Close, but no cigar

Adrian at the Carling Cup final at Wembley in 2011

Fulham 1 – Blues 0

Saturday July 4 2020

Blues suffered that most cruel of fates, the winner deep into injury time, on the banks of the Thames, just as it looked as if they were going to hold out for a valuable point to keep them clear of the relegation zone.

During the first half it had looked even better, as a vastly more solid team performance not only kept promotion chasing Fulham at bay, but also carved out the more clear cut chances. Golden boy Bellingham, Borussia Dortmond transfer rumour swirling around him, will be kicking himself for missing three very presentable chances in the first quarter of an hour of the game.

A change of shape and personnel had the desired effects. 4-2-3-1 and the introduction of Roberts and Sunjic for Dean and Jutkiewicz made Blues much more solid and difficult to beat than the horror show against Huddersfield the previous Wednesday, when the Terriers were able to run at Blues defence at will without interference and our back four seemed unwilling to exhibit any of the basics of defending.

The change of personnel also made for a change of attitude. The main accusation after the Huddersfield display was that neither the players nor the management seemed to care – a result of Pep being a lame duck leader having announced his intention to leave at the end of the season.

This time the commitment was obvious, Sunjic and Roberts personifying the change in attitude as they got stuck in. Some said on Twitter that all that Blues fans required was commitment, I’d say it was nearer the least we require. What had been missing on Wednesday was there for all to see yesterday.

“It wasn’t the commitment or indeed skill level of the players that lost us the match, but the coach’s tactics”

Yet we still lost the match, and although Wigan’s impending points deduction for entering administration means that we will be safe, we are still looking over our shoulder and hoping that other results go for us.

It wasn’t the commitment or indeed skill level of the players that lost us the match, but the coach’s tactics that left us open to the sucker punch in a game we could have won based on the first half display.

As the second half wore on, at Clotet’s instigation, there seemed to be a parade of our most creative players being swapped for more defensive minded replacements. Bellingham, Bela and Crowley being withdrawn for Kieftenbeld, Harding and Dean, as we signalled our intention to see the game out for a draw. And how often does that work? One slip, one piece of good play from the opposition and you’re done for, as it proved yesterday.

And there was no need, the first half had shown that the defence was able to cope without the reinforcements – it wasn’t until the second half that Camp had a save of any note to make. But as the game wore on and our substitutions increasingly invited Fulham on to us, with less and less hope of breaking on them, Camp was increasingly busy, including one magnificent double save that raised hopes that we might indeed get away with it.

But that wasn’t to be as Fulham, not for the first time, broke our hearts with a last minute winner.

Fulham 1 – Blues 0

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