If you were chilled to the bone on the way up to Craven Cottage on Tuesday evening, I bet you were glowing with a fizzing sense of delight on the journey back to your homes after witnessing what was undoubtedly one of the most exhilarating encounters our grand, alluring stadium has hosted in recent years. Claudio Ranieri was spouting a lot of tosh about change, wasn’t he?
There’s nothing quite like a midweek skirmish beneath the lights down by the river. The weather could be sizzling or it could be arctic, like it was against Brighton & Hove Albion, but the atmosphere is always the same. As the spectating hoards sway in unison, the terraces oscillate in perfect harmony. If that victory hasn’t recaptured your optimism, that maybe we could still survive, even by the short and curlies, then perhaps it’s best you forget the beautiful game for good.
Newcastle United may have scalped Manchester City, Burnley may have scuttled away from Old Trafford with a point, but we’re in with a plausible shout. We are not a spent force by any fathomable measure and we have rediscovered our appetite to salvage our dwindling Premier League status. To those joining me and the Fulhamish lads at Selhurst Park on Saturday, be heard and be counted – our incessant cries for a resolution are finally being heeded.
Celebrating Contrasting Complexions
Frozen from the very off, Fulham couldn’t resist Brighton’s intensity along the channels and felt the sharp, unforgiving blade that is Glen Murray in the 18-yard box. Our wing-backs have been bitterly underwhelming this season and Martin Montoya highlighted Joe Bryan’s relative incompetence in the 3rd minute. Galloping unopposed, the Spaniard flashed an inviting cross into the danger area and Murray expertly diverted to land the fixture’s first blow.
Our defensive shape was utterly shambolic and Murray’s second, in the 17th minute, arose as a damning result of Cyrus Christie’s substandard awareness. The Republic of Ireland international was yards behind his defensive colleagues and the 35-year-old prayed upon his ineptness. Two goals behind within 20 minutes, Chris Hughton’s men were unrestricted and markedly poised in their combinations. How the game’s complexion altered after the interval is beyond reasoning.
Racing out of traps, the Whites were ruthless and turbocharged in every department, and having pegged the Seagulls’ comfortable lead back through Calum Chambers, the visitors – who were initially cruising on open stretches – were equalled man for man by the Whites’ persistent representatives. Blown out of the water, the seasiders were shell shocked and dumbfounded by Fulham’s desire to maul, penetrate and devastate. Nullifying Brighton’s imperial marksman, the Cottagers monopolised possession and pummelled their winded adversaries into a sorrowful, bleating pulp. That, in my opinion, was the best half of football I have ever witnessed, but then again, I am smugly drunk on satisfaction.
Dynamic Midfield Dynamites
A raucous round of applause is in order for our two dynamic midfield dynamites, Calum Chambers and Jean-Micheal Seri. Hardly a stud was placed out of line by the indispensable duo and that was pivotal to our prosperity in the second 45. Chambers and Seri ran the show and their superlative connection in the engine room was nothing short of symphonic. When one sat to provide cover in front of our creaky rearguard, the other endeavoured to support in the final third.
Chambers was a disruptive asset that thrived on personal duels and instances of aerial peril. Robust and deceptively agile – note the Cruyffs – the remapped 24-year-old’s aggression ruffled the Seagulls’ feathers and dismantled their fluidity in the centre of the park. Dale Stephens couldn’t shake the Arsenal loanee and Pascal Gross, as well as Davy Propper, were expeditiously muzzled. Also, what a way to notch your inaugural goal of the campaign. He’s let rip in games gone by, but that elegant sledgehammer on the parameter of the box was outrageous. Technique of a lethal hit-man, and it’s certainly been promised.
Spreading a little love for Seri, just as vastly as the Ivorian metronome distributed the ball across the breadth of the pitch to dissect Brighton’s core configuration. Reborn under Ranieri’s command, the 27-year-old hassled Hughton’s creative components and contributed to Fulham’s triumphant expeditions, whilst ruggedly enforcing his conservative duties once the visitors split from their quarters. Based in intelligent pockets, Seri even cracked the foot of Ryan’s upright with a sumptuous effort, an opportunity that sparked a relentless onslaught from he and his dogged teammates. Brighton were twisted into oblivion by the revered craftsman’s incomparable sorcery, a sheer masterclass.
