The Turf Moor curse continues. Fulham have not won at Burnley since 1951 and the omens weren’t positive before kick-off, although we understood how imperative a victory was. Train strikes, driving rain, our 1,000-plus faithful intrepidly trudged t’north to lift Claudio Ranieri’s men towards a mythological victory. But football’s a cruel, unforgiving game, isn’t it?
The Clarets didn’t even muster a shot on target and they still managed to wheel away with the spoils. Two own goals, courtesy of Joe Bryan and Denis Odoi, trundled past a hapless Sergio Rico within three minutes of one another in the first-half, and if anything was ever conceivably true on a planet that’s crammed with lies, dupes and falsehoods, that is without discussion the most ‘Fulhamish’ thing that could have happened to the Whites.
Now, Burnley’s a bleak smudge on the map, but our Premier League standing is worse. Much worse. We’re 19th, 5 points from safety and those at the foot of the table are miraculously picking up points to broaden the gap between us and salvation. The transfer window is open, of course, but where do we strengthen? Our defensive ranks are inept, our midfield corps is disjointed and our offensive armoury is blunt. Enough of the pessimism, I want a second edition of the fabled ‘Great Escape’ to arise and I want it now. Result aside, we weren’t actually that atrocious. Hear me out.
Out of Sorts Sess’
Ryan Sessegnon has not been his glowing self of late, and after his troublesome cameo against Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup, a reaction was required from the developing youngster against Burnley. Sess’ had Phil Bardlsey to contend with on the left flank and the experienced fullback’s dominance at this level shone through. Recognising the 18-year-old’s mobility and ingenuity in the final third, Bardsley ensured that he etched his authority upon his domain and contained Sess’ comfortably. Sess’ was matched stride for stride by the 33-year-old, who also had an inspired Jeff Hendrick in support if the ‘Young Lion’ jinked away from his restraint.
Utilising the channels was necessary because we had to unlock the Clarets’ regimented rearguard to accommodate Aleksandar Mitrovic’s presence, although Sess’ rarely ventured into prime areas to load the box from the touchline. Once shadowed by either Bardlsey or Hendrick, Sess’ elected to break momentum, and whilst he maintained possession adequately, he didn’t exploit his markers frequently enough on the counter, which is markedly out of character.
Whilst retreating, the teenager was bypassed by slick phases from the home side and was often two paces behind the run of play. In essence, Sess’ couldn’t equal the tempo of the encounter and was hauled off at the interval for Luciano Vietto. Every professional, journeyed or fresh off the conveyor belt, endures sticky spells and Sess’ is no exception. It wasn’t a disastrous outing by any means, but it’s evident that pressures and strains of top-flight football, at his tender, impressionable age, are taking their brutal toll.
Vastly Vindicated Vietto
Having toiled in our previous FA Cup tie against League 2’s Latics, Vietto – as clarified in the first thought – entered proceedings after the break in place of an outwitted Sess’. I’ve been utterly dismayed by the diminutive Argentine since his arrival in the summer, but he portrayed a sharp enthusiasm and executed his offensive responsibilities appropriately. Vietto could have even bagged a brace, if not for some superb last-ditch defending from Sean Dyche’s defensive despots, that is.
Setting his bearings in the 18-yard box, Vietto could have levelled the tie with a sumptuous half-volley. Tom Heaton was rooted, but James Tarkowski, to our distress, thwarted the Atletico Madrid loanee’s destined effort on the goal line. 15 minutes before time, Hendrick’s clearance was capitalised upon and Vietto was presented with another opportunity to bulge the net. Dispatching a fizzing shot at the target, Heaton plunged to the deck to deny the 25-year-old a certain goal. Agony at its ugliest.
The South American, despite his slight frame, withstood Burnley’s physical edge and carried the ball with an unyielding intent. Effective over 15-yard spurts, Vietto pierced on the flanks and darted into imposing zones to aid a heavily quarantined Mitro. General composure both on and off the ball was satisfactory and was a persistent nuisance in and around the penalty area. All we need now from the miniature forward in the future is a healthy double dose of conviction and consistency.
