Jazzy Hawaiian shirts, straw hats and an abundant array of novelty inflatables. Fulham were in town to soak up the sunshine and the Vitality Stadium, at least in the away zone, paralleled an all-inclusive sports bar in the heart of Benidorm. Regardless of what the result may be, the travelling faithful were going to unfold their deck chairs and lap up the Easter bank holiday’s pleasant festivities.
Coming off the back of a 5-0 mauling of fellow seasiders Brighton & Hove Albion, a rout for Eddie Howe’s AFC Bournemouth was duly predicted. Free flowing and potent, the Cherries harbour a substantial assortment of versed danger men, and if October’s reverse fixture at Craven Cottage was perceived to be a telling barometer of how the corresponding meeting would pan out, you’d be sorely mistaken as a fool.
Blindsided by the sun’s golden beams, presumably, Bournemouth couldn’t scold Scott Parker’s Whites. Slapping on factor 50, Fulham were keen to blockade and patch their vulnerabilities, and though the home set-up strained to penetrate our usually haphazard system, the already-relegated Cottagers bolted back to SW6 unscathed with a 1-0 victory in their bumbag. So, the party is in full swing, hangovers aplenty, and we recorded our first away triumph in 365 days. Anyone fancy a top up?
Mitro the Marksman
Enterprising as ever, Aleksandar Mitrovic menaced Bournemouth’s central defensive pairing of Steve Cook and Chris Mepham and netted his 11th goal of the season from the spot. A vital figurehead at the Vitality, the Serbia international hassled his direct opponents, interlinked with his teammates effectively, and roamed the final third freely and authoritatively, staple traits behind his demonstrative aptitude.
Mitro’ was incidentally on a nine-game goal drought and against an in-form Cherries, a tough afternoon in the sunshine down on the south coast was fully expected. Though the 24-year-old’s smashed a double figure return, his last away goal was registered at the Amex at the start of September 2018. However, his unrelenting dedication to his profession dictates that he’s undoubtedly one, if not the best, striker outside of the Premier League’s top six. Bournemouth’s rearguard assembled to suppress Mitro’ but the hardened attacker, shaking off the shackles, could not be restrained.
Contributing to a slick sequence on the edge of Bournemouth’s 18-yard box, Mitro’ wriggled into the confines of the hosts’ danger area. A slightly heavy first touch tempted Jack Simpson to lunge into a last-ditch challenge, and the 22-year-old subsequently clattered the marksman with a flailing leg. From 12 yards, Mitro’ had a prime opportunity to chalk the game’s opener, and with a studied right boot, he rifled past an outwitted Artur Boruc into the bottom left-hand corner. Rightfully so, penalty duties returned to Mitro’s discretion and our dependable hitman duly dispatched the pivotal strike that would gift the Cottagers their first away win of the campaign. Befitting and necessary. Latterly, Mitro’ manoeuvred into a golden vantage point but his arcing effort sailed just wide of the upright. Oh well, he’s on fire and he’ll remain so until further notice.
Rico Conquers Consecutively
He may have hands like ping pong paddles, but Sergio Rico commanded his area expertly against Bournemouth and produced a string of world-class saves to deny the Cherries. Vocal from the off, the Spaniard rallied his defensive counterparts and administered possession in a timely, practical manner to relieve pressure and prolong our grip upon proceedings. We haven’t seen back-to-back clean sheets since last season’s Play-Off heroics, so an unblemished fortnight is extremely pleasing on the eye and soul.
Ryan Fraser, in the 18th minute, darted towards the Whites’ penalty area from the centre of the park, brushing off Calum Chambers’ ineffective attempt to dispossess. Surging into an imposing position, the pint-sized flanker unleashed a ferocious effort across the face of the target but, poised and prepared, Rico stunted the Scotsman’s destined shot with a superb outstretched palm. Agility personified.
As the meeting trundled onward, Fulham’s stranglehold grew stronger but the Cherries were still capable of tarnishing the visitors’ outing by the beach. Rico impeded Fraser once more in the 64th minute with an instinctive save and in the 73rd minute, after Callum Wilson was supplied by Dan Gosling, the Sevilla loanee frustrated the home side again. From a central position within the 18-yard box, Wilson could and should have restored parity, although Rico was alert to the immediate threat the 27-year-old England attacker posed. The 25-year-old’s form has been markedly inconsistent in recent weeks, although within spates of dire adversity, the supple stopper exhibits his underlying quality with jaw-dropping, crucial goal mouth exploits.
