The full impact of relegation creeps up on you. The fixture list cruelly rammed home Fulham’s reduced circumstances by reminding them in their first home game in the second tier since 2001 that derbies will no longer be against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham but Charlton, Watford and yesterday’s visitors, Millwall.
It did not help that they opened their home programme in the SkyBet Championship with an unlucky defeat that leaves them pointless after two games.
A flotilla of five boats brought the Millwall fans who provided most of Saturday’s atmosphere along the Thames from Bermondsey to Putney for their first visit to Craven Cottage since 1999. They were delighted when their team took the lead after 12 minutes, Martyn Woolford tapping the ball into the empty net after Fulham captain Scott Parker’s attempt to clear Ricardo Fuller’s cross only diverted the ball away from his goalkeeper, Jesse Joronen.
But the young players in whom Fulham manager Felix Magath has placed his faith took heart and caused the visitors problems, especially when Magath introduced Ross McCormack, not considered fully fit, at the interval. But the Millwall defence, especially captain Alan Dunne and Ireland goalkeeper David Forde, stood firm, Dunne clearing off the line from Hugo Rodallega.
Fulham allowed Millwall chances as they pressed forward but Joronen also did well to stop Scott Malone’s dipping shot and close-range effort. Magath said: “The football is more physical in the Championship but we expected that.”
He knows it will be a challenge for his tyros. “Our philosophy has its strengths and its weaknesses, if you work with young players, and I will do. I’m very happy with them. I hope they won’t lose confidence and we will go on.”
Millwall were not at their most fluent but their manager, Ian Holloway, was happy after a third win of the season without a goal conceded. He said: “I’ll take that performance all day long although we’ve got to pass better. We got a few things wrong, we got a fair few right, but we needed to today.”
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Joronen; Hoogland, Bodurov, Burgess, Stafylidis; Parker, Christensen (McCormack, h-t); Eisfeld (Roberts, 61), Hyndman, Williams (David, 77); Rodallega.
Millwall (4-2-3-1): Forde; Edwards, Dunne, Beevers, Malone; Abdou (Gueye, 78), Williams; Woolford (Bailey, 62), McDonald, Martin; Fuller (Easter, 73).
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the match: McCormack (Fulham)
Match rating: 7/10