a strong spirit in the dressing room. I hoped that the kids that Kit Symons nurtured as academy coach might do the same but only Dembele came from these ranks yesterday. The lack of familiarity was apparent most in defence. In time Stearman recruited from Wolves and Ream from Bolton may make a powerful pairing as centre backs in the best traditions of Roger Brown and Tony Gale, Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland. Hopefully we would not have conceded too many goals by then. That we did not against Blackburn was due to fine shot stopping by Andy Lonaghan, luck and a poor decision as one goal attempt should have been given.
When we were relegated I thought one consolation might be the return of Saturday afternoon football with the 3 o’clock kick off. I was wrong as Fulham over the next month play on a Friday, Sunday and 1-30 on Saturday. Like most fans I tend to pencil the fixtures in my diary. Thus it was that I agreed to go yesterday to the garden centre to buy some hardy perennials with my missus sometime ago in exchange for her signing my release papers for the Saturday. Once the game was moved she was reluctant to change the arrangement so we agreed I could watch it on telly. This proved quite instructive. I had a better view of the organisation- or lack of it – of our defence and crucially slo-mo revealed that a Blackburn shot was cleared by O’Hara when it was over the line. Despite not having a full picture of the pitch as camera follows the ball, I could quickly appreciate that O’Hara who was dropping in front of the back four to pick up the ball and hit long passes in the style of a quarterback was not protecting the defence in the way Scott Parker shields it.
So we have too many individual talents not welded into a team and a flaw in our set up. Our third weakness is the inability to defend a lead. It’s not actually that difficult. You start with your forward pressing the back four, Roy Hodgson was excellent at this tactic with Johnson and Zamora. Your midfield presses too and a high back line squeezes yet more space. The keeper stands on the edge of the penalty area ready to deal with the ball over the top. It’s not pretty to watch but it’s effective. You also don’t give away silly free kicks let alone penalties. Fulham managed for the second time to concede a penalty for a rash challenge. Penalties should only be conceded if the alternative is a goal.
There was much to praise in the performance. Ross MacCormack reminds me of Louis Saha with is ability to drift wide and deliver a telling cross. You have two players, a winger and striker, for the price of one. Lonaghan in goal made several defiant and decisive saves. If only Dembele had a brain alongside his pace and intuitive skill he would be a world beater of a striker. We created loads of opportunities and our passing game was top notch, especially the longer passes of O’Hara. If Kit can sort out the defence we can make a promotion challenge. If he cannot he may looking for a new job.