If Scott Parker was asked to name a satisfactory points return from this fiendish run of fixtures 10 days ago, the Fulham head coach would likely have cut a deal should you have offered three.
Last Sunday’s win away to Liverpool could easily have seen Fulham consider facing a Manchester City team that has now won 23 of their past 24 matches a free hit. And yet Parker will be more than justified to wake up this morning feeling deflated and frustrated by how his team fell apart in 14 second-half minutes.
Up until half time Fulham were well in the game against the champions elect, who are now 17 points clear before Manchester United host West Ham this evening.
Fulham had not produced much of note in attack but they were comfortable in midfield, the defence looked solid and Alphonse Areola had little to do aside from one save from Bernardo Silva.
Then, 76 seconds after the break, they started to fall apart. It was a collapse that seemed so uncharacteristic for this season but offered reminders of the team that Parker inherited two seasons ago when relegation was already almost assured.
He always wants his team to show bravery and play with courage, irrespective of the opponent, but that should not necessarily equate to a higher degree of sloppiness. Ensuring this was a one off is imperative ahead of Friday night’s trip to Leeds United.
“I asked the team to be brave and show some real courage,” Parker said, having decided to go man to man with City’s midfield. “That’s what you have to do against a top side like Man City if you’re to try and leave a mark and have an affect on the game. We did that but the mistakes and goals we let in were poor.”
Parker said it was not an evening to write off, stressing the need to analyse and learn from mistakes for a young squad displaying impressive and continuous growth, but there is also a wider point to consider from fixtures such as these.
Only the deluded or those with no understanding of the financial disparity that exists within the Premier League would have expected Fulham to get a result. Money dictates that these plucky underdogs should not be competing with Europe’s superclubs. It has been a problem for some time, of course, but it is only getting worse.
City may regularly drop £40m and more on defenders. Fulham by contrast are glad to recruit the leaders’ surplus academy graduates in cut price deals while needing to sign seven players on loan to stay within the financial fair play limits should they be relegated.
A back four comprised of two loanees and another pair signed for about £5m, in front of a goalkeeper also on loan, were up against a strikeforce of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero that has scored two more goals in the 13 games they have started as a duo than the entire Fulham side have managed in 29 league games.
There is no point in Fulham, or those of a similar stature, getting upset by the gulf in resources. Instead they must focus on the battles around them.
While City’s relentless pursuit of silverware continues, Parker’s task further down the hierarchy is to enable his players to overcome another tough moment and make sure it does not turn into a rut.
“Throughout this year we’ve been very resilient with the moments of adversity or mistakes and coming out of the side of it, learning,” he added. “That won’t change, that will be the same. We know we made errors tonight which is not like us but we’ll work out where we went wrong, keep moving and keep improving.”
He has become accustomed to hearing people say very nice things about his team, the majority of them deserved, but no matter the plaudits and superlatives used around their pretty football the head coach knows that it is a results game.
These were never going to be the games that determine whether Craven Cottage is a Premier League ground again next season. Three points from the past three games is respectable but they need more from the next three, starting with a trip to Leeds on Friday.