Praising Bryan’s Application
Favoured and recognised as our starting left-back, Joe Bryan’s developed and evolved in the top-flight, against a host of Europe’s most lethal wingers. Acclimatised to the strains and expectations of the Premier League, the buccaneering fullback’s been a stand-out component of Parker’s camp. Though at times he’s effortlessly outfought and compromised, he always aspires to disrupt and construct along his respective flank.
The burdensome task of muzzling David Brooks befell Bryan, a taxing conundrum indeed. However, the 26-year-old stepped up to the challenge of shadowing the illusive Welshman, whilst operating as a supportive tool for his offensive colleagues to utilise. Ryan Babel and Bryan explored the touchline with a productive ethic and understanding, and though Bryan’s primary function is to nullify an opposition’s advancements, he aided those ahead of him on the overlap, rotating possession adequately.
Venturing the left channel, Bryan probed Bournemouth’s penalty area with searching crosses, and whilst Mitro’ and company failed to connect, the intrepid defender was determined to load the Cherries’ box with hazardous balls. Ultimately, if they weren’t met by his teammates, this would win corners for his squad. Bryan is our strongest fullback, by far, and though this season hasn’t gone according to plan on many fronts, the former Bristol City favourite will continue to flourish into a valued, trusted asset.
Right-Back to Odoi
There’s a trend surfacing within this article, but I just want to pay tribute to our fullbacks following Saturday’s victory, because as we know, our wings have been cripplingly brittle throughout the course of the current campaign. Equalling Bryan’s daunting assignment, Denis Odoi had Fraser to contend with. The diminutive flanker is a renowned live wire that wreaks havoc on a weekly basis – need I say more? Before kick-off, once the matchday collectives had been released, many were anticipating a systematic onslaught.
A utility man by trade, Odoi has deputised in a range of differing roles this season and has often been targeted as a weak link due to his stature and indecision. Timothy Fosu-Mensah has returned to Manchester United, Cyrus Christie was benched and Havard Nordtveit, who’s played at right-back before at West Ham United, is nowhere to be seen. Odoi had to remain vigilant and disciplined, and though Fraser occasionally left the Belgian for dead, the 30-year-old swiftly regrouped with his fellow defenders to relinquish Bournemouth’s offensive phases.
Covered by Maxime Le Marchand and Tim Ream, Odoi was comfortable with the ball at his feet and charged out of his occupational quarters in a typically enthused manner. Greeting Babel’s corner in the 38th minute, the adaptable regular tested Boruc’s composure with a glancing header, although the veteran ‘keeper’s seasoned reflexes were readily applied. Now, there may have been worthier candidates, Ryan Sessegnon, perhaps, but as our right-backs alternate as often as the weather, I believe that a raised glass is in order for Odoi, who survived a full 90 minutes without any major hiccups or discrepancies.
Recognising Revitalised Resilience
We have nothing solid to fight for this season. It makes no difference to our league standings, these spirited victories, although Parker’s stated himself that a positive run of results will benefit the club’s preparations for the imminent 2019-20 campaign. Building foundations for the Championship slog is compulsory because we’ll be shoved to the wire by virtually every opponent we face, and resilience will have to be a predominant factor – against the Cherries, the Whites sank their teeth into proceedings and were dogged in their crusade on the coast.
Bournemouth set the pace in the early stages and could have located the back of the net on a number of occasions, if not for their wasteful tendencies in front of the target, but Fulham weathered the storm and prevailed as a vibrant, cohesive set-up. Each department was pressed and stretched but the hosts couldn’t drastically alter the Cottagers’ composition to their benefit. Where we’d be dragged apart like a dead, rotting carcass in games gone by, Fulham stuck to their guns and adroitly executed their fundamental objective: don’t get pumped.
Again, it was vastly positive to see Fulham combat for the entirety of the game, like they did against Everton, and it’s clear that the players are genuinely buying into Parker’s fledgling philosophy. On the turf himself, Parker would never surrender and that do-or-die demeanour, now he’s drawing up blueprints of his own at Motspur Park, came to prominence against Howe’s measured Bournemouth. With the same group of players Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri had at their disposal, the former England anchorman has transformed the lads into a relatively formidable platoon, even if it’s far too late in the day for anything that vaguely resembles a survival push.