Fulham’s first match outside the Premier League in 13 years, while it should not be regarded as definitive evidence, suggested the road back will be long and arduous. An unrecognisable young team containing eight new players were outplayed by Ipswich, who had looked almost equally lightweight in attack until the talented David McGoldrick appeared as a substitute.
Being a German coach may carry a greater cachet after this summer’s World Cup but Felix Magath must know all too well what a job he has on in west London. He will have to demand patience from the traditionally easy-going Fulham crowd. It took his side almost 80 minutes to win a corner, by which time their record signing Ross McCormack had long been substituted, having achieved nothing. A late goal by Tim Hoogland, deflected in by a defender, should not give anyone the impression that the club are on their way back. Only five clubs relegated from the Premier League in the past six years have gone straight back up. Fulham are also thinking slightly longer-term, with Felix Magath believing the future lies with the Academy and some of the players who reached last season’s FA Youth Cup final. “Spend less, work harder” is part of his Teutonic recipe for success and he claims they will prove to be the fittest team in the division.
Magath had made his dissatisfaction with Fulham’s efforts last season plain before the end of the campaign and elected to have a mass clear-out that involved almost two dozen players being released – among them Damien Duff, Kieran Richardson and Georgios Karagounis, who will not be the last – while nine were signed and a number promoted from the youth ranks.
It was still something of a risk to start with eight debutants and three 18 year-olds among a total of nine nationalities. Among that number were a whole back-four plus the goalkeeper.
The only familiar Fulham face was that of Scott Parker, the captain, whose error unfortunately led to his team falling behind. He sat deep in midfield with teenager Cameron Burgess, while Ross McCormack started up front with young Frenchman Moussa Dembele. Of Konstantinos Mitroglu, the Greek World Cup striker who cost even more than McCormack’s reported £11m, and Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz there was no sign, even among the substitutes.
Ipswich, who exited the top level just after Fulham joined it, were a good measuring stick for the London side, having finished last season just a little short of the play-offs in ninth place. In the match programme reclusive owner Marcus Evans gave a rare interview, in which he emphasised his commitment and described manager Mick McCarthy’s new three-year contract as the most important thing to have happened to the club this summer. Evans also wants to reduce the advantage given to relegated clubs by £60m worth of parachute payments.
Fulham could not be accused of blowing too much of that, with McCormack the one extravagant signing. Youthful promise was exemplified by Chris David, the 21 year-old Dutchman who scored a spectacular goal with almost the last kick in the Premier League last May, earning a draw at home to Crystal Palace.
He almost replicated it midway through the first half here, Dean Gerken fumbling the shot as he cut in from the right on his left foot, but then recovering to prevent Moussa Dembele knocking in the rebound. It was Fulham’s only real chance of the first half, in which they had abundant possession without any significant penetration.
They paid a price for that just after the half-hour, when Parker was caught napping by Luke Hyam, who sent Daryl Murphy through in the inside right channel. The striker evaded Shaun Hutchinson all too easily and beat goalkeeper Jesse Joronen.
To be fair, Joronen had little to do otherwise, apart from an early save from Christophe Berra’s header. The home crowd were therefore happy to see the striker David McGoldrick brought on just before half-time in place on Balint Bajner, the Hungarian who had picked up an injury on his debut. McGoldrick had struck up a fine partnership with Murphy before suffering a knee injury in February from which he is only just recovering – hence McCarthy’s decision not to start him here.
The pair immediately linked well and produced the second goal between them after 62 minutes. Murphy chased a ball down the left, crossed low and it was hacked away only as far as McGoldrick, who scored with a low drive from 18 yards.
Fulham had made their first change at the interval, surprisingly replacing David with Thomas Eisfeld, the midfielder who made a couple of appearances while at Arsenal, and they soon introducing Cauley Woodrow, another promising youngster, for the anonymous McCormack.
It was a shock when the visitors scored four minutes from time to give the home supporters a nervous last few minutes. Hoogland, probably their best player, had a left-footed shot deflected in by Ipswich’s Tommy Smith and Patrick Roberts, a 17 year old of rich promise, had two late opportunities blocked.
Ipswich (4-4-2): Gerken; Chambers, Smith, Berra, Mings; Hewitt, Hyam, Skuse (Wordsworth 72), Tabb; Murphy, Bajner (McGoldrick, 44).
Fulham (4-2-2-2): Joronen; Bodurov, Hutchinson (Roberts 74), Burgess, Stafylidis; Parker, Burgess; Hyndman, David (Eisfeld 46); Dembele, McCormack (Woodrow 58).
Referee: Stephen Martin
Man of the match: McGoldrick (Ipswich)
Match rating: 7/10