Normality painfully resumed down by the river and what a thunderous jab in the gut that is to announce. Harry haunts the Cottage once again, and it’s not even the usual suspect, either. Tottenham Hotspur, depleted and diminished, still managed to march away from the banks of the Thames with three points in their back pocket, but it’s the manner in which we gifted them the spoils that stings the most.
We are stranded in the doldrums of the Premier League table without a paddle, and even when we’re flung an invaluable lifeline in the shape of a meagre, measly point, we’re still incapable of clinging on for dear life. Spurs craved the result much more than the Whites in the dying embers of the game, and that was blatantly evident. They stamped their foot on the peddle when it mattered and made a swift, white-knuckled getaway with the goods.
Claiming something from Sunday’s clash against the north-Londoners would have injected a monumental dose of confidence into Claudio Ranieri’s seemingly doomed camp and now, with Brighton and Hove Albion and Crystal Palace next in line to take aim, we can not afford to idly coast through another single fixture. Remarkably, with 15 games left on the calendar schedule, the gallows are resting through the fog. This is the planet’s most cutthroat division and our necks are being slashed on a weekly basis.
I want to begin with a relative positive, given that the opening 45 minutes were arguably our best of the campaign thus far, or at least under Ranieri. Enthusiasm was key, however we didn’t want to sell ourselves by being too zealous in our attempts to dislodge Spurs’ grasp of the ball. The visitors were able to craft and construct at their own leisure, and while it appeared as though we handed Mauricio Pochettino’s men unprecedented respect, we contained and stunted them admirably. For now, we’ll briefly forget about the half that followed.
Spurs still carried a threat in the final third, with Danny Rose hugging the touchline and Christian Eriksen orchestrating on the parameter of our 18-yard box. Dele Alli and Erik Lamela galloped into imposing zones, although Maxime Le Marchand, amongst others, shadowed Spurs’ offensive duo valiantly and stifled them at critical instances where a shot on target could have been wielded. Restrained and hassled, somehow the Whites wriggled out of sticky, claustrophobic situations and administered possession with unparalleled care and caution.
Resolute in exhibiting our strategy and maintaining our core shape, the Cottagers were rewarded for their perseverance when Fernando Llorente calamitously diverted past a rooted Hugo Lloris from Jean-Micheal Seri’s searching corner. Own goals galore for Fulham, only this time it was to our own fortune. Llorente could have restored parity after his red-faced mistake, although Sergio Rico stood his ground to bat the Spaniard’s explosive header away from the target from point-blank range. Following an incisive sequence, Fulham could have waltzed into the break with a 2-0 cushion, but Aleksandar Mitrovic was marginally offside when he nodded past a scrambling Lloris. At this point, life was bliss as a Fulham supporter.
Whinging at the Wings
War of the wings ensued at the Cottage with both sets of wing-backs from both parties marauding up the length of the turf to forge pivotal openings to operate within. But, ultimately, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier won their respective duels against Cyrus Christie and Joe Bryan time and time again. Indecision plagued Fulham’s representatives and their defensive escapades were riddled with glaring schoolboy errors. Basically, in a nutshell, we were grossly inferior on the flanks.
If you’re going to dance away from your direct opponent, with acres of space to explore, be sure that you have a viable alternative if you veer into traffic. Elemental. I’m not trying to tell you how to suck eggs, Christie, but make your damn mind up before you get lost in your own hesitation. The Republic of Ireland international couldn’t leash Rose and continuously felled the adventurous England international in perplexing moments of uncertainty. He was treading on thin ice. Failing to close Georges-Kévin N’Koudou enabled Spurs to register a winner with seconds to go. Not for the first time this season, the right side has been identified as a weakness of ours. Low and behold, it was exploited again at Christie’s disservice.
Get goal side of your man and keep him at an arms length. I’m not a defender, or a professional, but Bryan’s awareness is utterly wince worthy. Panicked with when receiving passes, proceedings slipped away from the 25-year-old with a series of incompetent touches and nudges that completely killed Fulham’s momentum. As for Tottenham’s last-gasp sucker punch, Bryan allowed Harry Winks to burst into the six-yard box to slam N’Koudou’s swinging cross beyond Rico. In the dying embers, the former Bristol City left-back had to stay composed but he imploded yards before the chequered flag. At this level, Bryan is consistently one step behind and his inadequacy ultimately cost us in such a critical period against the Lilywhites.
