There is, though, one set of circumstances where an early goal is definitely NOT a good thing, and that’s when you’re 150 yards from the ground. The Bishop’s Park is one of the nicer approaches to a professional football stadium, but two minutes past three is no time to appreciate it. The actual routing worked fine – the West London Line and some local parking knowledge mean you can get from Milton Keynes to Putney Bridge for less than a tenner without going anywhere near central London.
But the roadworks on the North Circular had gridlocked the back roads as well, and it was gone 2.15 by the time we got within spitting distance of a train. After two changes, and two infuriating waits, we ended up with five minutes to do a 15-minute walk. The only surprise was that the rest of the train was coming with us, mostly speaking either Italian or that strange blend of Estuary and Eston that attends so many Boro games in the capital.
The volume of the roar left little room for doubt as to who had scored. It was clearly a home goal. People around us looked at each other, wondering if their fellow walkers were people they could celebrate with, even without knowing who had scored, or how. I was secretly quite pleased, reckoning that an early Fulham goal would force Boro out in search of the win.
Then, as we were getting the tickets out of their wallet, the roar gave way to an E-I-O, and then quickly an assertion that the Mighty Boro were Going Up. The Boro contingent on the quick march looked at each other in something approaching shock – we’d all failed to account for the size of the away support and the fact we were approaching that end, and the possibility of a Boro goal hadn’t occurred to us.
“Adomah”, said someone catching my eye as we entered the stand, and it didn’t take long to find a tweeted description of what sounded like a lovely goal. We were low down behind the goal, within touching distance of Dimi and with only a limited view of what was going on at the Hammersmith End, where all the action was as Boro probed and pressed, looking for the second.
At least we could see what was going on though, which is more than could be said for Fulham’s defence. Downing mesmerised two of them to play in de Laet, and the ball found its way to Nugent, who was unceremoniously upended by a defender who’d decided to just kick the first thing he could get near. Leadbitter did what Leadbitter does with the penalty – the last one was, thankfully, just a one-off blip.
Former walking conspiracy theory Ryan Fredericks went off after landing badly from an aerial challenge, and his replacement by Dembele coincided with Fulham coming back into the game. The substitute’s overhead kick was superbly pushed over by Dimi (who will probably have “We’ll Need To Look At The Goalkeeping Position” engraved on his Player of the Year award), and then de Laet arrived from absolutely nowhere to clear a Fulham header off the line.
Incidentally, if you ever find yourself asking “how did you not see that linesman, it was right in front of you?” – you’ve answered your own question. Something going on right under your nose is a lot more difficult to see than something happening at a similar speed in the middle distance. From four rows back at Dimi’s arse height, it was just a goal, and I had no idea de Laet was anywhere near in a position to get to it. Had I been twenty rows further back I’d no doubt have seen him coming. As it was, it was close enough for Fulham’s players to appeal to the non-existent HawkEye; the fact that the clearance went over the bar rather detracted from their confidence.
Once we settled down from that brief flurry, it seemed more or less like plain sailing. Fulham had chances but never looked like having the cutting edge to do anything about them. Adomah ran the show from right and then left, ably supported by the marauding Nsue; the Forshaw-Leadbitter twins swept up everything that needed sweeping up; Ramirez strolled around looking talented and imperious; Fry looked like he’d been impersonating Beckenbauer for ten years; and Nugent morphed into Rhodes with no obvious drop off in work rate or improvement in luck.
As ever, there was one incident that almost nobody else noticed but had me shouting all sorts at the referee. Bearing down on the away support, Ramirez passed the ball out to the right wing and continued his run. A couple of yards short of the penalty area, he had his heels clipped and hit the floor. The referee immediately signalled for play to continue, and then appeared to tell Ramirez that he didn’t give a foul because the ball wasn’t anywhere near him at the time. This suggests a certain level of improvisation with the Laws – if the ball’s in play, a foul’s a foul, and Boro should have had a free kick in a dangerous position.
In the last ten minutes Scott Parker – yes, that Scott Parker, from the early 2000s – seemed to be determined to talk his way into the referee’s book. Having vocally objected to Ramirez sitting on the floor to waste a bit of time, Parker was dragged to one side for a long lecture which I presume the ref delivered in the elongated tones of Clement Freud spinning out a round of Just A Minute: “Miisstterrr Parrrrkkkkeeerrrr, yoooou will now fiiiiiind yooooou have wasted moooooore time than the iiiiiincident about whiiiiiiich you soooooought to complaaaaaaain”.
The ex-McDonald’s salesman got another go within two minutes, as one of his hapless colleagues dragged Jordan Rhodes down well inside Boro’s half, but with only wide open space between them and Lonergan in goal. There was never any other decision than a red card, despite the defender trying to sit down for long enough to make the ref put his card away, but Parker inventively pointed to the Fulham player who’d wandered over towards where the ball ended up, and suggested he’d been covering when the foul was actually committed some hours earlier. I’d have booked him just for his cheek.
So that was that, and we wandered off towards Putney Bridge, past the line of three policemen trying to stop hundreds of people crossing the main road like a single security guard on the door at Asda on Black Friday, and into the back of a huge, unordered crowd staring at a closed gate. Not fancying the pushing, and being both stoic and relatively fit, we decided that Parsons Green was a better bet, and set off down the New Kings Road.
Yes, it was a shame to miss the goal, but Craven Cottage is always a decent ground to visit, and some of Boro’s play was a privilege to watch. We’re now at the point where nine or ten more of those will see us into the Premier League, where we used to play Fulham , and where we’ll be able to find out if the combination of Gibson’s support and Karanka’s philosophy will look more like Leicester or Norwich.