By Morgan Phillips
Two consecutive Fulham defeats prompted an outbreak of pessimism among some sports journalists.
The Evening Standard reckoned that Newcastle had ‘pulled off a miracle by extracting a reported £22 million for the striker (Aleksandar Mitrovic), On the evidence of his time at St James’s Park the hot-headed Serb didn’t appear to have the tools to thrive in the top flight’.
Metro contrasted our expensive foreign imports with Cardiff’s prudent shopping in the Championship. Other journals pointed out that it was better not to field, as Slavisa Jokanovic did, a batch of newcomers at once rather than easing them into the team.
Neither Mitrovic nor his manager are likely to care about armchair critics, but Sunday’s 4-2 win over Burnley was a good riposte.
The Fulham team had a more familiar look with the return of Marcus Bettinelli in goal and Denis Odoi in defence. Yet the omission of Ryan Sessegnon seemed odd especially when Gareth Southgate was known to be among the spectators.
Rain fell unrelentingly during the match. Let us hope the roof the new Riverside Stand makes a better job of protecting spectators.
Switched to a Sunday afternoon, the match proved a thriller with both sides eager for goals.
In the fourth minute Jean Michael Seri directed a glorious, long-range shot into the top right-hand corner of Joe Hart’s goal. Seri is an outstanding newcomer – just as well because he commanded an even higher fee than Mitrovic.
The lead proved short-lived after Maxime le Marchand’s error afforded Burnley a free run on goal. Last season Tim Ream would have been covering. Fulham needs him, or someone with his anticipation, to tighten the defence.
Meanwhile the fans offered supportive applause for this lapse rather than the moans of yesteryear.
In the 36th minute Fulham exploited a glorious set-piece. Seri’s short corner allowed Tom Cairney to curl a precise centre onto the head of Mitrovic, who scored. Two minutes later the Serb nodded another goal, this time from a cross by Luciano Vietto.
James Tarkowski narrowed Fulham’s lead from close range just before the interval. This meant that Burnley returned to the field in determined mood but they wasted their chances. The home side rallied, drawing some remarkable saves from Joe Hart.
Victory was uncertain until the 83rd minute when Andre Schurrle profited from a rebound to open his account for Fulham. The newcomers are paying dividends.
Burnley’s manager Sean Dyche spoke generously after the match: “Overall they were the better side. They had the best player on the pitch, Mitrovic. He was the difference.”
This was the latest of many gripping encounters between Fulham and Burnley, which included the 1962 FA Cup semi final and its replay.
Recently TV coverage of Jimmy McElroy’s death was accompanied by pictures of him creating the goal that took Burnley to Wembley. I wonder why this fine player did not receive a sixty second tribute at Sunday’s match.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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