Begging Eddie Hearn to organise a box office bout at Wembley between Mitro’ and Sanchez as soon as humanly possible. We anticipated that Mitrovic was going to be matched for brute strength against the likes of the Colombian and Toby Alderweireld, but bless our good souls, we were treated to a titanic brawl between two of the English top-flight’s hardiest contenders at CC that lasted the entirety of the 90 minute conflict.
Snared by Sanchez, Mitro’s blood began to boil at the sheer notion of being equalled pound for pound, and with that, the strapping striker set about ruffling the rugged South American’s feathers to our unbridled delight. Eyeballing, chest thumping, sneer baring, the couple’s grappling altercations were far from Mills and Boon, even if the heat was briskly cranked up to eleven. Please, steady your breathing, it was a completely different kind of fire and intensity. Let the red mist take its hold.
Jostling for possession in an innocuous area, Sanchez had gotten the better of Mitro’ in front of the Johnny Haynes. Locked in a ferocious fracas, Mitro’ proceeded to subdue Spurs’ centre-half with a good old fashioned strangle hold. Twisting in a reptilian-inspired death roll, the Whites’ hardened hit-man manipulated his adversary and executed a text book DDT. Sanchez ate dirt and was incensed. Rising to his feet, Sanchez dusted down and the feuding foes exchanged profanities, butted skulls, and were dragged apart by the following entourage. Suddenly, I’ve an urge to binge UFC highlights and that’s exactly what I’m going to do in my spare time from now on.
Chambers the Catalyst
Waxing lyrical for a second week running, or is it a third? Calum Chambers was the standout performer for the Cottagers, particularly in the first-half, and is my personal Man of the Match. An adaptable anchorman, the 24-year-old, incidentally on his birthday, flexed his dexterity and expertly commanded his department with an unwavering tenacity and intent. Others crumble under unrelenting pressure however Chambers, the industrious catalyst, thrives upon it.
Hard-hitting, assured, yet deceptively intricate, Chambers is truly developing into a consummate box-to-box component and his presence in the heart of our engine room is pivotal, both defensively and offensively. Buffeting and buttressing the centre of the park in front of our three centre-halves, Chambers curbed Spurs’ probing combinations, intercepted accordingly, and contested aerially whenever the ball was thrust into his domain. Once he returns to the Emirates, Arsenal have to recognise his capabilities as a trustworthy midfield enforcer.
Once Chambers had wrangled possession, the auxiliary regista glided out of the depths of our own half and slalomed through Spurs’ attempts to disarm. Piercing Tottenham’s structure, Chambers incorporated his teammates without discarding his fundamental responsibilities. Solidifying our midfield contingent is his primary obligation as Jean-Micheal Seri’s intended to be our predominant playmaker, but Chambers is evidently well versed in all appropriate aspects. At either end of the field of play, the flourishing linchpin tirelessly stalked Poch’s squad and sparked fluid, expansive sequences simultaneously.
Babel’s Welcome Return
Cometh the man, cometh Ryan Babel. Having arrived in SW6 from Besiktas JK, many were dubious and sceptical to what the Dutchman would bring to our banal offensive armoury, but after a vibrant 55-minute debut, I think we can all agree that the former Liverpool winger will undoubtedly become a highly influential member of Ranieri’s set-up for the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign. Times have changed, but Babel’s certainly familiar to his new surroundings.
Subbed off just before the hour mark, the 32-year-old unquestionably deserved his glowing plaudits and was an incessant irritant. Babel wanted to make a lasting impression on his introduction to Fulham’s expectant faithful and he didn’t disappoint. Skating away from Sanchez in the 11th minute, Babel surged towards Spurs’ danger area. With the target in his sights, the journeyed attacker vigorously swung his left boot but his defining contact was scuffed, meaning that Lloris could scupper his skewed attempt to break the deadlock.
Initial glimpses of Babel were sublime. Firing on all cylinders, for as long as he could last, Holland’s supposed answer to Thierry Henry probed Spurs’ defensive quarters and sufficiently supported Mitro’ on the counter. In the 40th minute, Christie hoisted an enticing cross into the penalty box and Babel, rising above his opponents, glanced the ball inches over Lloris’ crossbar. Age is just a number and in the Premier League, in esteemed company, Babel’s career could reignite before our very eyes. If that potential resurgence promises goals, productivity and electrifying outings, then I am prepared to brave the elements, alongside the deplorable results, to drink it in.