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Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Not so much a Survival Sunday-like air around Craven Cottage this time, more a So-So Saturday feeling.
Because while this visit was never going to be as bad as 2005, and, even in defeat, it did exorcise rather a few demons, it was always apparent that this was a game that was going to be bottom of the Match of the Day running order.
Fulham weren’t great, but neither were we.
We were always chasing the game rather than being able to dictate anything ourselves.
Fulham players continually went to ground as though they were dragged down by some magnetic force, and refereeing decisions consistently went the way of the home side.
And as for Dickson Etuhu… had that ‘tackle’ on Russell Martin occurred outside a nightclub he’d now be looking forward to a date with the magistrates rather than looking back on another yellow card to add to his collection.
It was also almost telling that within milli-seconds of the final whistle Elliott Bennett managed to put the ball in the Fulham net. It was something none of his team-mates ever seriously looked like doing in the regular 90 minutes without the aid of a deflection.
All in all it was a match to forget at a totally soulless venue that is the ultimate in plastic Premier League theme-park experiences. But Saturday wasn’t just about the actual 90 minutes – if it had I doubt there would have been such a clamour for tickets.
It was all about seeing whether the wrongs of almost seven years ago could be righted.
There have been few away City occasions that have matched the pre-match atmosphere at Craven Cottage on May 15, 2005.
Despite a quite shocking series of earlier results it seemed as if we were somehow going to get away with it. The away end was absolutely rocking as the teams came out.
Then referee Steve Dunn got the game under way… and we all know what happened next.
There were some differences to that sunny afternoon of seven seasons ago – the slightly overcast weather meant that the floodlights had been switched on and there were rather fewer beach balls in evidence in the away end.
But oh how the memories of 2005 came flooding back in the opening 13 minutes.
It was a staggering display of defensive disorganisation that we should concede two goals in little more than the same amount of time we managed to keep things tight at the back on that ill-fated day.
At 3.13pm on Saturday I can’t imagine that I was the only City fan wishing that I’d taken up the 100-1 odds offered in the away-end betting hut on another 6-0 home win. Just for old times’ sake.
It really did seem as if history was about to repeat itself.
This time, though – and this is what will have prevented next season’s City following to Craven Cottage from resembling an average Wigan travelling support – we refused to cave in, showed a lot of defensive spirit – especially the hugely impressive Ryan Bennett – and did something about things at half-time.
Okay, we didn’t quite make amends for previous results in the same fashion seen at Colchester or Charlton, but the ghosts of 2005 have now been laid to rest. Each time we go to London SW6 we know that we’re not going to get completely destroyed.
Next time we go to Craven Cottage there will not be the same historical baggage weighing the Canaries down.
A more settled formation, or at least less experimentation, and summer signings to match Ryan Bennett and Jonny Howson and we could yet have another day to remember to add to the above two examples.
It’s taken almost seven years to get over what happened in May. Another 12 months’ wait isn’t going to matter.
• NOW WE KNOW HOW IMPORTANT COMEBACK WINS WERE
You can’t fault the determination, and possession patterns were impressive at times on Saturday, but the fact remains that one goal in three away games is not an encouraging statistic.
Were it to happen next season, at least.
For now, at least, you can say that it’s all about trying out different things and bedding in the two January signings in readiness to hit the ground running in 2012/13. And realistically you would like to think that the lowest City could now finish is 14th, given that only two of their remaining fixtures are against non-top eight teams.
But even so, it’s still frustrating that for all their time on the ball this was another game in which you sensed that there were never really many goals in them.
This was partially self-inflicted, true, what with the main striker not being available, but I’ll bet at no point earlier in the season did Paul Lambert envisage a situation in which he would be calling on an, if you like, journeyman lower-division forward rather than a £2m striker on whom such high hopes had been placed.
When his move was agreed last June, Lambert declared of Morison: “Steve can lead the line very well, he’s done it with Wales and Millwall, he’s going to be great for this football club.”
I didn’t see much evidence of that at Craven Cottage. Whether it’s a question of injury or morale, Morison did not look anything like the player who scored the winners at West Brom and QPR as recently as two and three months ago, though when you’re out of form it is perhaps expecting rather a lot to be played as a lone striker.
He certainly wasn’t chasing lost causes in the way that Aaron Wilbraham or Simeon Jackson did.
With a decent, in-form striker in the line-up at Craven Cottage I think we would have won.
Fulham repeated their strange habit as seen at Carrow Road earlier in the season of effectively declaring at half-time.
With four minutes of stoppage time to play, had we managed to quickly conjure up a second goal such was our momentum I think we would have been unstoppable.
As it is, on this showing we now don’t need a pre-season friendly at the likes of Dereham and scoring only three times to know that without Grant Holt what we’ve got up front isn’t good enough to go to places such as Southampton or Reading next year and pick up vital points.
Because if we hadn’t hit back to win at QPR and Swansea and lost – which we would have done had we displayed Saturday’s blunt cutting edge – I’m sure an awful lot of people would now be nervously looking over their shoulders given our run-in.
• AL FAYED MILKS THE APPLAUSE
I must have missed this on previous visits to Craven Cottage. But I was expecting something vaguely interesting when Fulham announcer David Hamilton – yes, that one – cleared his throat and began: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome…”
Jimmy Hill perhaps. Or maybe a member of their 1975 FA Cup final team. But no. “….the chairman of Fulham, Mohamed Al Fayed.”
Who then proceeds to embark upon a pre-match lap of honour.
All right, I know he’s taken the club from the Third Division to a European cup final, but even so it really was a case of the ego has landed.
n Tit-for-tat ticket pricing then, or so you’d almost be forgiven for thinking, with the news that Aston Villa fans are being charged £45 for their final-day visit here.
Now it could yet be this game counts for something other than prize money, but the chances are that it will otherwise be as meaningless as Villa’s trip to Carrow Road on the last day of the 1994/95 season.
You’d like to think that next year, with the novelty value of us going to Villa Park or their fans coming here, the prices for away fans are going to be a lot less than £40 or else there may be plenty of people putting their money aside for the ’bigger’ away trips.