Champagne’s on ice, cigars are teasing lips and salmon and cream cheese sandwiches are balanced on platters. Let the sadistic relegation party, that’s admittedly been long-awaited, commence! We’re glad you filled in your RSVP slip after months of endless humming and hawing. What a shitshow of a season this has been in the so-called majesty of the Premier League, aye?
Vicarage Road promised very little salvation for Fulham’s travelling faithful. The Whites were purely prolonging the inevitable and whilst relegation’s a stinker, I am refreshingly relieved that our pain and anguish is now no more. I should be aggrieved, livid, incensed with the reality of such a dismal season, but we simply haven’t been up to the required standard in the realms of Europe’s most demanding division and now, thankfully, we can prepare, painstakingly, for a potential return next year.
Scott Parker at the wheel, we’ve known this for some time, but the last of the rickety wheels has fallen off his inherited bus and there’s not a recovery service in sight, and even if there was, this vehicle’s totalled beyond repair. The sun’s set and the cold’s testing your willpower, but yonder horizon’s a slight glimmer of neon, a hectic metropolis we know all too well. Grab your bags, people, this is no mirage. The Championship is your readopted home for the foreseeable, whether you like it or not. Props to Mr. Jack Collins for holding the fort in my absence, by the way. Raise a pint of Guinness for the chap, he flew the flag valiantly as per with a concise, level head of sensibility, despite the stout!
Futile, Farcical Fortitude
The underlying narrative of the fixture enabled both camps to surge routinely. The ball bounded from box to box as frequently as Japanese bullet trains and though Fulham established a fluent foothold in spells, it always felt as though the visitors were walking a paper-thin tightrope whilst straining to withstand Watford’s slick passages of play. Defensive frailties have plagued our return to the top-flight, and our farcical fortitude subsequently, and finally, sealed our fate.
The Hornets prayed upon our tentative nature at the back and seized their opportunities to sting supremely. Abdoulaye Doucore’s opener in the 23rd minute highlighted the flagrant fact that our rearguard is completely inept – with three jockeying players in close proximity, the underrated Frenchman still managed to blast past Sergio Rico’s outstretched gloves. Putrid habits and tendencies are hard to bury, and as the encounter progressed, Fulham’s futility reared its ugly head time and time again.
After the interval, the Cottagers allowed Watford to reestablish a rhythm and Javi Gracia’s set-up orchestrated deadly phases in a clockwork fashion. Uniformed and efficient, Andre Gray, Troy Deeney and Kiko Femenia wrenched our vulnerable rearguard wide open and feasted upon our farcical fortitude. Offensively for Fulham, the second period was disjointed and irrational. Following Will Hughes’ howitzer, Fulham over-committed themselves in innocuous areas and the home side asserted their dominance with aplomb.
Making Margins Matter
In the English top-flight, you have to make those minuscule margins in front of the target matter. It’s imperative to survival and prosperity. The Whites crafted threatening instances to draw blood from Watford in the early stages of the tie, but those placed in lethal zones, with the net fixed firmly in their sights, couldn’t capitalise. Ryan Babel may have restored parity alongside a glimmer of hope in the 33rd minute, but how we rued those squandered opportunities before and after the Dutchman’s composed leveller.
Aleksandar Mitrovic was reinstated to the starting XI having been sidelined against Manchester City with an illness, and it was evident that the Serbia international wasn’t operating at full capacity in his domain, perhaps still suffering the hampering effects of his unfortunate setback. In the 8th minute, Tom Cairney hoisted into the 18-yard-box, Mitro’ clambered above Hughes and Femenia to greet the skipper’s searching cross, but the 24-year-old’s resulting header sailed harmlessly wide of the goal frame. Supplied on the parameter soon after, with either side yet to rustle the net, Mitro brushed goal bound but Ben Foster obstructed with a bread and butter save.
