By Morgan Phillips
After Fulham’s ignominious defeat by Huddersfield Slavisa Jokanovic had little chance of remaining as Head Coach. His unfathomable failure to organise and inspire his squad for the Premiership cost him his job, but supporters will always remember him with gratitude for the exhilarating promotion campaign of 2017/18.
Jokanovic’s replacement Claudio Ranieri must have been relieved that his first match in charge was a home fixture against fellow strugglers Southampton. Making use of the inevitable clappers he gave out this message: ‘It is important to be ready together. The players, the Club, the fans. Together.’
The players certainly needed to be ready together. Right from kick-off Southampton laid siege to the Fulham goal with Stuart Armstrong particularly eager to test Sergio Rico. Early on, the keeper parried a fierce low shot from Armstrong and then gathered Manolo Gabbiadini’s follow-up. In truth the Italian should have scored but Rico’s double save was still praiseworthy. In the 18th minute a weak clearance from Max le Marchand allowed Armstrong an opening that he did not waste.
It took a solo effort from Ryan Sessegnon to raise Fulham fans’ spirits. Though his long-range shot flew over the bar it prompted Fulham’s change from defence to attack. Shortly afterwards clever interplay between Sessegnon and Tom Cairney put le Marchand in the clear and his perfect centre was nodded home by Aleks Mitrovic. Sessegnon then set up Fulham’s second goal, bamboozling two defenders and presenting Andre Schurrle with a straightforward chance. ‘We’re winning at home’ sang the incredulous fans.
A similarly surprised Mark Hughes must have been wondering how his team could be 2-1 down at half time. He sent them out early for the second half as a show of defiance and within eight minutes of the restart Armstrong had levelled the score. Fulham fans became uncomfortably aware that the match was on a knife edge. They had to wait twenty minutes for the deciding goal. Cyrus Christie’s centre was flicked on by Sessegnon and prodded home by Mitrovic. Both of the Serb’s goals demonstrated the delicacy of his touch. Southampton continued to threaten but Rico and his teammates held out.
This victory briefly took Fulham off the bottom of the table, but more importantly it provided a much-needed boost to morale. On the way home supporters were able for the first time in weeks to praise individual performances as well as the collective endeavour. The media have credited Ranieri with the transformation. Certainly he has a remarkable record of winning his first league match with a new club (it has happened six times out of seven). He may even have organised the birds to fly in formation over the Johnny Haynes stand early in the match, to underline his call for togetherness. Can he also produce his magic to confound Chelsea and Leicester, two clubs that have special significance to him?
One person who missed this match was the club’s official historian Alex White. I join with other supporters in wishing him a quick return to good health.
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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