My eldest brother and I have watched football together since he reluctantly took me to a game under parental pressure (at 15, having to be guardian to a 9 year old was a mission many would have undertaken with a sulk), but whereas I was instantly hooked, the same scenario a couple of years earlier had failed to have the same effect on my middle brother. I often envy his non commitment.
Nearly 50 years later, his second match prompted the half time comment that he would leave it a bit longer for the third game, and you could fully understand why.
While the stifling heat was undoubtedly a factor in the lethargy of both teams, the sparkling weather was not nearly matched by the spectacle on the pitch.
Town’s dogged determination was admirable in a way, given the energy sapping conditions, but soporific in many more. Fulham were largely clueless, and their fans restless, forcing Murphy in to just one save beyond the regulation and the game was not helped by regular injury stoppages and an over fussy referee (who’s non-intervention, ironically, late in the game cost us 2 points).
Amidst the torpor, Town forced Fulham’s keeper in to 2 saves, and had the much discussed Butterfield’s shot fallen more kindly, Bunn may have put us in to an ill deserved lead.
Jacob, who was widely reported to be out of the squad (along with Vaughan, which also turned out to be false), showed us what we will be missing if Derby’s 4th offer is high enough. His intelligence and quick feet shone throughout – not only will it be a shame for him to go, you can’t also help feeling that, finances aside, his talent will be sidelined once the Rams get their full squad back and a player who possibly slightly lacks top division football quality through a lack of pace isn’t entirely convinced by the potential move either.
Thankfully, the first half drifted to an end – Fulham’s forwards had barely troubled dogged but sleep inducing Town defending and, yet again, deploying Wells up front largely on his own (against a huge centre half) never allowed us to build good pressure.
As they had against Hull, however, Town showed more ambition in a relatively lively second half. It was by no stretch of the imagination a classic , but both sides began to find more space and Town were showing more adventure.
Scannell had two back post efforts – a shot easily saved when Wells was better placed and a header the keeper did well to claw away – and the travelling support could see a little hope.
At the other end, Murphy made an excellent point blank save from a header and, along with a high quality stop from a McCormick free kick later in the game, has adapted exceptionally well to his new number 1 status. He is certainly not afraid to vent his frustrations at defenders – a sheepish Lynch was lambasted for giving away a cheap corner in the first half – and it is the type of organisational attention you want a keeper to show and which Smithies largely lacked.
The save at close range was pivotal – shortly afterwards, a Bunn surge on the right took him past a couple of defenders before the ball broke loose to Wells to slot home. It was his first goal away from home since the early part of last season at Ipswich and while he can still be unconvincing in general play (not helped by performing a now familiar but alien role), he looks harper in front of goal when rare chances come his way.
At this point, Chris Powell’s pragmatic tactics made some sense – soak up home side pressure then counter when they become frustrated – and further chances were created while Fulham simply didn’t look very dangerous despite having most of the possession following the goal. The best of these should have fallen to Miller (who had replaced Scannell to protect the talisman’s hamstring), but instead of playing the ball to him, Bunn elected to try to squeeze the ball in at the near post but the keeper was equal to it.
Butterfield was then replaced by Dempsey following a dead leg injury (inappropriate thoughts turned to an imminent medical) and much of our forward momentum was lost as eyes turned to the clock.
5 minutes of injury time were tortuous enough without the referee, who had favoured the home side throughout, refused what looked like an obvious free kick for 2 separate hacks at Bunn in the corner. Had Bunn been in a Fulham shirt, a game closing free kick would have been awarded but, as it was, a frustrated Bunn gave away a foul himself and the desperate Cottagers through up a long ball to their giant centre half to knock down to substitute Cauley Woodrow to equalise from close range.
The disappointment was palpable, but when the ire towards the referee had died down, supporters could reflect upon the fact that even a point seemed highly unlikely beforehand with the upheavals we are having to suffer in the lead up to the close of the transfer window.
A win, which we probably deserved, would have boosted us up an admittedly nascent league table of a division producing a surprising number of draws in the first weeks of the season, and it would have been a confidence boost for players, manager and fans.
While the football had been of fairly poor quality and the ending frustrating and disappointing, a summer visit to Craven Cottage and its gentrified surroundings was still pleasurable – though not enough to persuade my brother to experience the delights of Wolverhampton, Hull and Middlesbrough any time soon.