By Morgan Phillips
In 2006 Fulham issued a DVD entitled ‘Worth the Wait’ with this excited blurb:
‘The 90 minutes of football that follow have already taken their place in the annals of Fulham history: a unique day, a momentous result, a derby victory 27 years on the making. It doesn’t get better than this.’
The momentous result was a single goal home win over Chelsea, which meant a great deal to Fulham supporters. Few of their Blues counterparts will have lost any sleep. Their concept of a local derby was (and remains) a visit from the Arsenal. Only rarely does a Chelsea-Fulham match have the passion of a stereotypical local derby. One that I witnessed in 1951 was so tame that the crowd sang ‘Dear Old Pals’.
Last Sunday’s match was decent enough but lacked the drama of Arsenal-Spurs or Liverpool-Everton. Unsurprisingly Match of the Day2 showed the highlights after those of the other two matches.
To counteract Chelsea’s strength in mid-field Claudio Ranieri tried a diamond formation. Fulham started confidently enough but suffered an early setback when Jean-Michael Seri's error left his defence at the home side’s mercy. Seri has given only glimpses of his talent so far, and the pace of the Premier has embarrassed him more than once. Pedro’s goal gave the Blues a lead which seemed safe for the rest of the first half.
Unlike Slavisa Jokanovic, who professed to have no Plan B, Ranieri can be admirably flexible. After the interval he reorganised the team, introducing Abou Kamara and Floyd Ayite on the wings. This allowed Tom Cairney and Calum Chambers to unsettle Chelsea, and only a spectacular save by the Blues’ goalie Kepa prevented an equaliser. Visiting fans stayed optimistic until the 82nd minute when Eden Hazard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek combined to double the lead.
So ended another unremarkable derby. Post-match analysis concentrated on the magic of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, whilst Fulham supporters wondered how Ranieri could raise his team’s performance. Wednesday evening’s home match against Leicester gave reason for hope.
Because Ayite was injured, Ranieri played Kamara and Ryan Sessegnon on the wings. Early in the match Leicester’s talented James Maddison gave Kelechi Iheanacho a one-on-one with Sergio Rico the Fulham keeper. Rico showed marvellous anticipation to prevent a goal. He has proved a great asset, and Calum Chambers, prominent in defence and attack, is another new player to win favour with the crowd.
Following that initial scare Fulham matched Leicester in all departments and went ahead in the 42nd minute when the effervescent Kamara slipped through the defence to outwit Kasper Schmeichel.
After the interval Tom Cairney and Aleks Mitrovic both came close to scoring. Leicester’s players seemed better at finding touch rather than passing to each other, but City’s manager Claude Puel turned the game by introducing Shinji Okazaki with some 20 minutes left. The Japanese international’s neat passing move with another substitute Demarai Gray allowed Maddison to equalise. Both sides then strove for the winner. Rico made yet another fine save, whilst Fulham had openings which would have resulted in goals if they had fallen to cooler souls than Kamara and Denis Odoi.
‘The draw is right’ commented Ranieri, ‘One point is better than nothing’.
We had witnessed a rousing match and a promising display, but progress still needs to be made if Fulham are to begin 2019 above the relegation zone.
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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