It was a desperate evening at the John Smith’s Stadium, as Fulham dropped to the foot of the Premier League table. Cam Ramsey gives his five thoughts on Monday’s defeat.
Where do we go from here? Monday night’s bottom of the table scrap against Huddersfield Town was in essence an encounter that Fulham had to win if they were going to salvage their dismal season, but Slavisa Jokanovic’s tailor-made system is inexcusably rotting before our very eyes.
The Whites trudged onto the turf at the John Smith’s Stadium in front of their expectant travelling faithful with an imperative motive to claim three key points. Although, as we’d initially feared, it soon became dauntingly clear that the south-west Londoners are a severely deflated, uninspired, leaderless core.
A divine resolution has not materialised and there’s certainly no apparent antidote that’s strong enough to ease our seething anguish. As Fulham fans, we’re obliged to stand beside the club and all that uphold its values and structure, even if our flare, unity and identity is beyond recognition come kick-off. Is it time for Slav’s head to roll? Let’s read on and make our minds up after we’ve sampled a few pressing talking points, shall we?
Where’s Our Fight Gone?
It’s been distant for a very, very long time now, but we have no fight or passion whatsoever. Huddersfield understood that a grit and determination would see them victorious and they ultimately achieved their objective by strangulating Slav’s feeble contingent in every department.
Aerially, on the deck, 50/50 challenges, Fulham were second best to every instance, and once David Wagner’s dogged set-up menacingly hounded our penalty area, the Whites’ fragility was ruthlessly exposed. The home side may have only netted once – give us a wave, Timmy Fosu-Mensah – but their elemental desire to abuse our frail defence could have warranted even more bloodshed.
Being the straggling bottom feeders that we currently are, snatching the spoils from those languishing around us has to be a priority. Dog fights, typically, are highly strung, demanding, energy sapping affairs – Huddersfield clamoured throughout and were dead on their feet at the final whistle with an invaluable victory under their belts, whereas Fulham were vacant, despondent and disinterested.
A sixth straight defeat for Fulham, the days of our historic 23-game unbeaten streak have well and truly vanished, and the bite, ingenuity and solidarity that enabled us to triumph at Wembley in May has also devastatingly decayed. If we are going to survive, we need a battalion of driven despots on a weekly basis, not a forlorn, disenchanted collective of strangers.
Stick With Rico
Tinker with whatever you want, Slav, but please, please don’t axe Sergio Rico from the starting XI. Following his spirited outing against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup, the agile Spaniard is continuing to prove his worth as a sturdy stopper.
It was a tame showing from all in white, although the 25-year-old ‘keeper endeavoured between the sticks to spare us further blushes and score line blemishes. He may not have administered the ball as competently as he had done against City, but it’s evident that the Sevilla FC loanee is growing in confidence within his 18-yard box.
Primed and prepared to leap into action, Rico flung himself to his right-hand side to paw a deflected Alex Pritchard strike wide of the target. The resulting corner may have comprised the game’s killer blow, but Rico was ultimately poised to protect his goalmouth at all costs, muddied elbows n’all.
Rico was often forced to pump long, bypassing balls into the atmosphere to relieve Fulham of encroaching danger, an impulse that’s ruefully discarded by his defensive colleagues. If there’s a foreboding threat, snuff it out and banish it, as playing out from the back is not always the most effective approach.
To those moping in the dressing room: take a leaf out of Ryan Sessegnon’s book. Sess’ has been deployed in a range of roles along the left flank and always invests his heart and soul without fail, and after Anthony Taylor ended proceedings, it was crystal clear that the teenager was aching.
With Joe Bryan still sidelined, Sess’ was reintroduced to Slav’s system at left-back. Huddersfield bombarded the flanks and asked fundamental questions of Sess’ defensive attributes, which are indeed still developing. Not to be overruled, however, our revered starlet pulled up his socks, lowered his brow, and lead by example in his damage-limiting responsibilities.
Pitted against an array of Europe’s best flankers in the English top-flight, Sess’ inaugural campaign in the glitz and glamour of the Premier League has been a baptism of fire. Restrained by Florent Hadergjonaj, the fledgling flanker couldn’t influence the tie in his team’s favour, although as his teammates ambled idly, he was virtually the only Fulham representative that wanted to make his presence known.
Like us all, the 18-year-old lives, breaths and eats Fulham. Sess’ wants nothing more than success and prosperity in SW6 as it’s his home, where he belongs. Winded by the gut-wrenching loss, the England U21 international dropped to his knees and faced his following supporters. We deeply care for our club, and so, indisputably, does he.
Though our defensive record may be the continent’s worst, our offensive unit has also flagged in recent weeks, having failed to find the back of the net in our last three competitive outings, including our exit from the Carabao Cup at the Etihad.
The Whites are not short of devastating weapons in the final third on paper, especially with Aleksandar Mitrovic, Andre Schurrle and Luciano Vietto in our armoury, but against the Terriers our rare attacking phases were riddled with miscommunication and hesitant indecision.
Threading Mitrovic into contention is crucial, although the Serb is routinely neglected by his teammates, who fall or freeze at the penultimate hurdle. Vietto’s piercing, incisive runs are compelling, and I’m not slating his appetite to carry possession, but every once in a while the Argentine has to offload in order to augment an opponent’s rearguard. There was one notable occasion in the opening 45 where he scuppered a golden opportunity to test Jonas Lössl on the parameter of the penalty area or, alternatively, feed either Mitro’ or Schurrle.
Schurrle was also culprit. As clarified, our attacking sequences were at a premium, and though the German intelligently darted towards the Terriers’ box after being freed down the left wing by Stefan Johansen, his end product was far from proficient. Tunnel visioned and fixated on the net, the 28-year-old ignorantly discounted the forthcoming support from his teammates. Where he should have lifted his head to locate an unmarked Mitro’ at the back stick, Schurrle, who couldn’t get enough purchase, harmlessly jabbed the ball out for a goal kick.
Non-Existent Midfield Cohesion
Disclaimer: the three that started in the Cottagers’ midfield can and will forge an efficient working relationship once an understanding has been established and perfected. Huddersfield, though, had complete freedom in the centre of the park and were subsequently gifted the right to dictate the game by Fulham’s midfield ineptitude on the night. Reluctant to press and unwilling to probe, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Jean-Micheal Seri were unmasked in the heart of the Whites’ engine room as subdued impostors.
Both of the cited Ligue 1 imports were rendered ineffective by Aaron Mooy and co. and couldn’t stamp their authority. Anguissa opted to sit deep but was terribly unconvincing whilst trying to prise the ball from his immediate opponent. The Cameroonian also lost sight of his bearings and was systematically wrenched out of position, leaving cavernous gaps in front of our defensive quarters for Wagner’s men to operate within.
Seri, an exalted distributor, uncharacteristically squandered possession with wayward, erratic passes into uninhabited space. This alarming trend was apparent throughout, and while the Ivorian struggled to find his range, his physical demeanour slackened, almost as though he’d admitted defeat. This drastically hindered Fulham’s shape and dynamism, and without our resident metronome yanking strings, a defeat was duly destined.
The defining component of the disorderly trio, Tom Cairney, was also a mere shadow during his full return to Premier League duties, too. The skipper was not able to dismantle Huddersfield’s organisation as frequently as he would have liked, and as our underlying configuration across the fold is, well, abysmal, TC was subsequently dragged into traps and suffocated by Mooy, Philip Billing and Jonathan Hogg. Contained by Huddersfield’s methodical midfield, Cairney, ultimately, couldn’t connect with or incorporate those stranded in advanced positions.