I said in my last column that I thought the win at Crystal Palace could be the stepping stone for our season, but unfortunately things didn’t really pan out that way. A trip to St Mary’s was the first chance to build on our little run of form but I was very impressed with Southampton – I thought they were fantastic. They got their tactics right and didn’t give our players time to breathe as they pressed us all over the pitch. They were very sharp and just seemed to have a little bit more energy than us. Obviously it was very disappointing from our point of view as we didn’t really create too much and never looked like winning the game but sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition. I think they’re one of the better sides we’ve played this season so far. If you don’t start the game too well in the Premier League then you normally get punished and Southampton kept up that intensity and came out clear winners. It just wasn’t our day at the office.
Much has been made of the fact that we only had one shot in that game, but I can recall plenty of times of times when I was involved in similar matches. I remember going to Arsenal and we drew 0-0 but only because Edwin van der Sar made about 500 saves! I think we could have nicked it when we had one header off target but if it wasn’t for van der Sar that day we would’ve got trashed.
Next up was our late defeat to Leicester City in the Capital One Cup and I think that one has to go down as something of a missed opportunity. Realistically, a great season for Fulham would be to go on a couple of cup runs – maybe getting to a Final – and finishing higher than 10th in the league. The Leicester game was a good opportunity for us to go there and get into the next round of the cup and maybe win something to give our fans something to shout about, giving them that trip to Wembley, but on the day it wasn’t meant to be. Although we conceded some sloppy goals, we still managed to get back into the game but they say you’re at your most vulnerable when you’ve just scored, and so it proved as they ended up nicking it in the last minutes which was very disappointing.
Another disappointment was that Hugo Rodallega had to be withdrawn due to injury in the second half. He looked really up for it in that game and obviously he scored two goals, the second of which was a great header. It will be gutting for him because he’d been given his chance. He must have done enough to impress Martin Jol in training as he decided to play him and it must be so frustrating for Hugo because he got his chance, which he took, but then to get injured is just bad luck. It’s bad luck for the team as well because we need the goals at the minute.
Manchester United are hardly ideal opposition when you need a result and before Saturday’s game I did sense there was something of an anxiety in the ground with a few moans and groans. As a player, it can be a bit difficult when you hear that and I think maybe the fans – who have always been great to me – need to get behind the team and support them.
Facing Man United is a difficult enough task as it is so to concede some basic goals was sloppy on our part and very disappointing as we just handed them three goals. If you watch them back, I think there’s something that we could have done to prevent each and every one of those goals so I’m sure they’ll be working on that on the training pitch this week. But I thought it was a good show of character in the second half for the players to come out and win the half as we did. I think that would have been the talk at the interval, saying that we’re 3-0 down and we’re not going to win the game, so let’s not lose the second half.
I don’t like saying it, but maybe Man United took their foot off the pedal a bit as they’ve got a Champions League match on Tuesday, but let’s not take anything away from the lads for sticking in there. I’ve been in that situation before and it’s so easy at 3-0 or 4-0 to let your heads drop and concede another and another but the lads battled on well and created some chances and they were unlucky not to score a second really. If that Darren Bent header had gone in rather than hit the bar, who knows how the game would have ended up.
The fixtures don’t get any easier and while Liverpool will clearly be a hard match, it’s one the players will look forward to. When I first joined Fulham we were in the old Division Three so our away trips were against teams like Gillingham and Cambridge, so when we got to the top flight the games at places like Anfield were always ones I looked forward to. All the pressure will be on Liverpool; all the bookmakers will be making them favourites and the pundits will be making them favourites so we’ve got nothing to lose really and, with our players, if they all click and get into gear we can score two or three goals away from home, like we’ve seen before.
Brendan Rodgers has got his team looking dangerous and I do like their formation where they play three at the back to accommodate Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and they’ve got Philippe Coutinho back now too. They’re going to be hungry because they lost their last match but if we start the game well and go in with a positive frame of mind and keep the crowd quiet for the first 20 minutes then they might get on their backs a little bit and then you never know what might happen. But we need to defend a lot better if we’re going to get anything out of the game.
Suarez and Sturridge look very sharp and you can see that they’ve got that tight-knit relationship where they know what the other one’s going to do. They’re a dangerous partnership but Liverpool are dangerous all over the park. We talk about Suarez and Sturridge but then there’s also Steven Gerrard who’s been one of their best players for the last 10 years. We have to defend as a unit, as a team; it starts from the top and the forwards have to dig in and the men out wide have to work hard. As a team I think we just need to be a bit more organised and stop conceding silly goals. The lads look like a close-knit bunch so hopefully they’ll rile each other up and be ready to go again.
I don’t think we’re a million miles away from going on a good run of form because at Palace I thought we were fantastic and that we might crack on but we’ve had some difficult fixtures; Southampton have been a revelation this season and Manchester United is always a difficult game. What I would say it that as a team and a Club we need to stick together. Come On You Whites!