No, it’s not a typo, Fulham actually defeated Mark Hughes’ Southampton 3-2 at Craven Cottage to register our first win since our 4-2 triumph over Burnley in September. Cam Ramsey breaks five points out of the much-needed victory.
The domestic schedule over the festive period is condensed with treacherous meetings, so claiming three points against the Saints was imperative to our survival campaign.
It was particularly strange not seeing Slavisa Jokanovic pacing up and down the technical area in front of the Riverside Stand, but Claudio Ranieri has his own divine vision of what he wants and expects from his newly-acquired fold, and Saturday afternoon’s buoyant performance is the perfect tonic for the quirky Italian and his Premier League-winning philosophy.
Next up, of course, is a short stroll to our noisy lodgers, Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge. There’s nothing quite like an SW6 fracas, a highly-strung occasion where form is briskly tossed out of the window. Being an ex-Chelsea manager, Ranieri will relish being back at the dog track as an away manager, and if we can inflict yet more anguish upon the Blues and stifle their esteemed ‘Sari ball’ approach, local bragging rights will reside by the Thames indefinitely.
Determination Paid Dividends
Fulham, under Slav’s command, often cut forlorn figures once the encounter swayed away from our clasp, and as heads dropped on the turf, the Whites wandered through the remainder in a pedestrian, dejected stupor.
Southampton tested our reserve and broke the deadlock early through Stuart Armstrong, but unlike weeks gone by where we’d struggle to lodge a reply, every single Ranieri representative dug deep and unearthed sweet, sweet reward for their determined, tenacious efforts.
Throughout the park in each department, the Whites’ body language and demeanour never dropped, declined or slackened. We knew that a loss or indeed a draw simply wasn’t going to be good enough, and if we wanted to snag a victory, we’d have to lift our chins, puff out our chests and land some critical blows of our own. Yes, Southampton drew first blood, granted they emphatically pegged back our 2-1 lead, but Hughes’ stammering set-up could still be severely punished.
To overcome hardship, you have to be courageous, brave and gallant, especially in the Premier League, where every instance has to be expertly crafted and executed.
Striving to breach the Saints’ porous rearguard, Fulham’s midfield contingent, alongside our adventurous full-backs, incorporated a studied sensibility and distributed the ball conservatively and effectively. Once a prime opportunity to pounce arose, our creative protagonists issued possession swiftly and accordingly to our benefit, fundamentally.
Amidst all the noticeable pluses and positives, Fulham’s willingness to adopt and exhibit a do or die temperament in the defensive quarters proves that the Cottagers are indeed prepared to fight tooth and nail, even with our backs butted firmly against the metaphorical wall. Charging down danger, relieving pressure and literally chucking their bodies on the line to stunt the Saints’ attacking phases, the ‘Tinker Man’s’ persistent back four testified our superiority, despite shipping two more goals. Our defensive record is deplorable, but clean sheets and sturdier outings will certainly emerge if we exert the same dogged spirit and disposition on a weekly basis. Extremely refreshing 90 minutes.
Superlative Sergio Rico
Since pipping Marcus Bettinelli to a starting matchday slot, Sergio Rico has also earned himself a regular plug in our 5 Thoughts feature, although the sharp Spaniard has deservedly attracted his glowing plaudits – it’s not favouritism, promise. Even without a clean sheet to his name to date, Rico is an outstanding servant between the sticks, and his influential presence against Southampton delivered salvation with three vital points.
Fulham, prior to Armstrong’s eventual opener, could have been behind earlier if it wasn’t for Rico’s superb reflexes from point-blank range. The Cottagers couldn’t sufficiently clear their penalty area following a corner and the aforementioned Armstrong, who was a troublesome figure from the off, fired a low, driven shot goal bound. Rico reacted and flung himself to the deck to palm the 26-year-old’s effort into Manolo Gabbiadini’s path. With the goal at his mercy, Gabbiadini should have tucked home from close proximity, but the Sevilla FC loanee spread his frame to smother the Italian’s tame attempt.
In the second-half, Rico’s goal was peppered by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Michael Obafemi as Southampton endeavoured to tally an equaliser. With fizzing efforts from both individuals to contend with, Rico’s attention was fixed firmly on the flight of the ball and his palms did exactly what was required of them to relinquish the threat. The Saints also floated teasing balls into the penalty area in the hope that Charlie Austin would connect, but Rico was equally alive to their intentions and the Andalusia-born ‘keeper would methodically skip from his 6-yard box to intercept.
To be a consummate top-flight stopper, a domineering character is a staple requirement, as it’s the keeper’s responsibility to marshal and conduct the defensive line that rests ahead. Communication errors or incapacitates could plague Rico’s game, being relatively unfamiliar to the English language, however the 25-year-old appears to have a coherent understanding and relationship with his outfield colleagues. He consistently barked orders and organised the composition of our defensive shape from the parameter of his 18-yard box. He’s assured of his personal capabilities and stature.
Count On Christie
Cyrus Christie did himself no harm in terms of snatching superiority from Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Christie and TFM seem to alternate between one another in the starting line up, and though nobody’s seemingly able to identify who’s the stronger right-back of the pair, the Republic of Ireland international boldly safeguarded his domain, and even offered himself as a productive outlet in the final third.
