Five Thoughts: Brighton & Hove Albion 0-0 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 28th January 2021

There’s 90 minutes we’ll never get back. I know we’re not exactly doing much, with this third lockdown business, and neither are Fulham on the training field, evidently, because absolutely nothing has changed or evolved concerning our alarmingly docile offensive mechanism.

The stage was set for a bloodbath, a gruesome collision for supremacy at the American Express Community Stadium, although there was no such thing as a revolutionary affray, a dogfight for maximum points. Flashes of intrigue, maybe, but nothing to shout about, at all, from Scott Parker’s stumped standpoint and as the plot continues to thicken, the Whites are still 5 points from safety.

If phase one didn’t quite go to plan, phase two, at The Hawthorns, has to. It’s imperative. Piped 5-0 by Manchester City, the Baggies will seek redemption, at home, against a direct rival and now, more than ever before, we have to assert ourselves. Throwing caution to the wind, cutting loose to secure the dub, that is compulsory.

Thanks Again, Alphonse

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Where do we even dream to begin with this bloke? Like, honestly, how the actual fuck did we con Alphonse Areola into joining in the summer? Of all the tantalising destinations he could’ve chosen, the agile Frenchman opted for an almost certain relegation battle and his commitment during these testing times has been nothing short of exemplary. Never have I fallen for a loan player so quickly, he is the predominant voice of resistance and his outrageous exploits aren’t even low-key, he’s got to be, pound for pound, the division’s elite ‘keeper.

All Areola stands for is excellence, Tried and tested at the heights of La Liga, Ligue 1’s summit an now, the depths of the Premier League. Consistently beguiling and distinguished, his acrobatics from point-blank range. Brighton, directly from sudden lapses in our concentration, weaved into prime scoring positions and really should have been 3-0 up at the break but the reliant, studied stopper, as he so often does, exacted a string of stunning saves to deny the hosts. These game-determining stunts of his, as we know so well, are not sporadic or infrequent, Areola is always on hand to deflect and deviate and I’m no expert, analysing ‘keepers isn’t my forte, but you don’t have to be a statistician to recognise and evaluate the 27-year-old’s worth, not when his actions are continually bold and conventional.

He is the reason we scrounged a point from the south coast, he is the reason we’re still vaguely relevant, Areola is the very reason we aren’t bottom of this unforgiving, cutthroat heap. Again, we can wholeheartedly thank Areola for a vital point, for bailing us out for the umpteenth time without hesitation or delay. That torrid outfield display had ‘defeat’ stamped all over it, although between the sticks, Areola excelled, bartering for an undeserving share of the spoils as Neil Maupay, Leandro Trossard and Alexis Mac Allister held our target under ransom. We’ve exactly half the season left to navigate, and he is already my undisputed Player of the Season, at a canter.

Confessing the Void

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Just the one shot on target, right at the death, then? Ola Aina may have let loose from 30-odd yards but other than that, and Ruben Loftus-Cheeks’s tamely struck putt, that was wedged off the line by Lewis Dunk, Fulham’s attack had no talk, and even less trouser. Our man, Mike Forrest, raised an interesting, yet controversial point regarding our selected formation and I can see perfect sense in his logic. Five at the back has transformed our fortunes defensively, the Whites are organised and sturdy but moving forward, without a natural, trustworthy striker in the starting XI to appropriate, without adequate, proficient width, we’re remarkably containable in the final third and against Brighton, our offensive deficiencies came to prominence far too routinely.

Trying to force the issue is commendable, there’s nothing wrong with a player taking matters into their own hands whatsoever, but Ivan Cavaleiro’s short-sighted, single-mindedness featured heavily as we streamed, rarely, towards Robert Sanchez’s target, and when our key opportunities are stretched and limited, we have to make deadly sure that we’re using possession efficiently. Cav’ is not the answer to our scoring conundrum, we’ve explored this in detail before now, and with support in close contention, he strayed into defensive traps, oblivious to his teammates’ expeditionary runs. His DIY approach is befitting, because he plays like he’s wearing steel toecaps and even with the necessary PPE, he’s vastly unqualified.

Ademola Lookman appeared tired on the break and is seemingly lost without Antonee Robinson’s expansion. Bobby Decordova-Reid’s an accomplished auxiliary right wing-back but operating on the left in Robinson’s absence, the makeshift component was disorientated, pushed onto his weaker foot systematically, and he couldn’t combine with the Red Bull Leipzig loanee productively. Between the midfield and the attack, a massive void materialised and as we struggled to manoeuvre our way into Brighton’s half, we were swiftly crowded out. In situations where scoring should be top of the agenda, we’re redundant, ill-equipped and dismissible, our shaky trigger’s being pulled by the wrong personnel, and to the same effect as the ‘cartoon dog sitting in a burning room with a cup of coffee’ meme, everything is fine, apparently.

