Yesterday's 2-2 draw against Fulham felt more like a capitulation than a draw. Walking away from Eastlands on a cold, wet Sunday evening, the first questions that came to mind were as follows. Was this an aberration? Or have we just taken a massive step back into last season?
I try not to be a pessimist, nor the fan who has a short memory. Our start to the season has been excellent. But the manner of this draw brought back some unwanted memories. The bloke on my left summed it up. At 2-2, with Fulham looking decent value for the winner, he turned to his mate, sighed, and uttered the words: “I’ll settle for a point.”The reality is that we should not be settling for a point. We really should not be going to 2-0 up at home and then drawing games, not with this squad of players.
Clearly still not right, and by today’s standards there appears to be some way to go before we are talking top four. The warning signs were there in the first half when Bobby Zamora ballooned an effort over the bar from yards out and with Given sprawling. The concentration of Micah Richards worries me. He was in no mans land in terms of stopping the cross that led to the first Fulham goal. Clint Dempsey’s equaliser was down to the central defensive pairing, and if I was pushed to name names I’d point the finger at Joleon Lescott.
And let’s also not forget that Fulham had the chances to win the match.
The really worrisome point is that our current defensive frailties are beginning to stand out. I don’t have much tactical nous, but if I were the next opposition manager to visit Eastlands, I’d certainly tell my centre forwards to get in amongst Toure and Lescott and pressurise them at all costs.
We know what Fulham are about. They are about patient, disciplined football, two banks of four. Mistakes are kept to a minimum. The left hand knows what the right is doing. For this reason I think a midfield combination of Barry and Ireland would’ve been more potent. De Jong has been playing very well, and away from home when we are certain to be under the cosh we need him. But I think we need to be more ambitious at home against non-top four teams. Hughes talked about the need to shift around Fulham’s formation, manoeuvre it out of shape to create space to play into. With two defensive minded, tidy midfield players in Barry and De Jong, I think we gave ourselves less of a chance to accomplish this. Petrov was the positive in this department – his switches of play were good, but we didn’t take advantage of them.
The other side to the defensive-offensive midfield debate is that we already had four very potent attackers on the field in the form of Tevez, Adebayor, Petrov and Bellamy. So to place another offensive minded player – like Ireland – on the pitch would be a big risk against a Fulham team looking to hit us on the counter. It is swings and roundabouts. We all know Hughes has a conundrum on his hands tweaking the team against every new opponent. Perhaps sometimes there can be too many options on the table for a manager that has, in the past, been forced to work with very limited resources.
Tevez was the better striker in the first half. He created a few chances for others and had two very good scoring opportunities himself. I certainly admire the Argentinean for all his toil, but the £25.5m man should be putting away these opportunities.
Adebayor was off form. He wasn’t on the ball enough, we didn’t see enough of his power and pace, nor his ability to run at defenders. And whilst I’m harping on about Adebayor, I’ll also say that for a big man he doesn’t win enough headers for my liking. Still, his talent is so huge that he should’ve made a bigger impact on this game.
This result was all the more disappointing because of the results around us. A win would’ve seen us jump to third place, making ground on United due to their Anfield defeat, and overtaking Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool. Fulham are a good team, but we should be putting them away at home if we want to think about nicking fourth and / or beyond.
I don’t want to sound overly negative. It is still early days and we have hardly lost touch with the top four. Arsenal drew – albeit away from home - in a very similar fashion yesterday and of course Spurs were defeated at White Hart Lane against Stoke – which must have been a real gutter for them. Perhaps all of this is evidence that the league is changing in the sense that it will be a tighter affair this time around. I hope that is the case, rather than the other more depressing scenario that despite so much investment, the Blues are still in the business of throwing away games like the City teams of yesteryear.