Claudio, Start Cairney
Tom Cairney has pronounced his point, Ranieri, and I think now’s the correct period to reinstate the discarded skipper to our starting XI. Shifting our shape once the ingenious playmaker entered the fray in the 27th minute at Tim Ream’s expense, it was unmistakably evident that his calming, cardinal presence behind our offensive spearhead steadied our composure and fortitude.
Brighton’s goal frame took a pasting in the second-half, with TC assaulting the woodwork on two notable occasions. His first led to Fulham’s 4th of the evening, having slammed a ferocious projectile off the crossbar, but we’ll analyse that particular phase in greater depth in due course. From an almost identical position, the 28-year-old jinked and jabbed the ball towards the Hammersmith End, but his viperous pulveriser refused to greet the net. White paint yet again.
With the discarded skipper on the snow-dusted turf, the Seagulls were lured into a blizzard of hypnotic sequences and were carved open with razor-sharp precision. Cairney produced an innovative rhythm, upping and stifling the tempo according to the narrative of the tie, and the Whites subsequently choreographed merciless routines that propelled the Cottage into show-stopping crescendos. Unleash him against Crystal Palace and we’ll drastically bother the Eagles, too.
Mitro’ Matching Murray
Anything you can do, Murray. Brighton’s veteran striker is literally the Fulham’s niggling bogey being, but Aleksandar Mitrovic also seemed to relish the prospect of terrorising the Seagulls’ defensive unit. Throughout the encounter in SW6, Mitro’ locked horns Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy and plunged the hapless partnership to the deck, both physically and metaphorically.
Ryan Babel’s flourishing understanding with the bullish Serb will undoubtedly bloom as the weeks pass by. Mitro’ is an unmovable bollard with his back pressed firmly against his marker and the Dutchman regularly fed off his unmanageable stature. As ever, the 24-year-old wrangled the ball exquisitely and tirelessly pressed Brighton’s defensive line. Tenacious.
Offer a hoisted ball to execute and Mitro’ is a natural born killer. Levelling the score line just before the hour mark, Mitro’ pounced on Brighton’s lackadaisical disposition to bundle the ball into the visitors’ vacant goalmouth. Those who dared to rival the former Newcastle United man fell flat on their face, complete with dirt in their grimace. Joe Bryan’s swinging cross in the 74th minute presented Fulham a golden opportunity to pull ahead. Rising above Dunk, using the England international as a makeshift ladder, admittedly, Mitro’ reacquainted the ball with his primed forehead to ripple the net in front of a raucous home support. As if we didn’t know so already, Mitrovic is an invaluable piece to the ‘Tinker Man’s’ puzzle and is an undisputed pillar in our resurgent search for salvation.
Warming to Vietto
I’m not overly convinced by Luciano Vietto, not after his pathetic outing against Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup, but the pint-sized Argentine made a positive impact after replacing Andre Schurrle at the break, and that has to be recognised indefinitely. If Schurrle’s to be sidelined, the Atletico Madrid loanee proved that he’s somewhat worthy of filling the inconsistent German’s void. Could it be that I’m warming to him after all this time?
Darting into dangerous nooks and gullies, Vietto roamed Brighton’s half elusively and combined with Mitrovic, Cairney and co. competently and productively to ensure that possession stayed in the Whites’ clasp. Strength is not a predominant attribute in the South American’s makeup, although he’s a searing offender that’s unparalleled over 20 yards, and though he’s often prone to gliding down hopeless corridors, he was an inexhaustible nuisance that probed the visitors in an unyielding fashion.
Like Chambers, Vietto has previously tried, and failed, to register a goal this season for the Cottagers. Cairney’s aforementioned assault of the crossbar ricocheted into Babel’s vicinity. The 32-year-old noticed Vietto at the back stick and nodded the ball in the unmarked striker’s direction. It was destined, Vietto anticipated Babel’s expertly-dispatched assist and bagged his first goal on English soil. Jubilant after his defining header, the misfiring attacker basked in the glory of sealing the victory, and rightly so. I never intend to string players up, but if they’re diabolical, then I’m obliged to air my opinion. Vietto is capable of bulging nets on a regular basis, and though he’s been, well, shit this term, I hope he marches on and shuts my dirty mouth for me before it’s too late.