The Night the Lights Went Out in Fulham

Discussion in 'Fulham FC News and Notes' started by BarryWhite, Sep 18, 2013.

  1. BarryWhite

    BarryWhite Well-Known Member

    Sep 24, 2011
    Newburgh, IN
    I have been wondering for a while now if I have allowed the prejudices of others regarding Fulham’s play to cloud my own judgment on the state of football currently on display at the Cottage. If you do any amount of reading regarding the state of Fulham Football Club you will most certainly see a distinct divide about what is happening in the here and now down by the River Thames. As an American Fulham fan I want nothing more than to sit back on a Saturday morning and watch the Whites roll to an impressive win over the days opposition but I have no preconceived notion that I will not come away on as many Saturdays ruing a missed shot or a breakdown in the defense as I will celebrating a superb winner or stunning game preserving save by the keeper. I am well aware that Fulham are not among the entitled and I do try to keep my expectations firmly grounded in hoping for the squad to put in a good shift, for them to cause their fair share of trouble to the opposition’s defense and for them to pull out the occasional brilliant performance. In short, I don’t expect displays equivalent to those of either Manchester United or the QPR of last season. Somewhere in between will keep me on the up and sitting on the edge of my sofa.

    However, of late I have found myself growing rather listless when tuning in on Saturdays. Throughout the week I look forward to match day but as kickoff time approaches I find myself more apprehensive about how Fulham will perform than excited about the possible performance at hand. Unfortunately, I seem to have become pessimistic that Fulham are capable of functioning as an attacking offensive unit. I know I am not the only Fulham fan to hold that point of view but the question I posed to myself this week is whether or not I am being reasonable in my expectations. There are many ways to approach the game and while I have a certain expectation of what I would enjoy seeing Fulham do on the pitch it does not mean the squad cannot be effective playing a style that is not pleasing to my eye. Given that beauty is in the eye of the beholder I started digging into the numbers this week to see what they had to say about Fulham’s form over that past two plus years.

    To be honest I did not expect to see some line drawn in the sand where you could clearly see that Fulham’s on-field direction had taken a dramatic change. I did not expect to be able to point to a date on the calendar and ask what happened in the week leading up to a particular match. I did not expect to see anything to be honest but I did. When you examine the numbers it looks like in the week leading up to the match against Stoke on November 24, 2012 someone flipped off the switch to Fulham’s offense and the lights went out FFC’s attacking abilities. I will admit that if you look at both the away match to Stoke on 11-24 and the subsequent away match to Chelsea on 11-28 that a dreary 1-0 loss to the Potters and a nil-nil draw to the blue side of Fulham are nothing to cringe about in isolation but when placed in the big picture something happened during this time period, be it intentional or unintentional, that has never been undone.

    Fulham started off the 2012-2013 season in rare form. In the twelve matches prior to playing Stoke away the squad had averaged almost 15 shots per contest and nearly six shots per match on goal. In a full 75% or 9 of 12 matches Fulham had put a minimum of 5 shots on goal and taken no less than 11 shots. Now I will admit this was rare air for the Fulham faithful and we all knew it wouldn’t last forever but to keep things in perspective for the entire of the 2011-2012 season Fulham put at least 5 shots on goal in 58% of their matches and averaged just over 14 shots per match with just over 5 shots on goal.

    The overall trend for last season is not too disturbing when taken as a whole. For the 2012-2013 season the overall shots on goal per game only dropped by one to just over 4 per match and total shots per match dropped by two to just over 12 per match. While that is a trend nobody wants to see it is reasonably understandable given the loss of personnel with the departures of Murphy, Dembele and Dempsey in particular. While the excuses may have grown old as the year wore on during press conferences I will concede that Mr. Jol was right to miss those that left. For me there is also nothing overly disturbing about these trends until you draw a line on the calendar above the November 24th match with Stoke and begin to examine what happened after that date.

    I am not trying to examine Martin Jol’s qualities as a manager and I cannot say that as I fan I noticed some seismic shift on during the performance against Stoke but the numbers say that there was a change that occurred at Fulham prior to this match and from an offensive perspective it was not for the better. Fulham had been both scoring goals and leaking goals in its first twelve matches with an over 2 goals scored per match average and an over 1.8 goals against per match average going into the matchup with Stoke. For reasons that were perhaps tactical or due to injury or whatever they were it was in the Stoke match that Martin Jol introduced the 4-3-3 for the first time on the season with Baird, Sidwell and Karagounis sitting behind Dejagah, Berbatov and Petric. Perhaps it was a shift to a more defensive way of thinking, perhaps it was a tactical change for just that match and the Chelsea match to follow or perhaps Jol’s thinking was somewhere else entirely but whatever happened in those two weeks has carried forward from that point in time with the squad’s offensive production spiraling consistently downward.

