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The Story of the Craven Cabbage of Craven Cottage: Fulham 0 Newcastle 2 Match Report

5 months ago
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What’s the definition of craven?

The Oxford Dictionary states that it means; contemptibly lacking in courage; cowardly.

I think anybody watching the game on Sunday, or following the Premier League this season, would agree that Craven Cottage has been an apt name.

Fulham have only won two games there all year. Both of those victories against the other two useless teams that will be joining them in the Championship next season.

This game was mooted to be a potential relegation head-to-head showdown. Not long ago there was much speculation that the relegation issue could be decided on the final day of the season between our two sides.

Instead, we found form and pieced together a vital run of wins and draws and went into the game fourteen points clear of our opponents.

So the focus shifted. Now, as it approached 3pm, there was only one thing I was interested in. How many of those players that limped off just four days previously were going to be in the starting line-up? Would we see some of the squad given a chance? Would some younger players get an opportunity? The answers were ‘all of them bar Joelinton’, ‘no’, ‘no’.

I thought early on that Dubravka wasn’t 100%. He didn’t seem able to clear the ball out of our half and almost got caught out when coming out of his box to collect a back pass. However, as the game went on, he appeared comfortable enough. Whether that was due to injections before the game or not, it is impossible to tell.

ASM and Willock both seemed to be okay as well. ASM wasn’t at his most dynamic but still had a decent game and didn’t start limping until the hour mark.

There were few moments of note in the first twenty minutes. ASM made a run left of centre of the 18-yard box. The centre back showed him onto his weaker foot but that suited him, and he brushed past the defender and aimed a shot at the far corner which the keeper tipped wide.

Lookman jiggled past Krafth but his near post-strike was weak and Dubravka had it covered.

Just over 20 minutes in, Murphy had to battle for the ball after giving it away just outside our 18-yard box. After a tussle he did manage to gain possession and knocked the ball to the 2021 hero of Tyneside. Willock picked up the ball halfway inside his own half and galloped forward. No Fulham player put in a proper challenge until he reached their box. Willock tried to reverse the ball to Longstaff but the interception from Ream bounced back to his right foot and he struck it through the legs of Tosin and into the bottom corner.

It was his seventh consecutive scoring performance, equalling the NUFC record set by Alan Shearer. With this being the last game of the season, I think there’s little chance of him breaking that record.

ASM was gifted possession and broke away against two rapidly backpedalling defenders. Almiron was busting a gut to offer an overlap but the Frenchman took on the shot and it went tamely wide. Cavaleiro clipped the top of our bar from just inside our box.

And that was it for the first half.

Any changes for the second half? Would we see Matty get a run out? Willock isn’t even our player, Shelvey has played an abundance of football and has ‘earned’ a break, Almiron will have a busy summer having to travel with Paraguay. He’s got a minimum of six games in three and a half weeks starting in just over a week’s time. Could we bring Matty in, for one of them, and let him have a runout? Obviously not.

The second half saw Fulham take control of a tepid game.

Joe Willock almost gifted Fulham an equaliser, playing a delightful through ball to Carvalho who squared it to Cavaleiro who couldn’t have scooped it much higher over the bar had he been wearing flippers.

Fulham played some nice football, especially down the left-hand side, but they lacked conviction. They lacked that bravery at the end.

Dwight Gayle came on just after the hour for ASM. He had a fantastic chance, heading over unchallenged from point blank rage.

Schar replaced Krafth, who’d gone down injured, and Hendrick came on for Almiron.

There was little action to speak of in the latter stages of the game. Newcastle just soaked up the pressure and a couple of times formed a nine / ten-man picket line to stop Fulham stabbing chances home from close range.

Ritchie went down in the box late on to earn a penalty. What happened to his penalty taking privileges? He was a regular taker before Wilson joined but in the last couple of weeks, he’s seen Joelinton, Willock and now Schar all take them ahead of him.

Schar was cool as you like to slot the ball home and that was that.

