Most City fans were delighted when Fulham away was pulled out the hat for the fourth round of the FA Cup. A trip to Craven Cottage is a favourite for many a football romantic, and even at the silly kick-off time of 12:30, this looked to be a great day out. How wrong we were.
The starting 11 taking the field just two days after beating Manchester United at the KCOM were –
Silva picked what looked a paper a strange starting line up. He’s done that before and it has worked well, this time it didn’t.
The open stages of the game were fairly scrappy, but it was clear that Fulham were up for it. It was following a salvo into the City box on the 9th minute that Curtis Davies pulled up, and signaled to the bench. Harry Maguire replaced the captain, and individually played well, but collectively the lack of defensive leadership meant the back four were all at sea.
On 17 minutes the home side opened the scoring, and typically it was one of the two ex-Tigers on display who scored for Fulham. An innocuous looking free-kick floated into the box and found Chris Martin, who headed (unchallenged) down towards Aluko, who volleyed well to beat Jakupovic. 1-0.
City huffed and puffed to get back into the game, but their efforts were speculative shots from distance that caused little concern for the keeper. The crosses that came in from either wings also failed to trouble the Fulham defence, and on more than one occasion Elabdellaoui failed to get back in position after a foray down the right, exposing huge gaps at the back.
Impressive for Fulham was their number four Odoi who linked up well with Aluko, and it was a good move between these two that nearly doubled the lead for the home side. Aluko picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch, and big Harry made a strong tackle, only for Aluko to recover his balance and keep possession. The ref waved play on (he later booked Maguire) and Aluko surged goal-ward. He jinked past two City defenders, only for Huddlestone to make the crucial interception near the goaline.
A frustrating first half petered out with City misfiring all over the pitch and seemingly unable to break down a well-organized Fulham defence. City were wasteful in possession in midfield as well, spraying a number of passes at Fulham defenders. This was a worrying trait, and one that continued throughout the match. Markovic seemed particularly prone to these lapses (although not the only culprit) and never seemed to make any real impact on the game.
After the break things improve when Robertson plays a fantastic looping cross, which is met by Evandro’s diving header. 1-1. A great way for the new signing to open his account, but the jubilation did not last long.
Just five minutes later City concede one of the softest goals you’re likely to see. Aluko slides a ball into Sessengon. City freeze, try to claim offside, don’t play to the whistle, and Sessengon squares the ball to Martin who can’t miss. 2-1.
Then again on 66 minutes Sessengon exploits a back four in disarray, this time scoring himself, beating Jakupovic at the near post to make it 3-1.
The game is effectively over now, but there’s still time for Fulham to inflict more pain on the travelling supporters. This time it’s Tom Cairney, who evades a couple of half hearted challenges, spins in the City box, and manages to square the ball to Johansen. 4-1.
At this point it seemed that the game was dead and buried, yet little did we know that events were about to take an even more farcical turn.
Robertson races down the left wing, only for Fulham centre-back Tomas Kalas to trip the young Scot in the area in the 86th minute. A blatant penalty, and up steps Hernández to try to salvage some pride. The penalty was poor, and easily parried by Bettinelli, but the keeper then felled Hernández as he chased down the rebound. A second penalty was given. Hernández takes again, this time higher, and with more power, but Bettinelli pulls off a spectacular save and City’s humiliation was complete.
This was to be Marco Silva’s first “bad day at the office”. Huddlestone was playing very deep, no longer a quarterback picking incisive passes to open up the opposition, but more of a Franco Baresi sweeper behind the defensive line. It didn’t work.
With Dawson rested due to a minor injury, and Davies hobbling off after nine minutes it seemed like no one was in charge of the back four. The defence was like a net curtain, offering no barrier to the Fulham attackers, who passed their way through with ease.
Maybe it’s better that this horror show happened in the Cup as the team fight for survival in the league, but Marco Silva has his work cut out to make the new arrivals gel, particularly with Davies being reported out for eight weeks.
Mark Sellers (@mrmarksellers)