    Including Stoke, in the thirty matches since November 24, 2012 Fulham have only managed to put at least 5 shots on goal 9 times which totals the same number of times they did it and the first twelve matches of 2012-2013 and the under 30% rate is roughly half the rate at which they did it for the 2011-2012 season. During those thirty matches Fulham’s average shots per match as fallen to just 10.5 shots per match with just over 3.5 shots per match on goal and if you extrapolate those statistics out to this season Fulham are only averaging 9 shots per match with 3 on goal which are equivalent numbers to the final ten matches of last season.

    If you theorize that the purpose of the shift in play was to put a more defensive game plan into action then the numbers would show that the shift has only been mildly effective. For baseline purposes I will say that Fulham averaged 1.26 goals for and 1.34 goals against in the 2011-2012 season but you can take from that what you will. The numbers do show that Fulham managed to reduce the 1.8 goals against average from the first twelve matches of the season to just under 1.5 goals against over the remaining twenty-six matches but they did so at a cost of scoring only 1 goal per match in the final twenty-six compared to 2 per match in the first twelve. This season’s small sample size shows 0.75 goals for average compared to a 1.25 goals against average for what it is worth.

    Where does this leave Fulham and Martin Jol? In a malaise that must be broken out of. I won’t pretend to know what the perfect lineup is or which formation best suits Fulham but I do know the numbers say Fulham needs to find a way to put shots on goal. The performance against West Bromwich was encouraging to some and I will admit the movement was at least a little better but until Fulham finds a way to consistently put shots on goal I will not be convinced that brighter times are ahead and I will continue watching apprehensively expecting the worst instead of hoping for the best.
  2. AggieMatt

    AggieMatt Well-Known Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    Alamo City, Texas
    Interesting piece, Barry. I remember noticing the switch last year around that time b/c Jol had mentioned in post match comments that we were conceding too many goals. I had to look it up to be sure, but in the 4 matches prior to Stoke last season, we'd drawn 3-3, 2-2, 3-3 & then lost 1-3. I'm not sure that we played 4-3-3 though. I seem to recall it being 4-4-1-1 with Petric up top, Berbatov at the #10 and either Sidwell or that smelly Greek on the wing. However, with all of the confusion in our shape, tactics and assignments, it is often hard to tell what exact formation we're attempting to play a lot of the time. It's usually some variation of 4-5-1, but as Don likes to jest, it looks like 4-6-0 too often as well.

    I'd be interested to know our shots against since the switch. While our goals against did go down marginally last season, this season it feels like we're very lucky it's 1.25. I went ahead and looked up the shots against for this season and the average per match is 19 total, 8 on target. That's not good. Especially contrasted against our 9 & 3. Through 4 matches, that's 32 to 12 in shots on target in favor of the opposition. At a rate of over 2.5-1, any favorable result for Fulham is against the odds. Sure, that doesn't speak to the quality of the shots, but anytime you force the opponent to make a play, you increase the chances they make an error. It's like striking out versus putting the ball in play in baseball. That doesn't just go for shots either. It applies to our slow attack and our lack of pressure on the ball on defense. If you polled Prem managers, I'd bet we're one of (if not the) easiest team to defend against and prep for.

    I share your pain in watching us. With all of the tape delays last season, I watched a lot of our matches on dvr. I resisted the temptation to fast forward through parts of the match for a while, but come spring, I'd given in. Then with 4 matches to go, I just quit watching and looked up the result. Since the matches are live and I'm in the chat room while watching them, I can't fast forward but I can already feel the temptation to skip a match setting in. Hopefully that changes soon.
  3. pettyfog

    pettyfog Well-Known Member

    Jan 4, 2005
    Wow.. I recognize that sentiment. Too bad, guys. Last time I remember this funk was toward the end of the Coleman era.

    Well....things happen.

    BTW, fact there's no yanks playing anymore makes it worse, I would think.
  4. SoCalJoe

    SoCalJoe Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2006
    Walnut, CA
    Great piece Barry. While quotes always needed to be taken with a grain of salt, the manager seems to have grown tired of watching us play as well, but instead of bringing energy he sounds content to finish 14th instead of focusing on how the team is playing.
  5. AggieMatt

    AggieMatt Well-Known Member

    Jan 20, 2008
    Alamo City, Texas
    Hate to admit it, but that's been the case for me.
  6. BillNRoc

    BillNRoc Member

    Sep 20, 2013
    Dread, that's what it is. And the stats cited above make it clear why we are dreading each match - opponents are shooting, and putting shots on target, twice as often as the Whites are. In this context, those two runs of poor form last season are of a piece with the stumbling start to this one. Would I be happy with a 0-0 result tomorrow? Not if we spend the afternoon mostly in our own end of the field.

    It was painful watching Dembele vs the Norwegian side yesterday, seeing moves that no one currently wearing White can match.
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