Five Thoughts: West Ham United 3-1 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 23rd February 2019

There’s an uprising afoot and we Fulhamish lads want you, yes you, to join our movement. Alright, we’re not inciting violence, abuse or nuclear warfare, but we as vehement, impassioned supporters of London’s Originals have to take a stand as one irrepressible resistance. This 2018-19 campaign has been an abomination, truly, and after Friday night’s deplorable 3-1 defeat against West Ham United, it’s time to be heard by the masses and the dismissive powers that be.

The Hammers slammed a rusty nail into the Whites’ rickety coffin and now, more than ever, I want answers and I want those accountable for our insipid performances, strategies and policies to be flung to the gallows. Claudio Ranieri adopted a gaggle of strangers devoid of chemistry and identity, but he has persistently rebuffed our fundamental values as a vibrant, expansive club and now his head must roll, metaphorically, obviously, in retaliation.

The ‘Tinker Man’, though, is nothing more than a puppet. He won’t be sat within our technical area next term and the negligent cycle that has seen us wither in the Premier League’s basement this season will continue to plague our alluring pocket of SW6 until it is vanquished indefinitely. Astronomical ticket pricing, grossly inept transfer ventures, outsourced tactical ‘expertise’, there’s a cataclysmic array of inadequacies to be observed and addressed and that begins with us. This, Fulham, is our club and that will never be ripped away from our hearts and livelihoods as we are a unified, empowered collective. In defiance and solidarity: #StopTheGreed.

Babel Bursting Bubbles

Local corner shops surrounding the London Stadium must make a serial killing on party bubbles come matchday. Beneath a swarm of floating suds, Fulham pressed the home side into making an almost devastating mistake in the opening moments. Pablo Zabaleta’s tame dab in Lukasz Fabianski’s direction was hijacked by Ryan Babel and the Dutchman jinked goal bound. Dwelling on the ball, the 32-year-old eyeballed Fabianski but the formidable Poland international was not fooled. Calling Babel’s bluff, the former Arsenal stopper planted his feet and earned his keep.

Babel’s previous blunder did not stunt Fulham’s momentum, however. Functioning as a deputising hit-man on Aleksandar Mitrovic’s shoulder, the former Liverpool attacker weaved between Issa Diop and Aaron Cresswell on the fringe of the 6-yard box. Magnetised by Ryan Sessegnon’s studied cross, Babel atoned for his early error with a textbook poacher’s finish to fire the visitors into the ascendancy in the 3rd minute. Quickfire redemption to the following faithful’s unbridled delight.

The Whites’ initial exuberance startled the Hammers and Babel was one of our pivotal instigators before and after West Ham’s dubious, deflating 29-minute equaliser. Babel’s inaugural goal in Fulham colours was instinctive and conventional to elite performers. He’s finally off the mark in his second spell in the Premier League, and whilst it wasn’t an exceedingly superlative outing under the lights, the travelled flanker fought to lead by example in the final third, even if the game gradually passed him by in the latter stages.

Sessegnon’s Shady Spirit

Hallelujah. Ranieri took stock of our burning concerns and reinstated Ryan Sessegnon into the starting XI. Slammed for being lightweight and naive by the eccentric Italian in recent weeks, the Young Lion’s confidence would have presumably taken a brutal thrashing whilst languishing on the bench, and though his impact was instantly felt on the left channel in Stratford, Sess’ is scraping the bottom of the barrel in search of spirit, morale and self-belief.

Supplying Babel for the encounter’s opener, Sess’ seemingly had the beating of Zabaleta on the parameter of the Irons’ penalty box, but his combining passes with Jean-Micheal Seri and co. were faint and miscued. Scuffing at elemental instances, the 18-year-old’s disinclined demeanour dissipated the Cottagers’ controlled spells in possession, which subsequently allowed the east-Londoners to reestablish a slight foothold, which soon caught unrelenting traction.

Accustomed to defensive duties, Sess’ naturally provides cover and support whilst retreating, but Joe Bryan was forced to track both Michael Antonio and Zabaleta, alone, far too regularly. In truth, Sess’ was a passenger and rarely charged out of a gentle stride to oppose the Hammers’ marauding duo within our own half, which is distinctly out of character. As Manuel Pellegrini’s men surged, the dejected teenager shuffled idly in their wake. Detached and disinterested, Sess’ was duly hauled off at the interval for Lazar Markovic. Dented, dispassionate but impressionable, it’s crucial that Sess’ converts his hardships to his advantage, as he is ultimately the only master of his own personal destiny. He has to conquer adversity before it tarnishes his reputation and future.

