If Burnley away was a must win, then this London derby versus Tottenham Hotspur was even more so. However, Fulham seemingly slumped to a disappointing defeat after a promising first half leaving the whites in a now perilous position.
With an unusual amount of optimism going into this match, against a side 3rd in the Premier League, as a result of Tottenham having key absences to key players such as; Harry Kane, Heung Min Son and Lucas Moura, we may have thought that this would be a good opportunity to claim our first win of 2019.
Ranieri played the usual 5-2-3, with a full league debut given to Ryan Babel, his first game in the Premier League for 2967 days. Many regard Babel as a flop for Liverpool as a result of him never delivering despite his £14 million transfer fee and being considered a ‘wonderkid’. However, he started off very brightly for Fulham as he went past Davinson Sanchez with pace and power to have a 1-on-1 chance with Hugo Lloris, however typical of Fulham in this match and the whole season it was a poor effort and Lloris was able to get a hand to it and another great chance went begging. Then Fulham got the goal through an own goal from Llorente, which was terrible from him not able to sort his feet out in time from a Seri corner gifting Fulham an early lead inside 20 minutes. Furthermore, Babel then had another guilt-edged opportunity, a great cross from Christie led to Babel having a free header 10 yards out but missed time the jump and the ball ballooned over the bar. Throughout the first half we were a constant threat and to be honest I haven’t seen Fulham play that well considering the quality of the opponent all season with only thing lacking being the end product. We were then all off our seats when we thought that Mitrovic had doubled our lead. He headed home the rebound after a sumptuous volley from Schurrle was denied from a great save from Lloris, only for the goal to be disallowed as a result of Mitro being offside.
In general, the first half was superb but my only was concern was flashbacks to the Wolves game of late and even the Arsenal game to some extent, we had created all these chances, we looked by far the better side but the score was only 1-0 and given our defensive record you always felt that we had to score again. Ultimately, that’s why wear we are in the league, most teams when they’re on top will have something more substantial to show for it, they don’t need 3 or 4 golden opportunities to score. Mitrovic has had the most shots by any player in the premier league with 80 only scoring 8, although not specific for this game as he didn’t really have a great chance, the game against Wolves comes to mind and this just shows that we’re creating chances but not taking them. I know Ranieri will receive criticism for this game from the fans, myself including, but his tactic should have worked perfectly to score a couple of goals in the first half and just sit for the second half, but the inability to put the ball in the back of the net made this impossible. We didn’t even score a goal for ourselves in this game, I know in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter how they go in, the fact that with the chances we had we were unable to score is a massive concern. But what can Ranieri do about it? Buy a striker? I haven’t seen Fulham linked with another striker to maybe put more pressure on Mitrovic to tuck away more of his chances, we seem to be more concerned in the transfer window at the back which is understandable given our record at the back, but it does not mean we’re plane sailing up top. Only Huddersfield, Cardiff and Newcastle have scored less than us and given we’ve scored 11 goals in our last 16 in all competitions, including 3 in one game against the Saints, shows that we’ve struggled for goals.
The second half started and the boys came out and immediately the game seemed to have changed. I felt as if Ranieri may have instructed them to sit back and drop a lot deeper which just seems odd after the success in the first half where Spurs had little to no chances at all. It just made it so much easier for Spurs with their quality attacking players such as Eriksen and Alli to pick us off. However, that’s not even how the first Spurs goal came about, it wasn’t a bit of genius to pull us apart. Tim Ream, who’s looked suspect all season and out of his depth, made a meal of a clearance which allowed Eriksen to pick up the ball just outside our box and play a simple cross to the back post, giving Alli the simple task of heading the ball home. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Odoi decided to put his hands up and duck rather than go for the ball. I’m guessing he thought he heard a call from Rico but even still, if in doubt you should always just clear it and have a debrief about it after. This goal took Fulham to the wonderful milestone of being the first team this season to concede 50 goals which says a lot and it just summed our defence up perfectly. Then the rest of the game really seemed to drift away, Fulham were nowhere near the levels of the first half, perhaps the substitution of Babel was a reason for this as he undeniably made a difference in the first half. He was subbed due to a lack of fitness for Sessegnon, after this I don’t remember us creating another chance at all. The rest of the match was mainly a battle between Sanchez and Mitrovic with Spurs searching for a goal which heartbreakingly occurred in the 93rd-minute with a Harry Winks winner.
Although a point would not have been enough, being 6 points adrift would have made a huge difference as we would have been 2 wins away from parity, now we’re basically 3 wins away due to our horrendous goal difference. But for me, there is still hope as our next 2 fixtures are at home to Brighton and then Crystal Palace away. If we have any hope of staying up, these are the types of games we must win, and winning both would put us on 20 points and should be closer to 17th. I feel like I’ve said so many times that if we play like this against a lesser team we’ll win because compared to a team like Huddersfield, at times we look like a good side but the point I made earlier on missed opportunities and lapses in concentration are holding us back.
I just pray that in this week and a half we have until the next fixture that the club buys a couple of players. It seems that Cahill is now following Fabregas to Monaco and some other deals haven’t gone well either. However, if we can just bring in a couple of quality Premier League proven players, who are perhaps in their twilight years or are looking for a way back to the Premier League, we could potentially save ourselves.
I say we don’t lose hope yet. If we fully get behind the boys against Brighton and get the 3 points the morale boost it’ll give us will be massive and hopefully can push us on. It’s now or never and we need the backing of the Khan’s.