Five Thoughts: Fulham 1-0 Cardiff City

Cameron Ramsey 30th April 2019

“Down with the Fulham! You’re going down with the Fulham!” Our first away victory of the campaign at the Vitality was highly satisfactory, but flooring Cardiff City was by far the most elating triumph of the 2018-19 season, even if Denis Odoi was slammed in the chops by Maxime Le Marchand.

It would be a travesty if the Bluebirds were spared relegation, but as I and the majority of our fan base prefer Brighton and Hove Albion for whatever reason, I’m genuinely fizzing with the result, which is effectively meaningless to our hapless cause.

Neil ‘Colin’ Warnock’s repulsive grimace at full-time was an exquisite treat to savour. Scoffing at our expenditures before kick-off, the snarling touchline antagonist gorged upon a trough of humble pie with a dense slathering of angst. His men, when it mattered in the dying embers, couldn’t serve the Whites a last-ditch sucker punch and for that, Match of the Day’s post-match snippets were utterly priceless.

Three wins on the spin. Three consecutive clean sheets. What Scott Parker has established in his brief spell in Fulham’s hot seat is nothing more than astonishing. It doesn’t matter that we’re a relegated entity – we’ve begrudgingly come to terms with that – the caretaker tactician has rekindled the club’s desire to grind out positive results and, most importantly, he’s gradually reestablishing our free-flowing identity. Within the shortlist for April’s Premier League Manager of the Month, Scotty’s showcased his credentials and is certainly worthy of admirable rewards and accolades, perhaps, even, a permanent job in preparation for the imminent Championship season. Those in favour, say “aye”.

Babel Blasts Bluebirds

Persistence is part of Ryan Babel’s makeup. Eager to manipulate Cardiff’s back four, the Dutchman’s fleet-footed escapades across the breadth of the final third startled the visitors, and whilst there were many accomplished professionals on the field of play, the versed 32-year-old winger was in a glittering bracket of his own, until he was replaced by Floyd Ayite in the 89th minute.

Voted Man of the Match, the Bluebirds simply couldn’t withstand Babel’s enthused attacking properties. Since his arrival in January, the former Liverpool man has reacquainted himself to the Premier League stage with a deluge of show-stopping, encore performances. Sharp, direct, beguiling, Babel tormented a perilled Lee Peltier, and though Cardiff were typically rigid in their defensive structure, the red haired hero was determined to dismantle their discipline and, ultimately, demolish their spirits.

The Whites held an authoritative grip upon proceedings but were not able to devise a convincing sequence. With just over ten minutes left of regulated time, a flash of courage and genius was needed, if either club was to ignite the encounter, and on the parameter of Cardiff’s 18-yard box, Cyrus Christie scattered a tantalising trail of gunpowder for the trigger-happy flanker to detonate. 25 yards from the target, Babel strode onto the Republic of Ireland international’s persuasive pass, married lace with ball, and cannoned a harpooning pile driver into Neil Etheridge’s endangered postage stamp. Effortlessly crafted, Babel’s first-time strike wobbled Warnock’s head and now, with just two games to go, the Welsh outfit are slumped on the ropes with very little hope of salvation. Beautiful.

Being Bryan’s Fanboy

Waxing lyrical of Joe Bryan’s display against AFC Bournemouth, I’ve opted to include the 25-year-old in this week’s 5Ts, purely because he was a sublime operator on the left channel. Junior Hoilett, animated as ever, wagered a chaotic slog but Bryan was undaunted. Mirroring the Canadian’s bobbing movements, jink for jink, the dependable left-back quarantined his department under lock and key.

It wasn’t just his defensive astuteness that aroused the senses, however. Darting forwards with Babel in close contention, Bryan overlapped sufficiently and made it his own personal mission to stock the penalty area with seductive crosses, as per. Bryan harbours an uncanny appetite to support wherever required, and while his positioning and awareness was lamentable earlier in the campaign, he’s steadily perfecting the marauding art of the modern fullback.

Top-flight football hasn’t been kind to our defensive ranks and egg’s been splattered on Bryan’s face on the odd toe-curling occasion, although against Cardiff, undoubtedly a glorified Championship set-up, the Instagram banter chief was undoubtedly functioning within his element. Containing Hoilett in particular wasn’t an easy task by any conceivable stretch, but Bryan prospered and prevailed to be the dominant force along his respective wing.

