WEST BROM 0
BY DANIEL MARSH
Scott Parker was left to rue the absence of some of his key attacking options as Fulham’s slim automatic promotion hopes were all but extinguished in the West Midlands.
Despite responding with four consecutive wins following back-to-back defeats that began the Championship’s resumption, the Whites knew they needed to win against West Brom to realistically have any hope of overhauling their hosts in the race for a coveted top two spot.
Fulham have been accused by some this term of being slow in terms of their build-up and approach, but their start to the first half in this key clash didn’t look ponderous in the slightest.
The visitors settled the better of the two sides in what was a cagey contest and were unfortunate to see Ivan Cavaleiro’s looping header fall to the feet of a striped shirt underneath the cross bar.
But Fulham’s momentum stopped after the first water break as West Brom finally began to take a foothold in the game. Barring a bright opening 20 minutes from Fulham, neither side really did enough to take control of their top two destiny.
That’s not to say that the Whites didn’t have chances or threaten. They looked a menace from set-pieces and Anthony Knockaert saw a textbook volley smack the bar. On another night Aleksandar Mitrovic would have seen a brace of headers hit the net.
Parker admitted his side lacked the extra attacking threat needed to really put the Baggies to the sword.
“We started the match really strongly – for the first 20 minutes we had a real control about us. The drinks break came at a bad time and they started to build up a head of steam. The injury to Ivan Cavaleiro disrupted us a bit.
“It’s not the result we wanted. We wanted to keep the pressure on but it wasn’t our day. We were limited due to injuries – we probably lacked that little bit [extra]. It’s probably fair to say we missed a [Aboubakar] Kamara or [Tom] Cairney to unlock the door. When the game was late on, we probably needed a little bit of a freshener.”
Parker’s men average a marginally higher control of possession at 62.2 per cent compared to the 60.4 that steamrollered the Championship post-Christmas to win promotion two years ago under Slavisa Jokanovic. The proportion of those passes in the opposition’s half is down from 318 to 275. Fulham’s average passes per game this campaign has been 537, which means more than 51 per cent of those have been inside their own half.
This would appear to fit in with the scrutiny of Fulham’s play at times being leisurely – and it certainly felt at the Hawthorns as though the handbrake was on, especially as time ticked away in the second period.
The loss of Cavaleiro at the end of the first half to a hamstring strain was a blow, and the presence of Cairney and Kamara would have made this a different prospect.
Although Parker stopped short of completely ruling out automatic promotion, his focus will turn to building momentum for the play-off lottery.
“We are in a division where fortunately for us there are two ways which you can get promoted,” he said. “There’s going up automatically in two games time – which is less likely now for us. But it’s a division where you can also go up by the play-offs. If this season ends for us in two games time [with automatic promotion] then brilliant, amazing. If it doesn’t then we know we’ve got five games left and my players and staff understand that.
“We need to be focused on that end goal and that message has been drummed into the players for a long time now, we need to stay focused and committed to the journey.”
This Fulham side isn’t the same type of beast which stormed into the play-offs two years ago, but negotiating the play-offs isn’t something which should hold any fears for them.
They’ve shown their calibre at various times this season – but not as consistently as some may have predicted before the season began.
Fulham (4-3-3): Rodak 7, Bryan 6, Ream 6 (Christie 90), Hector 7, Odoi 6, Onomah 6 (Johansen 77), Reed 7, Cordova-Reid 5, Cavaleiro 6 (Kebano 43, 6), Knockaert 7, Mitrovic 7. Not used: Bettinelli, Mawson, McDonald, Le Marchand, Arter, Sessegnon.
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