Caretaker Head Coach Peter Grant felt Fulham’s second-half performance warranted three points at home to Preston North End.
Fulham’s best-laid plans were thrown prior to kick-off when Sakari Mattila was withdrawn with a bad back and was replaced by Scott Parker. And a below-par performance in the first period saw the Whites trail 1-0 to Joe Garner’s 11th-minute header at half-time.
Fulham switched to a 3-5-2 formation at the break and the change sparked the Whites into life, although they had to wait until the 77th minute to draw level through Ross McCormack’s fine free-kick.
“The first half was difficult for us,” said Grant. “We had to make a change right at the 11th hour, which upset us a bit. Not the personnel, but just because of the way we’d been training all week with Mattila. He’s more defensive-minded and we were going to play Jamie O’Hara a bit higher up the pitch. We had to adjust by bringing Scott back in and he’d been out for a few months, so that changed the dynamic of the team. I thought that told in the first half.
“To lose a goal from a set-play was a disappointing thing as Mattila would have been marking the boy who scored. I was pleased to get in at 1-0, to be perfectly honest. We made adjustments and I have to give great credit to the boys second half, I thought there was only one team that was going to go on and win it and that was ourselves.”
On his decision to tinker with the formation at half-time, Grant added: “I decided about 15 minutes in that I needed to change it! We knew we were lacking inches. We were a bit weak so we had to adjust it at the break; Shaun Hutchinson came on and playing the three at the back really suited us second half. We hadn’t worked on it so I have to give them great credit.
“Preston were still a danger but it took a bit of magic from McCormack. Hopefully we can kick on from there. We’re the top scorers in the league but had one of the most against, and you can see why. We worked on that in training to get that better because we have match winners like McCormack and Tom Cairney. We have the quality to produce moments like Ross did today. If we can get the other side of our game right, we won’t be far away.
“Ross’ goal wasn’t by luck, it’s by design. He practices daily and diligently. It’s no surprise that he’s capable of that.”
Frustration grew at the Cottage as Fulham saw several penalty shouts fall on deaf ears in the second half, but Grant said: “I’m not one to complain about referees because it’s a difficult, difficult job. If it’s a penalty, it’s not given, so we can’t do much about it. We’ve just got to get on with it and accept these moments happen in a game.
“I think the referee played the game in the correct way. There were two teams that were competitive, who wanted to win the match.”
Parker made his first appearance of the season following an ankle injury and rolled back the years with a fine display.
“I was delighted for Scott,” said Grant. “He was one I was watching closely because four or five of the boys haven’t trained all week; Richard Stearman, Tom Cairney, Scott’s just coming back, [Sakari] Mattila trained and then was injured just before kick-off, so we had a lot of boys last week who couldn’t train in the first part of the week.
“Stearman, the first we’ve seen him on the pitch was on matchday since the game last week, so that tells you about the character of the group. They all wanted to play in the match and, for me, that shows you’ve got special people desperate to play in the matches and get themselves fit to get through 90 minutes.
“Scott’s been a magnificent help to me. That’s why I took him with me last week to the [MK Dons] game. I thought he’d be important for me. I just said to him last week, you’re doing your licenses and there’s nothing like matchday to come and see what it’s like for real, because you can’t learn that on a coaching course. So come and sit in the dressing room, and you’ll see the difference it is. Sit on the bench and you’ll see the difference it is.
“Hopefully that experience of just seeing last week, you’ll see a totally different game from the one you see on the football pitch. His performance today at the last minute was excellent. I just had to take him off late in the game because I didn’t want him to get any other occurrences, obviously with tired legs. I was chuffed for him and great credit for the way he looks after himself.”