By Morgan Phillips
Not so long ago, before a crucial international fixture, the Telegraph sport section devoted its front page to a huge picture of Wayne Rooney with just three words of text: ‘Cometh the hour’.
The hour came, Rooney to all intents did not, and England failed.
Let us move on to half-time in Fulham’s home match against Brighton last Tuesday. Was there ever a greater need for a Fulham hero? Not a single point had been gained in January.
Indeed since drawing at Brighton on the first day of September 2018 the club had only two victories both against teams from the lower half of the Premier League.
Brighton must have visited the Cottage confident of victory, and Glen Murray’s brace of goals in the first 17 minutes came with humiliating ease. Two down at the interval, home supporters must have wondered whether they could survive another 45 minutes of sleet, high winds and disappointment.
Throughout the season the Whites’ defence had struggled, but the midfield had also underperformed. Suddenly Fulham defied the gloom with a superb goal from Calum Chambers.
Aleksander Mitrovic, dominating the Brighton defence, headed the ball back to the Arsenal loanee, whose right-footed volley was perfectly placed. From this point the midfield of Chambers, John-Michael Seri and Tom Cairney combined to produce beautiful football.
With just over 30 minutes left, Fulham equalised. Ryan Babel sent over a looping centre from the right and Mitrovic powered through to head home. The Brighton defenders complained but this a rare and wonderful display of centre-forward play.
After Seri came within an ace of scoring, Brighton rallied and Murray drew a spectacular save from Fulham keeper Sergio Rico.
Joe Bryan, working the left wing with Babel, gave Mitrovic another opportunity for a classic header and the Serb took full advantage. Incredibly Fulham had the lead and they went further ahead with a simple but well-deserved goal from Luciano Vietto.
This magnificent team victory, on a foul evening, owed so much to Aleksander Mitrovic. Sometimes the hour and the man do coincide.
Only six more home matches remain. To avoid relegation Fulham need to win virtually all of these and to improve their dismal away record.
The visit to Crystal Palace should have begun the turnaround.
Early excitement when Joe Bryan engineered for Mitrovic the chance of another headed goal was dampened when Cyrus Christie conceded a penalty.
After that unaccountable handball the match offered other familiar ingredients: Mitrovic’s lone battle upfront, Seri being easily dispossessed, Rico preventing a disaster. After the match Ranieri admitted that Palace deserved their 2-0 victory.
Supporters have been sent a diversity questionnaire. Important as that may be, the immediate question is ‘Will Fulham avoid relegation this season?’
And the choice of answers is yes/no/prefer not to say.
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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