Mitro’s Instant Impact

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There is an antidote, however. I’d said, with chest, in one of last week’s podcasts that Aleksandar Mitrovic wasn’t ready to resume service as usual but after absorbing his 10-minute guest appearance at the Amex, overlooking the forgotten Serb was condemnable. Mitro hasn’t been at the races this season, he’s been wildly off the boil, but his impact was felt instantly. Suddenly, Brighton’s composition shifted in order to stifle Mitro’s influence and in doing so, the hosts were compromised. I refuse to accept that Cav’ is ahead of Mitro in the pecking order, it’s an injustice, erroneous, and though he may slow our build-up play somewhat, Mitro’s the makeweight between creation and conviction we need so chronically.

As soon as he entered proceedings, attentions were focused exclusively upon the mighty 26-year-old. Dunk and White were dragged away from the edge of the penalty area, a magnetism that enabled RLC and Lookman to open their strides, albeit momentarily, and once the Seagulls’ rearguard had been breached, Mitro encouraged progression as he fended off retreating defenders. Infusing a dynamic only he can introduce, Mitro came to collect in congested areas, bustled out of impending traffic unscathed and as a provider, the recovering dispatcher schemed auspiciously, an originality that was familiarly stimulating.

His presence distracted the Seagulls and his enterprise, as it was against United, was energised as he engaged Brighton’s previously unmoved back three. The side must adapt to various outfits and whilst I’d claimed he wasn’t up to the test, it was an occasion specifically designed for the Mitro. Against West Bromwich Albion, we have to enlist an aggressively enterprising of Mola and Mitro, pace with power, because we’ve surely seen enough in Mitro in the last two outings to know that he is eager to break his drought for the good of the team, and his own personal welfare. Three years after joining the Whites on loan for Newcastle United, it’s time for Mitro to remerge as the club’s sacred saviour.

Birthday Boy’s Eminence

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Shining lights were few and far between for Fulham, but one beacon – or cake-topping candle – of positivity, in the most protective, averting sense, came in the typical shape of the birthday boy, the jolly good fellow, Harrison Reed. Our midfield would disintegrate without the holding linchpin’s supervision and if it wasn’t for his invasiveness, his perpetually gritty work-rate, the Seagulls would’ve flocked and run amok. No name, other than Areola, perhaps, is currently more eminent than Reed, his conscientious inclination, both on and off the ball, is simply virtuosic.

Reed is hardwired to protect and serve. There’s nothing especially flashy or arrogant about his performances, and that’s what makes the 26-year-old a pioneering revelation by today’s showboating, over-indulged standards. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa is still shaking off the lingering hangover of Covid Christmas, the Cameroon international’s functioned at 50% but Reed, however, has relieved potential headaches fastidiously, our very own frontline worker, intercepting Brighton’s newest strains clinically and forcibly.

With utmost dedication and diligence to his duties, Reed just does his job, and that is the profoundest of compliments. Ifs, buts and maybes aren’t compatible when Reed’s outings are appraised, he’s a man of absolutes. Puzzlingly, Reed was replaced by Mario Lemina in the 66th minute and I can only imagine it was so the doggish administrator’s fully fit for for Saturday afternoon. He put in quite a shift for just over an hour, preserving and preventing with last-ditch, indemnifying challenges. He’s a mainstay, a throwback to lesser refined midfield arts, and he subsisted in a central department that was engulfed by the Seagulls cohesive trio of Pascal Groß, Yves Bissouma and Mac Allister.

Sobering Damp Squib

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Shamelessly, we were all duped into thinking this game actually had something riding on it because evidently, as nobody could give a solitary flying fuck on the pitch, the proposed “all or nothing”, “do or die” slug fest lived up to being nothing more than a sobering damp squib. The atmosphere was gloomy, downcast, and the Whites’ adopted attitude, stark contrast to the enlivened ethic we’d applauded in weeks gone by, personified the weather precisely, a pathetic fallacy exhibited through the medium of despondent movement, artless invention and muted enthusiasm.

The opening 45 minutes, from Fulham’s downtrodden stance, symbolised a side that already had relegation branded upon their backsides and the flummoxed inflection that blighted our evening refused to budge after the interval. We’re used to seeing Parker’s men approach the remainder with determination, a stubborn resolve that sets us apart however, against the Seagulls for the duration, the Whites were visibly discouraged. Held hostage in our own half as the hosts ambushed detectable attempts to escape the fringes of our 18-yard box, it was clear that we simply didn’t have the minerals to aim for anything other than a reprehensible, uninspiring draw, and I am sick to buggery with conserved, painfully frigid 0-0 results.

Each and every point will add up and pay dividends in some way or another. There’s a bromidic shred optimism for you, and that’s all you’re likely to squeeze from me, coming off the back of that anaemic display. I’m not prepared to accept mediocrity because passiveness is easier. We’ve prodded a cluster of the Premier League’s cream to the very edge in recent meetings with a sharp, shatter-proof stick, flexing our credentials as a defiant, odds-splitting squadron of warriors and in the games that actually mean something, in relation to the miniature division we rightfully inhabit in the top-flight’s basement, we relent so casually, as we’re petrified to let our guard down. No reason, no rationale, Fulham do not recognise the magnitude, the gravity of these matchdays and fundamentally, as a club that’s supposedly doing everything it possible can to stave off the drop, we’re grossly misleading and flagrantly dishonest. We’re afraid of inadequacy, and at this particular juncture of the campaign, we are falling short of the required standard.