Our last away fixture of the campaign and our penultimate meeting of the 2018-19 season ended with a 1-0 defeat at the paws of Wolverhapmton Wanderers. Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves hunted in packs and restricted Fulham to scraps throughout the confrontation, and if the home contingent had a sharper bite, the score line could have been gruesomely unflattering for the Whites and their plump, penetrable underbelly.
Scott Parker’s reinstated an identity and resilience, our previous three fixtures will vouch for that, but the Cottagers weren’t equipped for the challenges that resided within the confines of Molineux. It was a game that made you “meh”, in fact. We are a Championship squad and Wolves were tailing a Europa League place, one reality blatantly outweighs the other, doesn’t it?
Wolves, incidentally, are now guaranteed 7th spot, the highest finish they’ve ever achieved in the Premier League. It’s painful to recognise that they were in the same division as us last season, albeit victors of said domestic dwellings, but their rise from bleak mediocrity in recent years is nothing more than palatable inspiration for Shahid Khan and his band of backroom chums. We’re in for a summer of vast adjustments and transitional rejigs – with Scotty P in the dugout, a philosophy similar to Wolves can be formulated and adhered to. You don’t go 23 games unbeaten for no good reason and there’s got to be an old coaching manual of Slavisa Jokanovic’s laying about somewhere. Whatever’s put into practice, please, keep Steve Clarke out of our club. We were once referred to as the “Barcelona of the Championship”, not the overachieving runts of the SPL.
Muted Mitro’s Misery
Aleksandar Mitrovic has not scored from open play since Fulham’s turbulent 4-2 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion at the end of January. The Serb may have dispatched a game-clinching penalty at the Vitality, but his muted existence in front of the target during offensive sequences is a notable concern. Pitted against a robust back three of Ryan Bennett, Wily Boly and Conor Coady, clear-cut instances for the 24-year-old to test Rui Patricio’s reactions were few and far between, and once a prime opportunity arose, the goal shy striker snatched wildly.
Wolves’ defensive representatives aligned a stifling pincer procedure, a method that directly contained Mitro in the final third. Accustomed to venturing into the central quadrant of the park, Mitro’s physicality naturally enables his midfield colleagues to construct convincing sequences in possession, but as the misfiring attacker was shadowed and constricted throughout the duration of the encounter, Fulham couldn’t devise and implement a credible offensive strategy, in order to breach the hosts’ resolute structure.
Just after the hour mark, Cyrus Christie slipped Ryan Sessegnon into an advantageous position in the edge of the 18-yard box and the youngster, alive to Mitro’s presence, instantaneously prodded the ball into the expectant hit-man’s path. Only an outspread Patricio stood between Mitro’ and breaking the deadlock but from 12 yards with the net at his mercy, he blazed the ball, comfortably, over the Portugal international’s crossbar. If the forlorn marksman had found the net, the complexion of the encounter would have drastically altered, and while points are worthless to the Whites cause, Mitro’s despairing escapades may well have cost us a potential second away triumph of the campaign. Ho-hum.
Welcome Home, Frailties
Fulham have been the master of their own downfalls over the course of the 2018-19 season and at Molineux, with a highly-proficient Wolves to detain, the Whites recklessly spoon fed their opponents a smorgasbord of delectable opportunities to devour. Parker’s inherited set-up had seemingly ousted perilous passing, but to our bitter dismay, wayward swipes at the ball and lackadaisical inclinations reared its ugly mug once again after a brief vacation.
If Diogo Jota had been more clinical, Wolves could have waltzed away with a comprehensive drubbing. Efforts whistled wide of the mark by a matter of inches and woodwork was rattled, and though Wolves’ midfield architects don’t require a second invitation to supply ammunition, the Cottagers gift wrapped an extensive catalogue of free hits, due to their erratic tendencies at the back.
Calum Chambers pirouetting on the parameter of the 18-yard box whilst being hounded. Tim Ream skewing routine clearances into orbit. Sess’ tamely squandering elemental patterns, the deficiencies were boundless. But it’s the negligent manner in which we eventually conceded that’s deeply agitating and, well, familiar. A loose ball from Maxime Le Marchand (surprise) was picked off and Wolves proceeded to dismantle our statuesque composition. Ghosting into an ominous position, Leander Dendoncker, unopposed, acquainted Matt Doherty searching cross from the right with a sumptuous volley. It was liquid football, no denying that, but virtually every member of Fulham’s set-up was rooted to the turf during the build-up and that, having been relatively alert and observant beforehand, is inexcusable.
