The headline says it all, really. Fulham opened the Championship season against the odds-on favorite to bounce right back up into the Premier League. And, although the Toon huffed and puffed, they never looked like disrupting the flow of Fulham’s new-look football.
The starting lineup included: (a) four players I’d never seen before, (b) three players I’d seen play before – but not for Fulham, and (c) four players I knew fairly well – three of whom I was thrilled to see in the starting lineup.
There’s a couple of things I noticed right away that made me smile. First of all, Fulham are playing wide – for the first time in a long time. FFC were spreading the opponent’s defense, attacking down the wings, and defending confidently along the touch lines. Second of all, this Fulham have pace – pace to burn really. How fast? When Christensen came on, he looked the slowest player in White.
As the game progressed, I saw something else – something missing at Craven Cottage for a very, very long time indeed. Everyone seemed to know his role. The defenders looked a unit when under attack. The midfield linked well with the defense and the attackers. The attackers were numerous and blended nicely with the midfield. There seems to be a PLAN at the Cottage, and I like that regardless of the result.
Like our last four or five matches against the Barcodes, this one went 1-0 to the home team. There will be moans about the refereeing. There will be poorly spelled rants on northern websites about being cheated out of three penalties. Actually, I saw one that, in the Premier League, might have drawn a spot kick, but the rest? Including ours? Naw, not so much.
The referee did make a difference in the match, but he mostly did it by NOT blowing his whistle. Players rolled around on the ground, miming “He bumped into me and look what happened.” Mr. Hooper’s mimed response, “Welcome to the Championship, pretty boy.
Fulham, captained by the brilliant Tom Cairney, completely controlled the first half – as dominating performance as you’ll see. Newcastle was credited with only one shot, a weak lob to the wall on a free kick, and none on goal. Fulham had two shots on goal, one a glorious header by Matt Smith that decided the match in the 45th minute. The Toon defense had overcoated him very well for much of the half, but he could have done two 360s before scoring so free was he when it counted.
The second half tactics were different. Joka figured, “You’re behind, you have to attack. We’ll defend, but watch your ass.” I didn’t care for it much, but I did like it when it turned into the Denis Odoi Show. Boy, is he fun to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone turn away from a pass so he could pass it … off his back … to himself! He had a brilliant match at right back, despite the very early yellow card.
Who else impressed these old eyes? Aluko, Ayite, Madl, and McDonald all played very very well. Our pair of aces have goals in them to complement those bagged by Woodrow and Smith. Speaking of Smith, well, his goal was well taken, and he should be celebrating his assist right now for Aluko converting his brilliant header into our second. The thing is, though, except for those two moments he looked slow, lumbering, ineffective, and not much help to our attack. Of course, I’ve never been all that impressed with him, so there might be some South Texas bias at work.
How do I think we’ll fare over the season? Well, it’s really going to be hard to say after watching this. There were a couple of starters on there today – Malone and Button – that we might not see for a while. Having said that, though. Joka has a plan. He has players committed to that plan. His plan features pace, tenacious defense, and width. I think we’re going to be a lot more fun to watch this season.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match: Tom Cairney.