IBO Reporter : spot51
|So, Stephens in for Vestergaard and Long for Ings – a noticeably weaker side than the one that faced Man City last week. At least Ralph has plenty of options on the bench - and Walcott and Armstrong on the flanks is the best we could put out. Come on you Blues!
Fulham aren’t starting Mitrovic and there are more of their recent signings out there than the lads who brought Fulham up. At least we’ll get a look at Harry Reid. He impressed me when I watched Fulham in the Championship but let us hope Diallo has more in his locker.
Sky are showing this one and it is NOT Alan Bloody Smith doing the punditry for a change. Sadly, his stand-in, Lee Hendrie, has a bad case of verbal diarrhoea and clearly wishes he were at Villa Park watching his team dismantle Palace.
Saints kick off and the first exchanges are erratic with neither side keeping the ball. Fulham have the first attack, breaking down their left before launching a cross high above Loftus Cheek and out for a throw. On 8m they force a routine save from McCarthy, when Lookman cuts in from the left and gets his shot away.
There are then handball appeals against Bednarek, but neither the ref nor Jon Moss on VAR, feel the need to give it. Fulham’s first corner was cleared before Saints launched their first attack. Blue shirts were breaking forward, but Armstrong’s cross bounced off a defender and Fulham cleared their lines.
Saints were beginning to settle when Robinson’s crude challenge on James Ward-Prowse after 16m, somehow didn’t earn a card. From the restart Long got down our left and won a corner. JWP's kick was cleared and a huge hoof downfield saw Fulham charge up-field. With the ball dropping over his shoulder, KWP executed a neat overhead to send the ball back from whence it came.
On 19m it looked like Saints were in - but the Ref stopped play for a foul by Adams?? We weren’t quite clicking today. Our next break saw Bertie get forward, but his forward pass went way beyond Armstrong’s run.
On 22m Fulham sent a free kick into our box, but this time the Ref thought it was Adams being fouled and stopped play. Diallo was looking good on his first start. After getting down the left, both he and his marker slid into the advertising boards and Fulham got a goal kick.
Fulham then got forward, but Anguissa swung and missed before fouling KWP and allowing us to clear. Up the other end, Adams was brought down in the area you expect JWP to score from. He got his shot over the wall, but Areola somehow tipped the ball against the woodwork. The spinning ball dropped invitingly for Adams but then took an outrageous bounce away from the forward, so Fulham could get it clear. Close – but no cigar!
By the half hour, Saints were well on top and our press, and Fulham’s unwillingness to launch the ball long, saw us able to keep taking it from them at will. When Fulham eventually got near our goal, McCarthy was quickly out to claim the ball. On 38m De Cordova Reid was booked for a foul on JWP. From this distance Bertie was allowed to cross. His kick reached Walcott but Theo’s attempted cross was dreadful.
On 40m, Adams tracked back and conceded a corner. Cavaleiro’s cross was headed away by Bednarek. Fulham launched it back into our box where Loftus Cheek was adjudged to have handled. Then Bertie was found, overlapping down the wing. His driven cross was too near the keeper, who gratefully grabbed it.
Our next attack saw Long flagged offside. As the added minute board was raised, Sky showed a stat showing just 3 goal attempts – the lowest in any 1st half this season. HT = 0-0.
On 48m Diallo was tripped. Bertie’s free kick reached Long whose cross was cleared at which point the dogs began fighting and I was obliged to separate them. When I next looked at the game, another Fulham cross soared high above our box and out for a throw on the other side.
It was an untidy match. Fulham’s next foray forward fizzled out, allowing Saints to advance. Long remains a willing runner, but even he must have been appalled by the speed at which the forward pass whizzed past him. The keeper was able to wait for it to arrive.
On 55m Diallo put Walcott away, but Fulham recovered the ball and broke away. The ball reached Robinson, whose cross might have provided a Fulham goal: Cavaleiro rose well, met the cross, but sent it way over our crossbar.
Saints next attack was as unproductive. Adam’s controlled the ball nicely and fed Armstrong. The Scot looked up, saw Long breaking into the box and fired his cross some 5 metres above him. FFS!
On 65m a foul on Long allowed JWP to send the ball towards Long at inside left. He saw Diallo’s forward run and fed him: only for the youngster to swing and miss and Fulham were able to clear. Damn it!
Up the other end a Fulham shot deflected into the path of Harry Reed. He took aim, let fly and McCarthy was able to field his tame effort. On 68m Long chased a bouncing ball, got there first and forced Areola to tip his shot over the bar. When the ball came in, Loftus Cheek knocked it away.
Saints were again getting on top as they had first half. We were advised that Jon Moss was looking at a possible handball in the Fulham box. It was missed by the Ref but replays showed the ball indeed bouncing off a Fulham arm. I was thinking about who’d be taking the penalty when they decided not to award one. Bastards!
This breathed life into the home side and Saints were obliged to defend for a while. Bednarek was stepping up and winning most of the crosses. On 75m Armstrong broke up field but was crudely taken down by Anguissa who was carded. Bertie’s free kick arrived with Long who crashed it past the keeper, only for the bloody lino to raise their flag. Replays showed it was a good call but Damn and Blast it anyway.
Fulham then won another corner, but McCarthy came and grabbed it. A foul on Walcott saw JWP launch a cross which Fulham cleared but Saints came right back at them. Diallo went past a couple of players before finding KWP, who won another corner. There were 7 minutes left.
Fulham brought on Mitrovic who helped defend JWP’s corner. Stephens rose highest but sent his header wide. Saints then provided the best move of the match when Long’s pass found Adams. He saw the run of Walcott and delivered the cross. Theo duly stuck it away, but celebrations paused when the dreaded VAR CHECK appeared on the big screens. Sod it! Out came the lines and yes, Adams had been offside by the width of a gnat’s bollock.
A relieved Fulham burst forward but, again, when they sent over a cross McCarthy came and grabbed it. Then Loftus Cheek crossed from the other side but McC was equal to that too. The +4 minutes board was greeted by a flurry of substitutions, but it was Fulham who had the final scoring chances.
First Mitrovic took a snapshot which fizzed just past our post. Then, with seconds left, the tireless Anguissa unleashed a powerful shot, but Jack Stephens got his body in the way. Well done, Sir.
And that was that. The pundits reckoned that both defences had won their battles and it is hard to argue with that. 0-0 not a great result – but seven consecutive away games unbeaten is a record for Saints in the Premier League.
Man of the Match
There were no great performances but most of our defenders did OK and McCarthy deserved his clean sheet. In midfield, Diallo didn’t look overawed and our forwards kept going. I’m happy for people to disagree with my pick but, given his involvement in all our good attacking efforts, I’m giving it to Shane Long. I’ll be happier when Ings comes back and Shane can return to the Bench but that was a decent 90 minutes.