Craven is a word that could be comfortably used to describe our Head Coach. He has been called a coward by one of his own players this season. The succession of excuses and blame shifts he has trotted out to disguise his own incompetence have been embarrassing. Today we got the win, we finished in twelfth place but, in my mind, he was cowardly again.

Today was a nothing match. A chance to give some others a bit of game time. The millions that finishing a few places higher in the table bring are irrelevant as it won’t make any difference to our transfer budget.

Matty Longstaff hasn’t had any pitch time since January and has only featured five times all season in the Premier League. After being hoodwinked into signing a new contract he must be cursing his situation. Andy Carroll, a cheap marketing ploy of a signing has been hardly seen all year. I’m not saying he should have played more but he should never have been given a new contract if he wasn’t going to be utilised. With this likely to be his last game, what would have been the harm in letting him have a run (jog?) out. Dwight Gayle is a player we surely want to sell this summer. Could he have got a start to try and boost his transfer value?

Giving Lewis a run out for half an hour or so would have been good for his confidence. He’s not had a great season and I’m fully behind playing Ritchie over him, but we spent a decent fee on the left back, so we need to find a way to get something out of him. He’ll be bereft of confidence having featured so little in the last three months. The six minutes he got against Man City is the only first team football he’s played since February.

It wouldn’t have hurt to have an academy player or two on the bench. If Anderson had been fit, would he have got a chance? I highly doubt it.

Whilst his opposite number was putting his faith in 18-year-old Fabio Carvalho for the third game running as well as giving a 20-year-old Tyrese Francois his Premier League debut, Bruce didn’t take the opportunity to give any young players a chance.

We won the game, we beat last season’s points tally and Bruce can finally claim he’s matched the mighty Rafa (two years and £100 million net spend later) but we were poor. We’ve won five of the last eight games and this has meant that we have survived comfortably on paper. However, apart from the Leicester game, we’ve been mediocre for the majority of the last two months.

The return of key players and the magic of Willock has helped us massively but there have been large dollops of Brucey luck again. Let us not forget the horrendous run that came before our win against Burnley either. Two wins in twenty one games is inexcusable. He may have matched Rafa but despite having £80 million spent on attacking talent since Rafa left we only scored four more goals than his team did in 18/19. It’s still an improvement you say? Well, we also conceded fourteen more despite not losing any of the defenders that Rafa had (besides the loaning out of Lejeune and the Yedlin give away) and spent more in this area too.

We have regressed and Bruce proved once again he was more interested in his demented quest to prove his worth than rest overworked players and let younger/squad players have an opportunity.

The season has ended comfortably but imagine starting the next one with Ashley and Bruce still in position?

Imagine a team without Willock and maybe ASM, a few budget replacements brought in?

Imagine if Norwich, Watford and whoever else comes up have something more about them than the three that have dropped down?

Imagine if Bruce’s luck runs out!

Stats from BBC Sport:

Fulham 0 Newcastle 2 – Sunday 23 May 4pm

Goals:

Newcastle:

Willock 23, Schar pen 88

Fulham:

Possession was Fulham 64% Newcastle 36%

Total shots were Fulham 14 Newcastle 10

Shots on target were Fulham 0 Newcastle 4

Corners were Fulham 5 Newcastle 4

Referee: Chris Kavanagh

Newcastle United:

Dubravka, Murphy, Fernandez, Krafth (Schar 73), Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Willock, Sean Longstaff, Almiron (Hendrick 80), Saint-Maximin (Gayle 65)

Unused Subs:

Mark Gillespie, Ciaran Clark, Javier Manquillo, Matty Longstaff, Jamal Lewis, Andy Carroll

Crowd: 2,000

(Eating Humble Pie? That should be Steve Bruce feasting on that after his ‘achievement’ – Read HERE)

(Scott Parker left pondering what if he’d taken Joe Willock on loan after Fulham 0 Newcastle 2 – Read HERE)

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Fulham 0 Newcastle 2 – Read HERE)

(Fulham 0 Newcastle 2 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(A decent match to end an indecent season – Read HERE)

(Fulham 0 Newcastle 2 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s victory – read HERE)

You can follow the author on Twitter @billymerlin

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