In the wake of another topsy-turvy encounter with Queens Park Rangers, Jack J Collins takes a look at the strange phenomena of games against the Hoops down the road and discusses the international break.
It’s been a few days since the QPR game, and the frustration has simmered down a notch. With the game over and time enough to reflect on what was honestly the worst Fulham have played for a long time, it’s worth remembering that we should be grateful for days where our bad performances still gain us a point, and in the grander scheme of things, Fulham have notched up a 16 game unbeaten run.
That said, there’s always room here for praise when things are going well, and critiques when they are less so. I don’t think it’s totally fair to single out Denis Odoi for criticism, given the sub-par performances from across the board in the second half, but inevitably his slip is going to attract attention, by its very nature. It was a bad mistake. We move on.
More than that, however, I’d like to look into games against Queens Park Rangers in general. There aren’t many teams that Fulham have looked nervous against, in the last two years, but I’d argue that all four of the games against the Hoops have been amongst Fulham’s worst in that regard.
To put that in context, when Fulham were simply not very good in the years preceding, we managed to get the job done against QPR with reasonable ease. A 4-0 win at the Cottage at the beginning of the 2015/16 season springs to mind, where despite coming into the game considerably lower down the table after a turbulent start, Fulham coasted to victory over the Hoops.
When the chips were down, or at least even, Fulham have always seemed to relish playing QPR, but since the Whites have become a far better footballing side than their rivals, those tables have seemed to turn somewhat. Recall, if you will, the fixture at Loftus Road last season, where a careless pass from the normally peerless Kevin McDonald allowed Ryan Manning in to give Rangers the lead.
I’m not even going to bother going into the reverse at the Cottage last season, but mistakes were clearly evident from all comers during the course of that game. Even with the win in White City this season, silly unforced errors from the Whites nearly allowed QPR a late equaliser that even in their wildest dreams, the most hardcore QPR fan couldn’t have said they were value for.
Every time we play a derby game, we say on the podcast that Fulham must not get drawn in to Holloway’s kind of game, but it looks like the White Line Fever really only goes in one direction in this game — Fulham were the ones who lost their heads when the game was crying out for some cool, composed football and to hold on to possession.
Everyone was out of place. Tom Cairney was far too deep, allowing Rangers to press him in possession high in his own half, with McDonald playing even further behind him as an auxilary centre-half. This is a strategy that sometimes works when our full-backs push on, but in this case, Fulham became all but a back five, inviting pressure from the visitors.
Stef got lost trying to push the team forwards, although he worked hard in the middle, and Mitrovic became all but a spectator, a far cry from the menacing, hulking, hold-up man we’ve seen him act as in recent weeks. Against Preston, whilst the Whites were pinned back at times, they looked likely to spring the pressing trap at any given time. Against Rangers, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
At times in the first half, things came together, but the performance was disjointed and fatigued. Fulham, some would say, were perhaps lucky to come away with a point, given the nature of the second half performance, and the amount of opportunities presented to QPR. With all this said, a point was gained, and the unbeaten streak goes on, something we should all be immensely proud of.
With that said, perhaps the international break has come at a good time for Fulham. Although Ryan Fredericks was quoted last week in saying that the whole team wants to keep the momentum going, it’s important to look at it in context. Rangers had played out a hugely exhaustive 3-1 win over at Aston Villa on Tuesday night, but still it was Fulham who looked the ‘leggier’ team going into the final third of the game.
One of Fulham’s defining qualities during this magnificent run has been our ability to push for late winners and score late goals to kill off games, in stark contrast to the beginning of the season where late mistakes cost the Whites points. To see that fitness and desire in smaller quantity on Saturday, then, suggested that the rest might well be welcomed.
Whilst the midfield three (and their backup) will all be away on duty, it’s unlikely that either of our Scottish generals will play 180 minutes over these games. Both have spoken of their excitement about representing their country, and hopefully that will translate into fuel to drive us forward in the closing straight. Whilst Sess and Mitro will also be away, the break will allow Targett, Fredericks, and Lucas in particular to charge the batteries.
With the point beforehand about the failure of the full-backs to bomb on in the second half on Saturday, maybe they are perhaps the ones most in need of the break. It’ll also give some time to those in the squad currently affected with injuries to really get back to first-team fitness, and those who haven’t been playing so much, such as Ollie and Neeskens, to get competitive minutes under their belts, and get them sharp for the run-in.
Obviously Fulham fans will be glued to the games for fear of injuries and fatigue, but it’s worth pointing out that most players will say that the biggest honour of their careers will be representing their country on the world stage. Friendlies or not, that buzz should give the whole squad a lift as they get back together after the internationals.
We can only hope that it translates into a dominant performance against Norwich, which is what we’re all looking for to get the promotion show back on the road.