By Morgan Phillips
After the bore draw at Newcastle, Fulham treated us to a Christmas stocking full of excitement, with moments of real excellence.
The defensive formation on Boxing Day worked well; and even though Wolves had more than 70 per cent possession, they only rarely threatened to score.
The visitors’ best effort in the first half was Raoul Jimenez’s overhead kick – so spectacular that it distracted attention from Denis Odoi’s apparent handball moments earlier.
Aleks Mitrovic gave an industrious and powerful performance, for which he was named Fulham’s Man of the Match. Once in the first period he outwitted four defenders but could not beat the goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
It was a foul on Mitrovic by Roman Saiss that led to Fulham’s goal in the 74th minute. Jean-Michael Seri’s well placed free kick was headed on by Alfie Mawson. And Patricio, under pressure from Odoi, pushed the ball out towards Ryan Sessegnon, who thumped it back into the net. Ryan had only just come on the field as a replacement for Andre Schurrle – an inspired substitution, though some of us would have wanted him in the starting line-up.
Wolves finally penetrated the home defence. Ivan Cavaleiro (also a substitute) crossed from the left and Saiss turned the ball over the line, despite Joe Bryan’s brave intervention.
Fulham almost grabbed a victory in the game’s last moments, with Mitrovic’s shot rolling towards an empty net.
‘The Hammersmith End were on their feet’, noted the Fulham radio commentator; and with all the shouting and jumping, some of us truly thought that the ball had crossed the line. In reality Conor Coady had saved a point for the visitors.
At the end of December the football pundits in their forecasts for 2019 generally tipped Fulham and Huddersfield for relegations. These teams met on Saturday 29 December, and the abysmal quality of the first half suggested that neither belonged in the Premier.
Huddersfield were playing for a draw, and Fulham wasted several opportunities for headed goals.
After the interval, Claudio Ranieri responded by sending on Abou Kamara and Maxime le Marchand. Fulham looked more threatening, but it took a further 15 minutes to produce a worthwhile attack. Joe Bryan centred and Mitrovic headed the ball forcefully towards the nearside of the net, only for Jonas Lossl to perform a spectacular save.
Another fine centre from Bryan eluded Lossl, before bouncing off the crossbar.
Kamara’s interception struck a defender’s arm causing Kevin Friend to award a penalty. There ensued what the Victorians described as 'amazing scenes'. Kamara refused every request to hand the ball to the regular taker Aleks Mitrovic, who eventually conceded with a gracious kiss for luck. The Frenchman exuded confidence but his kick was underpowered, and easily saved by the Danish keeper.
Kamara’s name gets a regular mention in these blogs, sometimes favourably (his spot-kick against Manchester United), sometimes critically (diving, poor decision making). If he had scored his penalty against Huddersfield, he might have been forgiven by the fans and even by his colleagues. His failure meant that almost everyone echoed the condemnation by Ranieri: “It is unbelievable what he did. He didn’t respect me, he didn’t respect the club, his team-mates and the crowd.”
As the match moved into added time, Fulham – and Kamara- were saved by Huddersfield’s decision to go for a winner. When their attack floundered, Tom Cairney passed to Sessegnon, who forged upfield and created a perfect opening for Mitrovic. The man who had been cheated of the penalty did not waste this opportunity, and his goal brought tears of joy to more than one spectator.
Sessegnon had only been on the field since the 77th minute but he deserves to be more than an impact substitute, and Ranieri restored him to the starting line-up for the New Year’s Day visit to the Emirates.
This almost paid off because Ryan had two early chances of scoring against the Arsenal; unfortunately he missed out on both. The home side showed similar extravagance and were only one goal ahead at the interval. After Alexandre Lacazette had increased their lead, Ranieri sent on Seri and a contrite Kamara. Once again the substitution proved successful. After Seri dispossessed Lucas Torreira, Sessegnon provided a perfect centre for Kamara to sweep into the net.
With 21 minutes left Ranieri’s men could still save the match but two further Arsenal goals gave the home team a rather flattering victory. Fulham’s performance was so much better than in the corresponding match at Craven Cottage last October. How long before this improvement takes us out of the bottom three?
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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