Just before the interval, Ryan Sessegnon rolled Mitro’ into a perilous position but the striker’s effort skewed recklessly into the spectating hoards, metres away from Foster’s sticks. That, in essence, symbolised the Whites’ doomed evening in Hertfordshire. After the hour mark, Mitro’ – the architect in this example – threaded Sess’ into the penalty area. Faced with an onrushing Foster, the teenager pirouetted with the ball in an attempt to bamboozle, but the 36-year-old stopper kept his cool to thwart the England U21 international’s quickfire strike. If you don’t take your chances once the door’s ajar, you’re in jeopardy of being debarred in retaliation. The Whites have danced with that devil since the beginning of the current campaign and now, rightfully, we’re a spent force.
Anguissa Applied Again
Señor Collins expressed in our previous 5Ts that Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa wasn’t necessarily spectacular against City, but he did enough to make his presence known in the centre of the park in esteemed company. Deployed alongside Calum Chambers at Watford in the spine of our anatomy, the central midfielder, who’s qualities are still susceptible to scrutiny, intercepted at vital periods and safeguarded the ball with industry and prestige.
Venturing forward with the ball at his feet, the Cameroonian enforcer maintained a measured approach to his exploits, administering possession timely and efficiently in order to enable the Cottagers to sculpt proficient, albeit banal sequences. Anguissa’s erratic impulses have been pulled apart in weeks gone by, but the 23-year-old was undoubtedly a major cog in the Whites’ engine room, both on the break and in retreat.
For a man of his stature, Anguissa harbours an uncanny ability to shift his imposing frame like an Olympic figure skater. Lunging through opponents to retrieve possession, blockading encroachments on the periphery of our 18-yard-box, slaloming oncoming adversaries with nimble precision, the mega-money summer signing is finally flexing his credentials on English soils, even if it’s all a little too late to make a telling impact in the grand scheme of things that have passed us by.
Cyrus Christie’s Cooperation
Chuckle if you will, heavens knows I am after writing this, but Cyrus Christie was a actually beacon of optimism in the first half for the Whites. Patrolling the length of his respective touchline with Sess’ in support, the Republic of Ireland international clattered Gerard Deulofeu and co. into submission – within the confines of the law – and was a tireless outlet in the final third. His end products are still hideously puzzling, but our right flank, spearheaded by the intrepid 26-year-old, was certainly fuelled by an invigorating nerve, perseverance and cooperation.
I’m not a fan of Christie, nor am I an admirer of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, but the former Derby County/Middlesbrough reject held his own against the Hornets and was a relentless dilemma for the hosts to behold in wider reaches of the turf. Christie is not blessed with searing pace and mesmerising trickery in his expeditions, but he will always invest every fibre of his being to the cause, regardless of his substandard footballing intelligence and ability at this unforgiving level.
Christie offered Fulham width, a dimension that’s been lacking in recent meetings, and if the inconsistent right-back could whip hazardous balls into the penalty area without cannoning opponents in the shins and/or face, we would have netted at least 10 goals. Alright, that’s hyperbolic, but at least he was in those advanced positions in the first place, being a right-wingback on the night. Dare I remind you of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where he Scotty P’d at virtually every given instance? Yep, I thought not.
Rate Rico’s Reflexes
The scoreline speaks for itself, it rings in our ears like tinnitus, but without Sergio Rico between the sticks, Gracia’s Europa League-chasing fold could have registered double figures. Some may say that Marcus Bettinelli could have done a better job in stunting Watford’s offensive momentum, but the Spaniard genuinely pulled off a number of world-class saves to deny the home side any further joy.
At 3-1, Jose Holebas rattled a low, crisp thunderbolt towards the Rico’s left corner. Plunging to the turf like a mosquito under a torrential downpour, the Sevilla loanee adroitly deflected the Greece international’s destined effort wide of the target by a mere whisker. Yes, a fourth eventually materialised, but it was a top-drawer moment of mastery nevertheless. The floodgates were creaking, although Rico gave his all to delay the impending deluge for as long as he possibly could.
The game was already comprehensively won and Watford had the bit between their teeth in the dying embers. Collecting Hughes’ instinctive pass, Gray spread Maxime Le Marchand on toast on the edge of the penalty area and forced the 25-year-old into exhibiting his razor-sharp reflexes once more. Rico can’t catch or indeed punch sufficiently enough for that matter, but of the 76 goals we’ve conceded this season (shared between Betts and Fabricio too, of course), the agile ‘keeper’s palmed some absolute worldies along the way.