Date: 20 April 2019
A Fulham fan informed me on the way to this game that they hadn’t won a match on the road in the Premier League all season. Somehow, from that moment on, I just knew what was going to happen today!
When the team was announced three ‘reserve’ players (Ofoborh, Sturridge and Hyndman) were on the bench. The starting XI was the same as at Brighton except that Stanislas had replaced Smith, and it was read out in squad number order except for Junior who was listed last. I couldn’t immediately work out why this was, nor what the system might be. But the match started and Stanislas lined up at right back; and later I learned that Smith had been injured during the warm-up so the inclusion of Stanislas was a late change. Yet we started well; Aké, Fraser and Wilson had early opportunities to score and all the play was around Fulham’s goal. The best chance of the game yet fell to King on the quarter hour mark, but he blasted the ball over the bar when it would have been easier to score.
Our next great opportunity came when we were awarded a free kick on Bournemouth’s right about five minutes later. The crowd thought Brooks would take it, but it was Stanislas – and it was so, so close to going straight into the net. But somehow Stanislas seemed to get injured as he kicked it, and before long he’d be going off, to be replaced by Simpson. At first Cook took over at right back, the back four now being Cook-Mepham-Simpson-Aké; but later Cook himself got injured and though he didn’t go off he did now swop places with Mepham. (But Cook and Simpson were leaving a lot of space between them, and again and again Lerma was dropping back into the role of sweeper.) And this wasn’t the end of our injury worries in the first half, because Wilson was on the floor for ages but eventually was deemed well enough to continue.
All this time Fulham were getting into the game more and more and I was at the best end of the ground to see Aké make some tremendous saves: one good tackle and at least two clearances off the line. Cook also managed to get the ball off Mitrovic excellently in the box without – as we were all fearing – giving away a penalty. Simpson must have been watching this because he attempted something similar at the other end seven minutes into the second half, but didn’t get it quite right. His tackle on Mitrovic gave away a penalty, which Mitrovic himself took – scoring easily to his left (Boruc’s right). 0-1.
Eddie made his second substitution (both Cook and Wilson seemed to have recovered from earlier injuries) on exactly 60 minutes, bringing Solanke on for King in a straight swap. Later he’d try something more dramatic: Mousset for Mepham. As I’d observed on a previous occasion, the substitute came on with a piece of white paper to hand to the captain (Cook); once again there were no clues as to what it said. Anyway, now we were playing with a back three (who coped perfectly well) and a front three (who unfortunately were getting no service at all). Brooks and Fraser were trying to play as wing backs – but they’d swapped flanks, for some reason. Any Bournemouth advances (there weren’t many) seemed to involve one or both of these.
But most of the action in the second half was at the same end of the pitch where it had been early in the first, so if there was to be another goal it seemed more likely to be scored by Fulham – whose fans were really enjoying this and singing all the songs we’d been singing at Brighton a week earlier! And as the half progressed Fulham’s players were adopting delaying tactics more and more – falling on the ground when there’d been no contact at all, and staying down for ages even though they showed no sign of any injury when they eventually got up. The Fulham goalie was the worst offender – going down for long periods to hold up the play, and also taking his goal kicks from positions far ahead of his line but without the assistant ref seeming to notice. The referee himself did seem to somewhat acknowledge some of this – because he awarded six added minutes at the end of the game. But, to be honest, even then Fulham looked more like scoring than we did. It was the Burnley match all over again – and neither the presence of Boruc nor the presence of Cook had been able to prevent this. As two weeks ago, Bournemouth had been so poor that no sponsors’ ‘man of the match’ was announced. Accepted this was a very hot afternoon (24 degrees; and some fans, who’ve never bought a cold drink at the ground before, bought two today); and maybe that affected the Bournemouth players more than the Fulham ones for some reason. But still we left unhappily: we hadn’t seen our team make much of an effort, we were all feeling hot and dehydrated, and the worst blow of all: the matchday announcer informed us, as we left, that it still wasn’t known what day or time our next (and final) home game of the season would be played. Thanks Sky!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Stanislas (6), S Cook (6), Mepham (5), Aké (7);
Brooks (6), Lerma (7), Gosling (6), Fraser (6);
Wilson (6), King (5)
S Cook, Simpson, Aké;
Fraser, Gosling, Lerma, Brooks;