A side that’s flying, a new year bank holiday and a chance for me to visit one of my favourite grounds in the country for (I think) the sixth time while the boys got to revisit the scene of Hemed’s iconic penalty last season. It doesn’t matter what the blog title is, we were off to Fulham and so were an estimated 6000 others.
Having been royally dicked around by the trains this season we’d decided to drive, safe in the knowledge that we had a reserved car parking space through Car Park Direct. An uneventful drive up became extremely eventful when it became clear that the car park we’d booked didn’t exist and was, in fact, being demolished. Instant karma kicked in as we found a street space and discovered that those parking charges and restrictions were suspended on bank holidays, so we left the car with no additional charges and wandered off to the Coat and Badge. There, over orange juice and lemonade since we’re both attempting Dry January, Steve extracted a refund out of the shysters while the boys and I watched bits of a deadly dull 0-0 between Boro and Leicester.
And so to the ground and one of the weirdest pre-match conversations I’ve yet had, thanks to that hardy perennial of the London away game, the massive pile of police horse shit.
The boys – “why do the police use horses?”
Us – general explanation of why
The boys – “but wouldn’t a cow be better? A cow would do a much better job”
Us – general explanation of why a police cow would not be such a good idea
The boys – “no, we want to see policemen riding cows”
And so on……
It was a relief to get to the ground where we promptly found, as ever with Fulham, that we had to be in our actual seats, which were in row ZZ. This, as you might gather, was right at the back. It made for a good view of the hordes of Brighton fans in front of us but not such a great view of the pitch. The boys, additionally, had a steward in front of them for much of the game, always handy when you’re ten years old and quite small.
The atmosphere in the away end built to a crescendo as the players came out. Fulham’s only noise appeared to be some kind of North Korean clapping routine using clackers, while the away end went through the full repertoire of songs, old and new. But if the performance in the stands was building nicely, out on the pitch we were flat as a pancake.
It’s quite possible that Hughton’s team selection had changed from what it might have been, given the postponement of the Cardiff game. In the end ten of the players who started against QPR carried on here, with March replaced by Skalak. This was a change that looked to severely unbalance the side. Fulham pressed us in midfield, kept the ball themselves with some lovely slick passing and attacked time and again down our left. Twice Fulham created chances from dangerous diagonal balls on that side of the field. Skalak didn’t look like he knew whether to stick or twist, drawing Bong and Dunk out of position. When we did get it back – which wasn’t often – Fulham’s quick organisation closed our options down, restricting us to long, hit and hope passes. The odd time a simple line ball was on we misplaced it anyway, Bruno and Bong both guilty of poor passes early on. We simply were not at the races.
Inevitably Fulham created chance after chance and Stockdale was already earning his corn with a series of clawing grabs. Fulham’s best chance, though, came from a chance that seemed to have gone. A deep cross saw Smith hustled out of a header and the ball bounced to Bruno who had time to clear. However, he inexplicably controlled the bouncing ball with an arm to give away a clear penalty. Head in hands moment for the travelling masses. All except Steve who called it. “Stockdale will save this” he confidently asserted and he was right, our keeper guessing correctly and Johansen putting the penalty at a saveable height and distance from the corner. Bedlam in the away end.
Fulham continued to dominate. We had two half chances, both further evidence of our first half wastefulness. Baldock had won the ball high up but had contrived to neither shoot nor find Murray, before the latter was even more frustrated. Knockaert pounced on a loose ball and was away but, with Murray in yards of free space and central, the ball to him was massively over hit. Neither could agree whose fault it was. Not exactly #together.
Half time. “I reckon they’ve had seventy percent of the ball” I said and then checked on the BBC, who confirmed that they had had sixty eight percent of the ball and we’d not had a single shot.
We couldn’t be as bad in the second half, and indeed we weren’t. We closed space better, passed better, and generally woke up. Of course Fulham finally scored. A neat series of interchanges saw them get in to the box but we initially had the shot covered. A clever backwards ball and a disguised pass forwards gave Lucas Piazon the space he needed and he curled a lovely low shot past Stockdale and in to the corner.
The away fans’ patience finally wore out as Bong, for once, played a beautiful through ball down the left line. Or it would have been a beautiful ball to Murphy or March. Skalak simply didn’t have the pace to reach it. The calls of “Solly, Solly March” echoed round the Putney End and Hughton finally obliged, removing Skalak who’d had a nightmare. Four minutes later Hemed also came on and Steve and I agreed we weren’t sure what he’d bring. Four minutes after that, the turning point.
We’d attacked with more verve since Solly came on. Now Knockaert moved inside off his wing, collected a pass and drove at the Fulham defence. He was brought down just outside the box but referee Attwell let play go on for a moment to see if advantage developed and Hemed collected the loose ball and was hauled down in the box. Penalty. Hemed and Murray argued over who would take it (not exactly #together) before Hemed came up with the ball and lashed it low in to the corner. The Putney End nearly took off.
One minute later and I swear it nearly collapsed. Fulham cleared to midfield where Dunk was first to the loose ball. He carried on his run before feeding Knockaert with the sort of pass any of our midfield would dream of. Knocky’s shot was powerful but straight at Button who couldn’t hold it. Dunk had continued his run and now headed the rebound in to an empty net. Bananas would be an insult as to how mad the away end went. I feared The Boy might explode. Steve and I hugged. Everyone hugged. Dunk did his best to dive on a steward and everyone else dived on Dunk. In the Fulham end bitterness mixed with indignant resignation. We’d done it again.
I said in my home report they looked better than us for most of that game, but we’d won 2-1. Now we’d done it again. We had to survive a couple of late burst and four minutes of additional time but then the final whistle went to more delirium. Newcastle had lost. We were top. The singing continued behind the Putney End as we left and in to the park where the smell of the Thames mixed with the horseshit and burger onions and the noise of the crowd. The drive home was smug. Our first double of the season and it was almost a carbon copy.
The Boy’s Ref Watch
Minus ten billion for Mr Attwell, a little harsh in retrospect given that both the decisions he complained about were given by the linesman (Skalak’s handball and Knockaert being denied a corner and getting booked for protesting).
For me, while there were some comedy moments in blocking the ball and falling over, the advantage for our first goal was the decision of the season. But then I don’t really write this bit.