The lineup was mostly unchanged, but the changes that were made were a little surprising. Matt Smith was dropped for Cauley Woodrow. A little surprising, as Smith has been excellent this year, but he might have just needed a break. The second change was Scott Malone for Ryan Sessegnon. This was perhaps less surprising, as Malone has started more than the youngster. However Sessegnon did play very well in his last opportunity. The two biggest surprises where probably another start for Scott Parker (how long can the old man keep this up) and the fact that Bettinelli was still not in the 18.
Fulham dominated the first 20 minutes of the game. Fulham had over 70% of the possession to start the game. They created four shots and didn’t allow a single shot. Kallas and Madl weren’t challenged often, but when they did they were up to the challenge. Gentleman Jim spent much of the time throwing shade at last years team that often made him suicidal in comparison to this Fulham squad.
If I had one critique for the first 30 minutes of the game, it might be that Fulham were slightly too conservative. I know that is weird to say when Fulham had so much possession and created the only shots of the match. However, Cardiff was putting almost everyone behind the ball and Fulham were content to keep it and wait for a good scoring opportunity. They completed 95% of their passes in the first half hour. When your completion rate is that high, it off means you aren’t attempting enough truly dangerous passes.
Fulham had a bit of bad luck when Floyd Ayite was injured and had to come off with just five minutes left in the first half. As always though it was exciting to see Ryan Sessegnon come on to replace him. And like a fairy tale, he was able to put one into the back of the net just a three minutes later.
The first half ended, with Fulham ahead 1-0 with about as much domination as a scoreline like that could allow. They led Cardiff in shots 6-0, key passes 3-0, dribbles 8-1, duels won 21-8, aerial duels 6-1, attacking passes 173-87 and had 67% possession.
Cardiff started the second half trying to be a little more proactive, but in response Fulham pressed them more often and higher up the pitch. This is something to watch going forward. Will Fulham be content to possess the ball on bunkering teams but press those that want to attack?
Cardiff were able to equalize when Cauley Woodrow and Tom Cairney both tried to clear a long throw with headers, but it fell to Joe Ralls who struck a 20 yard bullet into the top corner. I haven’t studied this in detail, but does it seem like Fulham have given up more wonder strikes than any other team?
Things got even worse when Pilkington nutmeged Madl and then curled in a shot. All of a sudden it felt like last years Fulham team.
Matt Smith continued his habit of causing problems having a header saved not long after coming on.
Fulham finally got some good luck when Cardiff had a free kick that beat Button, hit the bar, hit his back and then was smothered.
Fulham seemed devoid of ideas until the last 10 minutes when Fulham finally turned up the pressure. LVC had a shot blocked from inside the box. That should have been the equalizer, but they kept it up until McDonald had a super strike to equalize in the 86’ minute.
Smith continued to cause problems (this is a running theme) as he headed a ball down that Cairney was able to fire right at the Cardiff keeper.
Fulham tried hard to win the game in injury time, continuing to get the ball into dangerous positions. But it wasn’t to be. A draw isn’t the result we wanted, but after being down 2-1, it’s not the worst result.
- When a team decides to bunker against Fulham, they are quite good at passing it around, but haven’t yet show the ability to consistently unlock the defense. Cairney is the one player who should be able to do it, but only having him isn’t enough. Cardiff seemed to limit his touches and make it hard for Fulham to create.
- Fulham only gave up eight shots. You don’t expect to give up two goals when that happens.
- Fulham (even after a bit of a swoon in the second half) still dominated all the predictive stats.
- Matt Smith is getting fouled all the time. I don’t know if the referee just lets it go, because he’s a giant; but something needs to be done about it.
- Fulham remain unbeaten and haven’t been outplayed yet his year.
- Fulham are still on pace for 92 points.