Still Sergio’s Supporter
So, the illustrious clean sheet streak is no more. Courtesy of fellow pod favourite Nick MacNee’s stats wizardry, Sergio Rico had not conceded a goal for 360 minutes until Dendoncker’s hammer blow, although the Spaniard safeguarded his goal mouth supremely from start to finish at Molineux and is undoubtedly deserving of glittering praise and plaudits. He’s not the complete article just yet, but the 25-year-old’s an exquisite shot stopper that’s capable of winning matches and stunting further bloodshed.
Rico relied on every inch of his rangy frame to deny Jota in the 11th minute, after the illusive attacker stroked towards the ‘keeper’s bottom right corner. A deft flick of the fingertips diverted a certain goal out of play for a corner. Neves, in the 66th minute, launched a distinctive projectile but Rico was prepared to beat the ball away from his target. From the resulting corner, an unmarked Doherty nodded at the foot of the post, although Rico’s primed boot halted his quickfire header.
Following Wolves critical opener, the Sevilla FC loanee continued to flex his dexterity between to sticks. Having fought so valiantly, Rico dusted himself down and readied his palms for action – the home side weren’t finished. Cracking a fierce thunderbolt, Jota could have registered the game’s second in some style, but Rico’s sensational agility deflected the ball onto the crossbar. If given the chance to snag his services permanently, I would donate a month’s worth of my own wages to initiate negotiations. Rico, however, could easily ply his trade for a top European power, if he’s to depart Los Hispalenses in the summer transfer window.
Admiring Bryan’s Attitude
There’s nothing I relish more than a player that’s visibly loving football in a Fulham jersey. Joe Bryan epitomises that and his display along the left channel was admirable. He’s had to answer his critics in recent weeks but for me, he’s been one of our most effective players this season, if not our most improved player after a shaky start to life in SW6.
Exploring his respective flank determinedly, Bryan brandished flashes of beneficial qualities in the final third. Alternating with Ryan Babel and overlapping accordingly, the 25-year-old fullback arced and fizzed tantalising crosses into threatening areas, although Mitro’ and company were unable to connect on various occasions. Little fruition came from his ingenuity but nevertheless, he’s always a constant outlet and offensive tool.
Now, Bryan’s been criticised somewhat for allowing Joao Moutinho and Doherty to combine so freely before the game’s only goal, but let’s be honest, he was utterly helpless. No one filed in behind Bryan to shield a potential cross and those situated in the penalty area were passive bystanders. Bryan isn’t the strongest defender in many respects, but to be a modern fullback, you have to roam the touchline tirelessly and systematically, even if you’re merely offering an extra dimension without being an integral necessity. Effort in abundance, this season has been a sobering experience for Bryan and, periodically, it’s been a minor car crash. But, invested and hungry, the enthusiastic will learn and grow from his maiden season in the top-flight. Basically he’s an asset that’ll almost certainly flourish next term, now that he’s seemingly settled.
Harvey ‘Record-Breaker’ Elliott
A late, late cameo, Harvey Elliott became the Premier League’s youngest ever competitor in the 89th minute, replacing Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. As proceedings were whittling down to the closing seconds, the attacking midfielder of 16 years and 30 days old couldn’t make a solid impact but, as it’s a historic moment in our club’s history, as well as the top-flight’s, it rightfully demands attention. Step aside, Matthew Briggs.
Elliott’s self-belief is magnificent and now that he’s earned his stripes in the first-team, even for a matter of moments, the sky is the limit for our latest fledgling prodigy. highly revered at Motspur Park, seeing the teenager, man bun intact, spring onto the pitch was an oddly proud moment because it meant that despite relegation, Fulham will still be relevant to top-tier football as a result of his anticipated emergence.
Vibrant, intelligent, exalted, the schoolboy’s allegedly been tracked by the likes of La Liga giants FC Barcelona and Manchester City in recent months and in terms of international prospectus, Elliott’s a mainstay within England’s U17 camp. A regular component of Steve Wigley’s U18 fold, Elliott’s rapidly developing into a mature, essential cog within the Whites’ youth system and his ambition is both refreshing and markedly promising. With Sessegnon to emulate, Elliott’s got to trust his flourishing skill set if he’s to succeed but, as the Whites entrust gifted teenagers that excel, it’s fair to predict that he’ll feature more frequently next term in the Championship as his footballing education progresses.