Sensing Sess’ Struggles

Physical attributes have been questioned, his underlying talent has been scrutinised, but Ryan Sessegnon’s fully invested in the club, the remaining fixtures of the calendar schedule and, hopefully, future ventures in the Championship. The Premier League has placed the youngster under the microscope and against Cardiff for 85 minutes, Sess’ was mildly underwhelming. Relieve those digits and opposables, this is a harmless observation, not a criticism.

Being such an integral component of Fulham’s starting compliment this term, it was particularly concerning to see Sess’ wilt. For fleeting phases, it appeared as though Andre Schurrle had taken his being hostage, but despite the teenager’s demerits and deficiencies, a palpable element of urgency, at least once the ball had been prised from his person, was distinctly evident. Chances to alter the tie were few and far between for Sess’, and while Mitro’ has shared an unparalleled understanding with his fledgling counterpart previously, the duo were functioning on separate wavelengths.

Joe Bennett had the measure of Sess’ when shoulders met and the 18-year-old’s first touch, even when unopposed, was uncharacteristically limp and casual. In all sincerity, with all the tenuous transfer speculation floating around the starlet at this current period, one could assume that Sess’ mind was focused elsewhere, but I’m not entirely convinced by that particular notion. Every player, regardless of experience or stature, endures stagnant patches intermittently, and as his skill set and game management is still developing, one could also assume that, after a toilsome campaign, he’s naturally plateauing and that is completely acceptable.

Cairney Crushes Critics

Cardiff were fully aware of the creative mastery Tom Cairney beholds and stifling his influence upon proceedings would have fundamentally been a prime objective for the visiting outfit. In the opening stages, TC was visibly laboured on the ball and couldn’t rotate possession swiftly enough to mount a trademark siege on the counter. As the minutes accumulated, however, the Scotland international’s revered endowments graciously came to prominence and Fulham’s rhythm, habitually, was fine-tuned under his supervision.

Cairney forged gullies and inroads for his teammates to expedition, threading deftly into enticing areas of the final third. Within a congested midfield, the skipper floated into advantageous pockets and combined with his teammates proficiently. Dispensing possession in an orderly, pragmatic manner, Cairney yanked Aron Gunnarsson and Leandro Bacuna out of familiar regions, exposing Sean Morrison and Bruno Ecuele Manga.

For many ill-informed critic, Cairney hasn’t set the Premier League alight as anticipated, but his presence has always been inspired and deeply necessary. Fielded out of his usual No.10 position by Claudio Ranieri, Cairney’s impact was grossly neglected, although now that Scotty P’s at the helm, the 28-year-old’s exhumed a fresh lease of life. Cardiff will almost certainly be joining us in the Championship next term and as Cairney’s perceived to be a second-flight player at best, he shone brightly down by the river in bitterly adverse conditions.

Sergio’s Superlative Service

Our goal difference is rock bottom, the worst, out of Europe’s top five divisions, but over the course of the last three domestic meetings, Sergio Rico has literally been a saving grace. We can’t salvage survival, but in terms of restoring a smidgen of pride and self-worth, the Spaniard has jubilantly held that flag aloft with a trio of commendable outings.

Cardiff, in the latter stages, waged war on our target with an aerial onslaught, but Rico would not surrender. Bennett butted, Rico batted danger away from close proximity. Morrison nodded from a central position, Rico smothered. Danny Ward gave his best at the near post, the 25-year-old stopper prevented bloodshed yet again. The final seconds were frantic, but the Sevilla loanee kept his cool to deny Cardiff the last laugh.

Rico safeguarded his 18-yard box superlatively, conducting those ahead of him to ensure that his camp remained structured and alive at all costs. The agile ‘keeper’s tentatively flapped at innocuous crosses in weeks gone by, but his retrievals against Cardiff were assured and decisive. It’ll be a damn shame to bid goodbye to Rico once the season’s come to a close, but as there’s a couple of games left to battle through, the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium’s forgotten stopper’s still very much appreciated and relevant in SW6.