Let me say that again: Fulham 2 Everton 0. After nine consecutive matches without a point or a clean sheet, we beat a team fighting for Europe 2-0. Wowser.
I watched Everton take care of Arsenal coolly and easily on Sunday, and I expected the same for us today, but it never happened. Here’s why – my opinion only of course: All season we have blamed our back line for our generosity towards opponents. I haven’t seen it that way. I’ve seen basically three major factors in our goals against: (1) Our defensive midfield tends to pass sideways until every teammate is covered upfield and, then, one of them will send a weak backpass to a defender giving an opponent an easy one-on-one. (2) Our keepers are reluctant to boot the ball upfield to relieve pressure when we’re under consistent attack. Short passes increase the pressure and goals result. (3) Our strikers and attacking mids DON’T pressure the ball when we lose possession. They fall back, giving our opponents free rein to attack before our defensive wall has a chance to form.
The first thing I noticed today was that Parker reversed #3. Our front guys – especially Babel and Cairney were aggressive whenever we lost possession. The result? Either we won the ball or, if Everton won it, they faced a defense with nobody out of position. Throughout the first half, we looked disciplined – even though I thought it weird to have LaMarchand on the back line with Ream and Bryan.
The second thing that I noticed was that Mitrovic decided that nobody wearing blue belonged on the pitch with him. He was a major pain-in-the-ass to Everton’s defenders for the entire 90. He was a hungry, angry bully out there and TODAY we actually got the ball to him on a regular basis.
The first half was all evens. We looked the better side, but I scored another cup of coffee convinced that we’d find a way to collapse in the second half. Well, THAT pressure was eased in less than a minute. Ryan Babel, who did precious little attacking in the first 45, picked a Toffee pocked, juked and turned, and then found Cairney who coolly scored. Less than 40 seconds into the half and we’re up 1-0.
And, of course, knowing this side well and being a Fulham supporter anyhow, I waited for the inevitable collapse. I try NOT to take it personally when we look decent in the first part of a match and then, the second we concede, look like a kid whose dropped his lolly in the dirt. But Mitro and Cairney and – FINALLY Sessegnon [who was invisible in the first 45] kept the pressure up, kept being the attacking side. Everton, frankly, looked overwhelmed.
As the match went on, I had two chants – I was alone in the apartment, so … – the first was “get the second” and the third was “clean sheet.” The first prayer was answered in the 69th minute. Mitro, naturally, seized on a well-contested ball and sent it into the Everton half where it met Ryan Babel. The former Liverpool man charged upfield with three Toffees following and scooped the ball over Pickford’s head into an empty net. 2-0. Holy crap!
About that clean sheet … . You know, I never thought I’d see us get a clean sheet and have our keeper the LEAST effective player on the pitch. Once we took the lead, Rico was horrible. Twice he punched a ball any of us could have caught. That was bad enough, but both punches went straight up in the air. Kudos to our defenders for covering him. Betts anyone?
But, all ended well, and we deserved the win. It’s a win made sweeter by the fact that Cardiff lost by the same score.
HatterDon’s Man of the Match: With a strong nod to Babel who made both goals, it’s got to be Mitrovic. Man, I loves me some bad-ass centre forwards, and Mitro is all that. COYW