A 'must win' game that wasn't won. The kind of game that has fans worried and wondering what we're going to do with ourselves, who should be dropped and who should be sacked. The answer for me is nobody. Everything was alright... and that's the problem, the game itself was just 'alright' on a day when something more was needed to unlock a stubborn Fulham side.
At times Fulham could well have won it themselves, so I guess we're lucky on that count, but today will always go down as points dropped. Here's how we viewed the events, with ratings and rantings...
Changes were made, and as speculated late on Friday, Kieran Richardson did indeed line-up on the left-hand side of midfield whilst Ahmed Elmohamady took Sebastian Larsson's place on the right. Stephane Sessegnon shoe-horned into a striking position alongside Nicklas Bendtner.
Blows were traded in the first five minutes as Bardsley fired a sighter well wide of Mark Schwarzer's goal, whilst Moussa Dembele used some exquisite skill to turn both Lee Cattermole and Michael Turner to smash straight at Keiren Westwood from 18 yards.
The first real chance fell to Richardson as a great spell of pressure ended with Stephane Sessegnon's flick being nodded onto the bar from all of 8 yards or so, and depending on how your glass is filled, it was either unlucky or he should have done much better.
Jack Colback was industrious and solid as usual, as he is most weeks, however there was a sign he is actually a young human boy after all as he was sent through on goal by Bendtner. With the freedom of Fulham's 18-yard box, Colback could only find Schwarzer as Sessegnon lurked by the penalty spot.
After only fifteen minutes the crossbar came to Fulham's rescue again as eventually Elmohamady's cross falls to Colback who smashes one with his left peg off almost the exact same spot Richardson hit only five minutes earlier.
At this point there really seemed to be only one team in it but unfortunately Fulham were proving to be a formidable opponent, spoiling (as they're well entitled to do) any fluid movement we could put together as the half and all earlier positivity seemed to fizzle. Sessegnon could only manage to head weakly at Schwarzer, whilst Bendtner was incorrectly flagged offside when clean through.
As the first half wore on with little of note, the bookings of Cattermole and Dickson Etuhu caught my attention. Cattermole went in the book for a typical Cattermole challenge. Slightly late to the ball, but nothing malicious and slightly harsh for Catts' first booking of the game. Etuhu, then commits his second foul in as many minutes (the first of which he was booked for) with an almost identical foul. No booking. I'm not saying whether Etuhu was on the pitch or not would have a huge bearing on things, but the inconsistency is annoying. This is also a sign of just how boring the first half had become after such promise earlier.
Fulham ended the half slightly the stronger, and that man Etuhu was at the heart of things as his header was cleared off the line by Lee Cattermole. Fulham were really starting to build, so the half-time whistle was very much a welcome one.
A frustrating half, not just for the fans as much as the players too. Stephane Sessegnon appeared to be directing some "constructive criticism" towards Ahmed Elmohamady, and rightly so I felt. Everything good, bad and infuriating happened with Elmohamady in the opening 45. Early crosses - great, I get the idea. Sadly, all his good ones were when nobody was there and when we did have bodies in the box, Elmo managed to miss them all.
The second half began with little fanfare, but Fulham picking up where they left off by having the better of possession, culminating in a very dangerous free-kick hit by Chris Baird, palmed away by Westwood for a corner which may well have been the worst of all-time by Danny Murphy. Certainly a let off.
It wasn't until the 62nd minute when we began ourselves to turn things up a little. With pressure mounting and the crowd in exceptional voice, a succession of corners lead to half chances for Turner, Brown and lastly Sessegnon as his shot on the turn went a yard or so wide.
The Londonders were by no means out of this, Murphy was handed a chance to smash one into the bottom corner from 18 yards, however something went wrong in his head and instead hit a shot no better than a backpass right at Westwood.
With 15 to play and neither team doing a great deal it was clear something needed to happen. Enter Ji Dong-Won at the expense of Jack Colback, forcing another shift in formation as Sess dropped out wide (and looked twice the player he did in the opening period) and Richardson moving inside.
Sess must have been happier with this as he instantly looked more lively and energetic and used an entire bag of tricks and someone else's to beat Aaron Hughes all ends up before floating a ball in to the area which Nicklas Bendtner couldn't get on the end of.
Bendtner did manage to get on the end of an Elmohamady cross with 8 minutes to play, however it was weak and from too far out to really do anything with. Sessegnon's dancing feet once again got the better of Hughes to force a corner, but Bardsley (yes, that's right) fired it straight at Schwarzer.
From there, Fulham had perhaps the best chance of the game. A quick throw released Dembele who caught our defence napping, and with Dembele and Dempsey racing down on Westwood and Elmohamady you'd have expected both to combine and take the lead. Luckily, and I mean VERY luckily, Dempsey fired wide. It would have been a sickener, but not wholly undeserved.
Bruce threw the dice for the final time in the 87th minute bringing on reserve team hat-trick hero Ryan Noble for Elmohamady and all semblance of shape went out the window as broke was very much gone for.
In the final three minutes of time, plus the three added on at the end all we could muster was really a half-arsed penalty shout for a 'foul' on a surging Phil Bardsley. Sessegnon did his best with a deflected effort stopped well by Schwarzer as the final whistle blew.
Team (Ratings In Brackets)
Staring XI: Westwood (7), Bardsley (7), Turner (7), Brown (7), O'Shea (6), Elmohamady (6), Colback (7), Cattermole (6), Richardson (6), Sessegnon (7), Bendtner (6)
Subs Used: Dong-Won (5), Noble (6)
Man Of The Match: Jack Colback - A tough call, not because there was so much competition, but because so few people (on either side) really came to the fore. Colback looked very good in the first half and I raised an eyebrow or two when he was taken off, but it was a more then decent shift from the ginger prince.
And so as I said earlier, the big 'must win' game wasn't won. It was a game where we were crying out for a quality player to do something magic. Unfortunately the only man able to do that was out of position for 75 minutes.
Fulham at home, every single one of us had penciled in as a winnable game, but perhaps there was too much pressure on the players to do so. So much so we underestimated Fulham? I don't know, but I'm still of the belief we could have done more to win the game. Seemed we were just waiting for something that was never to be.
Wigan Athletic now await us, and it represents another game we 'should' win. I hope we try a little harder than we did today in that one.
"There's no easy games in the Premier League" to use a massive cliche... it's about time we started to remember that.
Keep The Faith, even if blindly.