With twenty minute remaining of the Newcastle game, then tied at 2-2, my friend turned to me and made a very profound statement. “You know”, he said, ” Now that we have a chance, I feel far more tense than I did at half-time, when I thought all hope of survival had gone.”
And he was right, for at the break I, too, had come to terms with the situation and, in doing so, had achieved nirvana, the Buddhist state of complete peace. Enlightened by the two-goal deficit (including a signature Berra gift in the box), I realised the futility of resistance to the inevitable. Exorcising the negativity conjured up by all the dire performances and the farcical managerial selection process, I experienced an immediate release of tension and embraced the prospect of Championship football next season (I’m experiencing the same feeling this evening).
Then, bugger me if the team didn`t pull back from the brink, offering us supporters a chink of light at the end of a very dark tunnel … which has suddenly gone pitch black again!
Incidentally, the emotional somersaults I have been enduring over the course of the week reveal how quickly we supporters seize on any crumbs of hope that fall from the PL table. And it`s not just WW supporters. In the week before the NU game I spoke to two equally disgruntled fans: one a Chelsea man and the other a Gunner. Would that we had their problems! Of course, when I saw them again a few days ago they had perked up.
Me? I felt worse. By the time that I set out for the match earlier today I was a bag of nerves again. The extra day`s wait only fed my anxiety, as did the impact of our rivals` results on our league position. It looked reasonable until Blackburn equalized late in the game (they should have lost but could AV be dragged into the mire?) and QPR gained a point (and would have won if Buzsáky hadn`t made the miss of the season). We had to do the same against Fulham otherwise we would find ourselves at best joint third bottom with Blackburn … but now we are four goals worse off than them.
It was a daunting prospect against a good home team … and they might feel vindictive after the drubbing we gave then at Molineux in August. And so it proved!
I set off at 11.00 a.m. this morning, having paid for my visit to Craven Cottage by accompanying my wife (on more than one occasion) to look for an outfit and matching shoes for our daughter`s wedding in May. Even worse, I had to buy a suit, which I will hardly ever wear again (in the dress shop I could at least read a newspaper). I even put the toilet seat down before leaving.
Getting on the train I noticed a little girl wearing a Fulham shirt, going to the match with her grand-dad, so I sat next to them and introduced myself. Naturally, we mentioned the passwords ‘Billy Wright` and ‘Johnny Haynes` to prove our credentials and spent a pleasant half-hour reminiscing about the past.
I arrived at The Railway PH opposite Putney Station at 12.15 p.m. in good time to get a pint, find a seat and await my friend, and his friend, a Fulham season-ticket holder. Wrong. While I was watching the door and guarding the table and two spare chairs (and spotting a number of WW supporters), they were on the balcony wondering when I would arrive. Not a good omen.
As we approached the ground, I looked for any signs of a scuffle, one that involved Johnwolf and either AdMant or even Yorkie, hot-footing it to Craven Cottage to settle a score. Personally, I’d like to think that JW is a psychology professor, with a puckish sense of humour, intend on winding us all up, perhaps as an experiment. If so, he is certainly succeeding! As time was pressing we hurried through, pausing at the gents (it was very cold and I had quaffed a couple of pints of Old Hooky) before taking our seats as the game started.
If I had thought that last week`s recovery at St. James`s Park (or whatever it is called now), had marked a change in our fortunes, I was soon to be disillusioned. We didn`t turn up and were lucky not to give away a goal before the 35th. minute. Thereafter, it became a procession, further goals following in the 43rd., 55th., 60th. and 82nd. minutes. Pogrebnyak scored a hat-trick, confirming my friend`s pre-match worries, and Dempsey secured a brace.
It was a reality check, revealing the gulf that exists between our team and a mid-table side like Fulham. Their players were far sharper in everything they did and all round the field. They quickly closed down our men when we had the ball, prompting errors; they ran at us with pace and constantly gave the man on the ball options with the pass.
WW, in contrast, were slow, ponderous and predictable. We do pass the ball around but often sideways or backwards, because, unlike Fulham, the attacking option is all too frequently not on. There`s no fluency, no dynamism and little moving into space. We look like carthorses in comparison to thoroughbreds. Passes continue to go astray and players are caught in possession. Allowance might be made for the heavy pitch and the strong wind, if it were not for the fact that Fulham managed to cope with the conditions. In the stands it was a very miserable experience: my hands shook so much I could hardly write and by the end of the game my notebook was papier maché.
We have little cutting edge up-front, are fragile in midfield and lack solidity in defence. Even WH is failing to keep the goals against down to two or three. I am almost afraid for us to attack because when the move breaks down we are all too often caught on the break. Why can opposing teams counter-attack with pace and threaten our goal, while we have difficulty in moving the ball out of defence, through the midfield and to our front runners? Our midfield was non-existent, especially after Henry had retired injured. And that put too much pressure on our Championship standard defence.
At the back our two central defenders were once more found wanting, incapable of performing the basics adequately. I was sorry that Bassong did not play; he might be rusty but he is solid in defence, is composed in possession and capable of distributing the ball effectively. None of our other CDs can do that. He must play next Saturday against Blackburn, which really is a must-win game. We were carved open so often it could have been double figures.
It`s not that we didn`t have our chances but because we have so few of them we have to convert them into goals. Doyle had a header blocked on the line in the 24th. minute and Milijas and Fletcher, among others , could have scored. Even so, Schwarzer in the Fulham goal was hardly troubled. Jarvis and Kightly were ineffective, though MJ did managed to wriggle through on the by-line on one occasion but to no avail.
If this result acts as a reality check and shows TC what he has to do to save us, I will put it down to experience. But we have to defeat Blackburn next week or we really are going down. As the Fulham supporters said on the train between Putney and Clapham Junction, WW were a very poor team. We need a miracle.