The final whistle deep into the 99th minute brought sweet relief to the Fulham faithful. The 3,000-odd away supporters rejoiced in the away end, erupting in a combination of pure elation and utter relief. Fulham left Loftus Road three points better off, courtesy of a 2-1 victory. And just like Tuesday night at the City Ground, Fulham won ugly.
Last season, the Cottagers deservedly gained a reputation as “the Entertainers,” playing the best football in the division while scoring the most goals. On countless occasions Fulham played teams off the park, dominating possession, running up the score, and stringing together lovely passing moves.
Yet in recent matches the Whites have transitioned aptly to a playing style that easily could see them dubbed as “the Mercenaries.” In this week’s matches against Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers, Fulham’s performances have been filled with last-gasp clearances, lucky defensive escapes, goals against the run of play, and most importantly, the three points.
On Tuesday night, Fulham had a staggeringly low 46.4 percent possession, a huge outlier for the Whites, who rank fifth in the league in possession per match. In addition, Slavisa Jokanovic handed Aboubakar Kamara a starting spot up front, contributing to a far more direct approach as opposed to patient build up play.
And on Friday night, it was more of the same from Fulham; far from dominating the match, the Cottagers were often under the cosh. But with a combination of frantic defending and well-timed goals, Fulham did exactly enough to secure maximum points.
In a rather even first half, the Whites grabbed the lead at the perfect time in fortuitous circumstances. Fulham had threatened intermittently in the opening stages, most notably wasting a brilliant chance that fell to Rui Fonte, but as the clock ticked towards halftime, a draw seemed fair.
But “the Mercenaries” pay no attention to what is fair. And when the opening goal came just four minutes before the interval, Fulham couldn’t believe their luck. Ryan Fredericks collected the ball from his right back position, cut in sharply into the center of the pitch, and sensing an opportunity to have a hit, let loose from thirty yards.
The shot looked destined to harmlessly land in the keepers’ hands, yet Jack Robinson stuck out a foot and deflected the shot past a stranded Tom Smithies. Fulham had the crucial lead going into halftime; the West London derby was firmly in the hands of the inhabitants of SW6.
The second half brought more of the same: QPR pressed Fulham, but the Whites expertly doubled their lead in 85th minute. Surely the match was now killed off; yet it wouldn’t quite be Fulham if they didn’t make the closing stages interesting.
QPR pulled a goal back in stoppage time, and for the next eight minutes, pandemonium broke loose. Rangers rained shot upon shot on David Button’s goal. Tomas Kalas executed a breathtaking scissor kick to clear a shot off the line, and with the very last kick of the match, QPR goalkeeper Smithies directed a free header wide. Fulham had survived in the end.
What makes these two matches significant is how starkly different the outcomes are compared to earlier results. In the opening weeks of the season, Fulham would have easily lost against Forest and QPR. Yet this week a new Fulham emerged, a Fulham who found a way to win.
By gritting out these two away wins, playing ugly, and benefitting from a generous degree of luck, Fulham showcased another dimension to their play. The mark of successful teams is those who can win when playing poorly; the Whites have certainly achieved that feat this week.
With a brutal September done and dusted, Fulham’s attentions now turn to a more favorable October featuring winnable home matches. The anticipated arrivals of Tom Cairney and Rafa Soares into the first team set-up will be invaluable, hopefully propelling Fulham further up the table.
It very much appears Fulham have turned a corner, and with the ability to win ugly in their repertoire, the Whites are a team on a mission. COYW!