Data and performance analysis are clearly important in elite sport, but sometimes there is only one statistic that matters. The final score…
Fulham left Brighton with a 1-0 win and three points. No amount of investigation into possession, action areas or expected goals can change that. Winning ugly is still winning and Marco Silva’s team have shown they are happy to grind it out if they need to. A mesmerising first half against Nottingham Forest the week before, was followed by a spell of pressure and keeping the enemy at bay as Steve Cooper’s side grew into the game. Silva’s side are aware that attack is not always the best form of defence. Sometimes you have to wait for your moments, and in that spell of waiting is when the true character of the team reveals itself.
Manor Solomon recently became Fulham’s 12th goal scorer of the season, but The Whites had to rely on their backline and goalkeeper to maintain a stake in the game. Kenny Tete won 10 of his 12 duels, Issa Diop recorded, a match high, four tackles and Tim Ream was on hand on a couple of occasions as the last man to clear the danger or make a vital tackle. Antonee Robinson provided a crucial outlet, no player on the pitch completed more successful dribbles than the left-back as he released the pressure valve time and again.
The Seagulls’ fluid midfield consistently found spaces, evading the attentions of Joao Palhinha and Harrison Reed, leaving what has become a very efficient last line to fend off their persistent hosts. In addition Bernd Leno has now kept five clean sheets since the Premier League returned from its World Cup induced interval, producing seven saves at the Amex. His pedigree between the posts continues to provide assurance and he has been key in the clubs rise up the table, particularly in recent months. His anticipation was on show again as he swept up a late ball through the backline.
Fulham have defended admirably on several occasions now, but after fifteen league games had only managed to preserve their goal three times. With Aleksandar Mitrovic’s availability a continuing doubt, the rear-guard will have to remain on task to give the side the best opportunity to win. After the Serbian’s goalscoring exploits of earlier this season, Silva will need to ensure his other players contribute in the way Manor Solomon has in the most recent two fixtures.
We already know Fulham can score their way to success, two 6-2 victories and 7-0 triumphs last season prove as much. But up a division 3-2 wins over the likes of Leeds and Forest are not sustainable and it’s the other side of the game they have had to embrace. No one has embraced it more than Palhinha. Many a word has been written about the summer signing’s influence on this Fulham team, but the Portuguese enforcer continues to provide the steel in the middle of the park required to weather such storms as the one on the south coast. In this instance the Portuguese enforcer had one of his less impactful performances, but he was still on hand to win five of his eight duels, step in with two interceptions and make no less than four clearances. He also picked up his ninth booking of the campaign. One more will result in a two-match ban, but there is an argument that his willingness to put his foot in at the expense of a booking is part of his aura. Opposition players know he’s coming, and there’s no chance of surrender. And that message seems to carry through the team.
Fulham qualified for European football by virtue of topping the fair play charts in 2010/11, but when the flair of Dempsey, Duff and Davies was no longer there to carry the attacking threat, they soon found themselves at the wrong end of the table. There’s no danger of The Cottagers winning a fair play award this season, as the five bookings in this match alone would prove, but there’s also no danger of Fulham being considered a pushover in any contest. The result is another European push instead of a relegation battle.
Last season, and many times this, Silva has shown his side is capable of producing beautiful football. Willian’s strike against Nottingham Forest, the dismantling of Aston Villa that led to Steven Gerrards sacking. But they’ve also shown they can be a different beast. The late assault at The Amex is just the latest example of a team that isn’t afraid to win ugly. File it next to the second half at The King Power Stadium last month and spells at Stamford Bridge at the start of this one. There are two sides to this game, and Fulham are increasingly adept at both.