Before the game Alex Neil said he was going to go to Fulham to try and win the game and to the manager’s and the players credit they came within a few seconds of doing just that. Two nil up at half time after seeing off an intitial burst from the home side, we were looking very confortable.
In the second half North End had to defend more but still had two or three decent chances to put the game to bed before the Cottagers sparked their comeback. Having to substitute Ben Pearson probably swung the game enough towards Fulham to mount the fightback but North End came oh so close to, what I thought, would have been a deserved victory.
Even though North End had to defend robustly in the second half it is so refreshing to see a team go away and take the game to the opposition regardless of their name, standing or their position in the league.
Fulham started brightly but having said that we had been in the Fulham box three times in the first five minutes. Chris Maxwell was brought into action and made a superb double save early in the game that was the trigger for North End to take the game to the hosts. Pearson put Sean Maguire through in the inside left position and the Irishman pulled the ball back for Jordan Hugill to give North End the lead. It set off mass celebrations in the Putney End where a vociferous 1,736 had made the journey to cheer the boys on.
Alan Browne then had a shot saved when he really should have have scored before Tom Barkhuizen cut in from the right hand side and put North North End two up with a curling shot deflected off Maguire. Maguire then had to go off after half an hour with what looked like an hamstring and was replaced by Josh Harrop.
North End were well on top and the home fans in a crowd of 18,435 were slightly aghast at the way North End dictated play and dominated the game in the first period. North End knew that Fulham would come at them strongly in the second half but I honestly thought when we got to the hour mark that North End had seen off the danger and that we would control the game and see it out.
Fulham did hit the outside of the post but at the other end Harrop had two opportunities and Josh Earl had a shot going narrowly wide that Button in the home goal had given up on. Unfortunately Pearson ran out of steam just after the hour mark, after six weeks out, and was replaced by John Welsh in the anchor role in midfield. Fulham got back into the game via a penalty conceded by Calum Woods and Oliver Norwood reduced the deficit sending Maxwell the wrong way.
North End were defending well and with five minutes put up by the fourth official things got very tense. In the sixth minute of added time Maxwell came for a ball floated in from the left and dropped the catch only for the ball to run to Denis Odoi who stabbed the ball home with, what was effectively, the last kick of the game.
It is probably a measure of how far this young team has come in a short period of time that the travelling fans were shellshocked at the end by the Fulham equaliser after watching a game,that North End looked like winning.
We played some great, fearless football at times and the only observation I would make is that we did start running out of steam near the end with one or two players suffering from cramp. I don’t blame Maxwell for the equaliser because he had collected everything all afternoon but perhaps if he had left it to the defenders or punched it clear then things might have been different.
Nevertheless there were many positives to take from this game and perhaps a lesson learned in added time defending. Onwards to the game of the day next weekend when we visit Wolves for what should be an absolute cracker.