Just when we thought the days of ignominious collapse in what is admittedly a tough division were over, Town capitulated badly in the face of a fine Fulham side who ripped the visitors to shreds with a performance of power, control and intense purpose.
Worryingly for David Wagner, his side were pushed aside with ease for the second time in a row on the road with defensive frailties cruelly exposed – frailties we barely new existed until this month.
Post mortems will no doubt focus on the return of Hudson in place of Hefele – and there is an apparent discrepancy between Bunn’s reward for a good substitute performance against Derby and the immediate return of the Schindler/Hudson partnership after a clean sheet – but the captain was the least culpable defender in the rearguard horror show, even if his display wasn’t good enough either.
Mid table Fulham are a strange side. Their away performances have been excellent, by all accounts, but home surroundings have delivered displays every bit as shambolic as Town’s yesterday, and a combination of them fulfilling their potential on home soil and a shapeless, careless and ill disciplined showing by the visitors saw them, finally, overwhelm an opponent.
A large, expectant Town following provided the only relief on an afternoon of unrelenting gloom as they sang for their team from beginning to end. In their collective determination to enjoy the experience despite what unfolded before them, the supporters seemed to be forgiving an over achieving group for a dark day in an otherwise hugely positive season and it is to be hoped that the squad and management will reciprocate with better performances in the future.
Defeats in this unrelenting and cruel division are to be expected, but the manner of the two setbacks in recent weeks are a major concern with solutions urgently needed, both tactically and in personnel or combinations of personnel. The return of Hogg will be a boost – he was sorely missed today as the Whitehead/Mooy combination was unable to quell Fulham’s lively and inventive midfield – but it is becoming painfully obvious that Wells’ strengths are not suited to the style of play employed and he needs to be sacrificed to allow Kerchunga a free role at the apex, though the absence of Lolley and Scannell is currently restricting Wagner’s choices.
It would be churlish, nay, impolite, not to acknowledge just how good Fulham were on a day when their hard work, invention and power translated in to an almost flawless display.
With our perennial pain in the arse Chris Martin tormenting Schindler in particular, Aluko destroying Lowe throughout and the excellent Cairney dominating the midfield, the Cottagers were a joy to watch and the only question mark about their performance was how they didn’t score even more against the traumatised Terriers.
As early as the 3rd minute, Fulham picked Town apart to free Piazon only for the Brazilian to shoot tamely at Ward.
It was the portent of things to come however, and when a cheap free kick was awarded to the home side – Mooy won the ball fairly – Schindler misjudged the far post ball to allow Siggurdsson to lay the ball on a plate for Martin to sweep home. The set piece frailty had returned.
Despite the early goal, the game settled for a time and while the home side were clearly dominant, their forays forward carried little threat for the next 20 minutes; indeed, the best chance in that period came from a Smith header which was directed just wide from a corner.
The collapse, from about half an hour in, began with a disputed corner (from the away end, a dead ball was pretty clear, but you could forgive the linesman looking from side on giving the decision). Palmer seemed to have cleared the danger, but the ball was worked back in to the area towards Lowe who inexplicably failed to clear and managed to present an easy chance to Kalas, who swept in the second.
Within minutes, Aluko turned two Town players on the halfway line, skipped by Hudson and an indecisive Schindler failed to stop a cross being delivered to Piazon’s head for another easy put away.
All three goals had been preventable and with half time looming the game was all but gone.
Had Bunn scored an easy headed chance just before half time, the momentum may have turned and interrupted the understandably buoyant hosts, but the recalled winger planted it wide with the goal at his mercy having met an excellent cross from Kachunga.
Town also pressed in the opening minutes of the first half to temporarily raise spirits behind the goal, but Fulham snuffed out the attacks effectively other than when Palmer brought a regulation save from Button.
With the freedom of a 3-0 lead, the home side soon reestablished dominance with Cairney running the show – at times he was taking on 3 or 4 Town players and leaving them in his wake, simultaneously opening up space for his colleagues to tear at the visitors’ crumbling defence.
The fourth arrived courtesy of a lunge by Schindler on the quicksilver Aluko – the penalty was despatched in to the corner by Martin and any lingering hope of rescuing even a little dignity from the game was extinguished and it was now a question of how many the rampant Cottagers would rack up.
While the answer was just one more – Aluko undressed Lowe yet again before setting up McDonald to finish with a flourish past the beleaguered Ward – further chances could have embarrassed the Yorkshiremen even more than they were already suffering.
An astonishing miss from 2 yards late on meant that Fulham had to be satisfied with a nap hand, but they had delighted their supporters with a vibrant display against an admittedly shambolic Town side, who barely deserved the exceptional support they received from their own, shell shocked fans.
It should be said that virtually everything that could go wrong did, indeed, go wrong for the Terriers, but rather than riding out ill fortune with determination, they simply compounded it with negligent, weak defending.
No player came out of the game with much credit – Palmer tried to inject some urgency and Kachunga worked hard – and a response against Birmingham next Saturday is vital if the club is to maintain it’s unlikely top 6 status for much longer.
A perfect Crave Cottage storm enveloped Wagner’s men – poor individual displays and mistakes, a hungry and talented opposition taking full advantage and the malaise of conceding two goals towards the end of the first half overwhelmed Town, and the manager faces a tough week to find solutions to a myriad of problems. He has done it before, and the marvellously loyal support can expect a reaction next Saturday.
And when everything was over, Town remained third – Norwich suffered an identical shellacking- a position unthinkable in August.