Shoddy, Sacrificial Set-Pieces

We were inexcusably atrocious at set-pieces. Whether it was an in-swinging corner or a lofted free-kick, West Ham found deep joy and fruition on virtually every occasion where the ball sailed ominously into our 18-yard box. For contextual purposes, the Hammers amassed 12 corners compared to Fulham’s zero. Whenever the Hammers grouped in our 18-yard box, a goal – or at the very least a siege on the target – appeared imminent.

Diop, in the 8th minute, rose above Mitrovic following a corner and his header, angled across goal, skipped wide of the post by a matter of inches. Handball or not, Javier Hernandez was in acres of space at the back post for his palm-greeting leveller, but Sergio Rico was undoubtedly at fault. Misjudging his punch, the Spaniard’s limp attempt to clear danger skewed into orbit and Fulham’s abortive onlookers failed to react appropriately. Sensing vulnerability, the Hammers swiftly capitalised.

For West Ham’s second, order and organisation was non-existent. Each member lost contact with their direct marker and a melee ensued. Unable to conduct and dictate his area, Rico was stranded as Diop glanced Robert Snodgrass’ teasing cross into the back of the net. At his near post in the 43rd minute, Antonio connected to another Snodgrass corner, unmarked, but our Sevilla FC loanee was poised to foil the staunch winger’s destined effort. Tim Ream periodically baulked in aerial duels, marking from dead balls was a complete mismatch and Rico, who’s usually such a dependable stopper, refused to clasp the ball with his jazzy adidas gloves. Back to the drawing board, because we’re consistently fluffing our lines with the basics.

Cairney, Captain, Catalyst

I’m not one for hyperbole, but a torrent of tears were shed when I saw Tom Cairney’s name emblazoned on the team sheet before kick-off, even if it was on the right of a flat midfield four. Like Sessegnon, we’ve been pining for Cairney’s inclusion in the starting line up because they’re vastly significant components. Appreciative of TC’s presence, everything that was mildly progressive in our offensive phases against West Ham sparked from the Scotsman’s unparalleled ingenuity.

As the tie developed, Cairney drifted into familiar compartments within the midfield region and orchestrated behind Mitro’ and Babel. Knitting sequences and moderating tempo, the 28-year-old craftsman was an inspiration with the ball on the deck and was undeterred in his willingness to glide through various opponents on the break. Cairney cares about our status in the top-flight and was an incessant nuisance. His defensive capabilities are always likely to be scrutinised, but he was a predominant catalyst and visionary from start to finish.

Virtually presented with postcodes to explore, Cairney slalomed into threatening quadrants, splitting and evading Declan Rice, Mark Noble and Snodgrass. Cairney’s a provider, an innovator, and if it wasn’t for Mitro’s laboured first touch in the 84th minute, the Whites could have restored parity after the skipper located the striker on the edge of the penalty area with a deftly-weighted through ball. His right foot often resembles a pitching wedge, but it’s imperative to retain his mercurial services next term. Moulding a squad around his prestige, most probably in the Championship, is compulsory. Khans, I hope you are reading scrupulously and intently.

Mitro’s Muted Mastery

It was a barren hunting ground for Mitrovic at Britain’s Olympic complex, but as he does whenever he takes to the turf, the strapping Serb was a living nightmare for Diop and Angelo Ogbonna. Playing and constructing through Mitro’ is exactly like catching a connecting train en route to a desired destination – the train (ball) sidles up to the platform (Mitro’s imperial frame) and is dispatched in a timely, pragmatic manner. Unless South West Trains have anything to do with it, that is.

Holding the Hammers’ outfought centre-halves at bay, the 24-year-old typically stamped his authority upon his department. Diop and Ogbonna toiled to wrench possession from the brawny striker’s custody, but the ex-Newcastle United man repeatedly nullified West Ham’s rearguard with ease and serenity. Resorting to propelling long balls to relieve pressure, we knew that Mitro’s brute strength and mercurial resilience makes him the most dominant focal point outside of the top six and we trusted him as a viable outlet wherever and whenever it was required, as per. Watching him seize balls out of thin air, unscathed and unshakably, is a genuine privilege.

Mitro’ squandered his scarce opportunities, but in relation to the flow and narrative of the encounter, they were indeed few and far between. We rely on Mitro’ to bulge the net, he’s our most proficient, clinical executioner with the goal at his mercy, although it’s what he does off the ball which is also such a benefit to our cause on the counter. He’s not a searing athlete, but he never stopped hounding. He’s not terribly intricate, but he scuffled under immense constraints to safeguard the ball, in order to keep incisive patterns alive. Yes, it may be another fixture chalked off without tallying a further goal to add to his extensive record, but he’s so much more than your average, predictable, run-of-the-mill attacker.