Despite being on the end of a disappointing result against Chelsea in a game that was there to be won in normal time – Pajtim Kasami missing a penalty after Alex was sent off – the performance of Martin Jol’s selected reserve and youth players was enough for Fulham to be able to forget the result.
Here was a group of players thrown into an away game at Stamford Bridge performing far above anything that could have been expected. The sprinkling of first-teamers and regular faces were joined by the likes of Kasami and Matthew Briggs, who have made a few prior appearances – as well as Orlando Sa, Marcel Gecov and Kerim Frei. All performed admirably, with a truly standout display coming from the 17-year-old Austrian, Frei.
Frei was signed in 2010, before the arrival of Jol, but the Dutch manager has clearly been impressed with his potential, and he saw enough to warrant a start for the youngster at Stamford Bridge. And he was arguably Fulham’s player of the match. Starting on the left, Frei for long periods looked comfortable against, and even outplayed at times, an established international full-back in Paulo Ferreira. Frei was quick, skilful and full of confidence. Confidence and a calm head that defied his years, and his performance might have been capped with an assist had Kasami’s penalty been a few inches lower.
The decision by Jol to pick such an inexperienced squad in what was, essentially, an important cup game against the local rivals was eyebrow-raising at first. However, despite the unfortunate defeat on penalties, his decision was vindicated and the overall feeling after the game was far more positive than it would have been had the regular first XI been defeated disappointingly or otherwise.
Gecov, in the middle in place of Danny Murphy, did nothing wrong. In fact, he showed awareness, quick touches and tackled well, proving he has the ability to make the step up to the pace of Premier League football. Gecov, older than the other debutants or youth players at 23, will have certainly done enough for Jol to feel comfortable picking the Czech when Murphy inevitably becomes tired during a potentially lengthy Europa League campaign, even if his game is more energetic than his captain’s.
Again, however, the lack of goals was an issue, as it has been for the first team in the league. Too few shots and a little too much attempted trickery stifled the Whites from creating meaningful efforts on the Chelsea goal, but, encouragingly, even with several new faces, the team played as a unit.
It has been far from an ideal start for the Cottagers, currently with two Premier League points and no win from the four games played so far in the competition. The Chelsea League Cup fixture, however, will help the belief that the current league position of 19th is only temporary, with such quality players ready to show what they can do.
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