Andre Schurrle’s reluctance to squeeze and cover defensively hindered Christie, who already had the daunting task of leashing Nathan Redmond, but the inexhaustible 26-year-old soldiered on and limited his adversary whilst Southampton surged. Redmond wanted to shift inside Christie to link up with Austin and company, however the former Middlesbrough defender remained diligent and disciplined and shadowed the 24-year-old winger, who would subsequently be forced to ineffectively scale the byline.
With the ball at his feet, Christie would either rotate possession efficiently or pierce down the right channel. When in advanced positions, Christie understood that he’d have to bust a gut on the retreat if the ball was turned over as Schurrle, and then Aboubakar Kamara after the German’s departure, lack defensive awareness and dexterity. but being an athletic, industrious live wire, Christie patrolled the right touchline with very little fatigue or encumbrance.
Christie retained possession in wider regions and frequently loaded the penalty area with hazardous crosses. Involved in Fulham’s winner, of course, Christie reminded us that he’s capable of locating his colleagues with devastating strokes of genius, and if a Matt Targett impeded his route into the 18-yard box, the adaptable full-back would shield possession, invite his teammates to retrieve, and start a new offensive phase for he and his teammates explore. In all aspects, Christie was an exemplary performer that deserves to be trusted in future.
Unwarranted criticisms have befallen Ryan Sessegnon recently, with many a delusional pundit or self-professed armchair expert berating the England U21’s dynamism, intelligence and physicality. Is Sess’ adept and observant enough to compete in the Premier League? If there’s any dubious individuals that are yet to examine Saturday’s exploits, we’d implore you to do so now.
In all that Fulham crafted offensively, Sess’ contributed towards his employer’s successes. Killing the ball and shuffling into his stride, the 18-year-old, confronted by Cedric Soares, proceeded to dictate and dazzle. Jinking and slaloming past the outwitted Portugal international, Sess’ adroitly arced a pinpoint cross between the penalty spot and the 6-yard box. Peeling off at the back post, Schurrle latched onto the youngster’s supreme assist and ferociously crashed the ball through Alex McCarthy to gift Fulham a 2-1 lead at the break.
Drifting into the centre of the penalty area, Sess’, being a recognised flanker, was in uncharted territory in the moments leading to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s winner, but he was born to make a telling impact. Pressed by Maya Yoshida, the ‘Young Lion’ fended off the Japanese centre-half and flicked the ball into the Serb’s vicinity. Sess’ input unsettled Southampton’s composure, and as Mitro’ wielded his deadly right boot at the ball, there’s usually only ever one defining outcome.
Now, Sess’ may have handed Southampton’s equaliser on a plate with an uncoordinated, irrational header that fortuitously fell at Cedric’s feet, but the mesmerising teenager ultimately recorded two pivotal assists to aid Fulham’s progression in the tie. But as he’s still growing as a fledgling professional and adapting, naturally, to life in the top-flight as a credible offensive weapon, he duly and rightfully stuck two fingers up at the doubters and haters that desperately want to see the glistening starlet implode.
Mitro Finally Erupts
We’ve been waiting, eagerly, for Mitro’ to erupt into life in club colours after ripping the European international stage apart for Serbia during the recent international intermissions, and when we cried out from the terraces for his lethal expertise to surface against Southampton, the imposing striker ruthlessly dropped the guillotine to our sheer, unbridled delight.
Mitro’ tampers with defenders and injects his opponents with a chilling sense of peril. Pitted against Yoshida and Wesley Hoedt, the 24-year-old had to illustrate the art of deception if he was going to shake his markers. Gathering the ball just before it trickled out of play, Maxime Le Marchand angled a deft chip into Southampton’s penalty area. Mitro’ checked his run to disorientate the Saints’ defensive duo and diverted the Frenchman’s ball across the face of the target. Skipping off the deck, away from a sprawling McCarthy, Fulham were on level terms.
Buffeting his way into an impending zone, whilst sandwiched by a cluster of defenders, Mitro’ was slipped into contention by Schurrle on the periphery of the 18-yard box. Hustled and hurried, Mitro’ jabbed the ball hard and low, but his improvised spark of ingenuity was thwarted by McCarthy with an inspired save.
Other than Mitro’s key efforts, the bullish attacker protected possession and relentlessly hounded Southampton’s defensive line. Compelling flicks, chops and pirouettes also glossed his outstanding afternoon by the river. As our leading focal point, he upheld and exemplified our fluidity on the break.
Instinctive and predatory, Mitro’ netted his brace with an exquisite volley. Sess’, as portrayed previously, did just enough to divert Christie’s cross into the former Newcastle United hit-man’s territory. Mitro’ calibrated his posture, optimised his technique, and elegantly thrust his luminous Nike Mercurial at the ball to gloriously bulge the net in front of an expectant Hammersmith End.
If Fulham wish to utilise the Serb’s venomous services, feed him like he’s never eaten before. Mitro’ has a taste for destruction and will dismantle any defensive outfit on his day – once supplied with ammunition from the flanks, he’ll convert time and time again.