Shut Me Down, Schurrle
Andre Schurrle’s world-conquering stature doesn’t necessarily warrant a starting spot and I, for one, have pushed that notion for months now. The German’s petered out of important fixtures and simply isn’t robust enough to thrive against top defensive quarters, but I was rightfully shut down in the 2nd minute, wasn’t I? The sky is blue, water is wet, and Schurrle never scores elemental tap ins. As soon as he does, we know the end is nigh.
Echoes of Pajtim Kasami. Odoi’s raking ball sailed over Burnley’s back four and landed in the 28-year-old’s spell. Adjusting his posture, Schurrle opened his frame, nominated a destination and detonated from an acute angle. The sweetest of connections enabled the Borussia Dortmund loanee to arc his emphatic projectile over a tumbling Heaton, and if the top left corner could talk, it would implore the inverted forward to spank balls of similar ecstasy into its proverbials again, again and again. Best quit whilst I’m ahead.
In weeks gone by, Schurrle’s appeared to have been wading through treacle, but there was more thrust and intensity in his locker against the Clarets, and though he’s previously wavered at the hands of other adept fullbacks, Charlie Taylor was literally played off the park by the irregular attacker. Withdrawn in the 77th minute, Schurrle should be proud of his input, as it’s a thumbs up from me, at last. Tenacious, proficient, alert, the conflicting figurehead answered his critics with aplomb, and a rigid middle digit.
Chambers’ Eye-Catching Evolution
Guardian of the 18-yard box, purveyor of the bone-crunching challenge, Calum Chambers is a linchpin within our engine room and I retract all the negativity I spewed in his direction in the early stages of the campaign. Alongside Jean-Micheal Seri, the 23-year-old absorbed and counteracted Burnley’s advancements through the centre and distributed in a timely, orderly fashion.
Under Ranieri’s haphazard leadership, Chambers has transformed into the archetypal anchorman, and when he was coaxed into flexing his ruthless defensive tendencies, the Arsenal loanee halted Ashley Barnes and company in their tracks. He was a comforting blanket and a no nonsense road block, rolled into a cultured, vigilant exponent. Seri dug deep but over-committed himself in innocuous, banal instances. Chambers, however, judged the flow of the game and impeded the Clarets assuredly, even if he was subsequently cautioned for a late lunge on Jack Cork in the 34th minute.
One of the biggest plot twists of 2019 so far, though, is noticing Chambers function in a more advanced position than Seri, our resident metronome. Orchestrating behind Mitro’, Chambers acted as an auxiliary craftsman and actually seemed to be within his element in the dizzying heights of the final third. In fairness, Chambers is undoubtedly flourishing into an ideal box-to-box midfielder and his application is always full-blooded and profound. Rising above his markers in the 18-yard box, he could have restored parity after connecting to Bryan’s sweeping cross in the 26th minute, but his blistering header assaulted the crossbar, rather than the fibres of the net. Striker in evolution, maybe?
Keep It Up, Kebano
An outcast in Slavisa Jokonovic’s regime, Neeskens Kebano has graced the dugout since the ‘Tinker Man’ was appointed, and that’s not short of what we’ve been asking for. Substantial question marks still loom over the DR Congo international’s quality, but when we needed a forcible outlet to hit the byline in the dying embers, the adaptable protagonist heeded our cries of disparity. If one of them is going to get the nod, I’m ultimately pleased that he’s favoured over Floyd Ayite.
Replacing Schurrle in the 77th minute, Kebano aspired to prise pockets for the likes of Vietto and Mitro’ to operate within and didn’t idly spectate after rotating possession to his baying teammates. In tight, claustrophobic gullies, the 26-year-old administered the ball sufficiently to the easiest available option – getting the basics correct isn’t typically his forte, as he’s intermittently culprit to spurning simple routines and combinations. Tireless and vibrant, Kebano offered us an advantageous dimension in our tactless offensive trident.
Kebano may lack an intelligence in terms of game management in the Premier League, but he isn’t wary of testing his direct opponent, and that flair and guile is pivotal and integral. To thrive in the world’s most renowned division, a player must, in all circumstances, invest all they have to the cause. Whether it’s 90 or 15 minutes, you are a trusted, reliant component if you’re on that pitch. Kebano, in my opinion, is not a Premier League competitor, but he tried to engineer threatening gaps and crevasses and on another day, anywhere other than Turf Moor, the discarded trickster would have found fruition.