Just when it looked like Fulham were going to steal three points from the AMEX Stadium, Glenn Murray and Brighton turned this game into a draw. But in reality, this was the Seagulls’ game to lose with the way both teams played, but Fulham just happened to be more clinical with their chances. But I guess a draw was the best result in the end.
It was quite odd to see Brighton look like the side that was holding on to the ball and pressure the longest, but that was what happened within the first 15 minutes. When Slavisa Jokanovic decided whether to pick Stefan Johansen or Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa to replace Tom Cairney, it was to determine how Fulham will be able to play. Since Jokanovic selected the latter to play with Kevin McDonald and Jean-Michael Seri in midfield, Fulham were going to for a much more defensive posture than they would have liked.
Pascal Groß, Solly March and Anthony Knockaert were attacking the wings and really causing problems towards another new back four. This time, Maxime Le Marchand was moved over to left back with Alfie Mawson and Denis Odoi being the new center back pair. Fortunately, no end product was there from the lack of movement by Brighton’s attacking players centrally and up front at the time.
However, a counter-attack that led to a give-and-go with Knockaert and Glenn Murray led to Murray getting into the penalty pass and fell down after turning away from Luciano Vietto made the slightest contact after receiving a pass. Referee Lee Probert had no choice but to award a penalty. Fortunately, Marcus Bettinelli guessed correctly on Groß’s attempt and made the save at the bottom right-hand side of the near post.
Now you may wonder why Vietto was so far in the defensive half of the pitch to commit the penalty. That was because there simply was no connection between midfield and attack at the start of the match as a result of Jokanovic’s selection choices. Fortunately, Fulham were beginning to feel more comfortable with their system and were cutting through Brighton’s defense as they’ve progressed the ball forward as the match progressed. This included searing runs from Vietto and even Denis Odoi for that matter.
After a drawn Fulham foul be Andre Schürrle, Fulham worked a patient attacking sequence that led to a beautiful chipped pass from Seri towards a cutting Schürrle into the penalty area. All it needed was a strike on the inner part of the right foot for Schürrle to put it past Matt Ryan and make it 1-0.
And with that, it seemed like Fulham had all momentum of the game, even if it included a one one one chance by Solly March that was shot well above goal. In the 61st minute, Aleksander Mitrovic took advantage of a stumbling Lewis Dunk, who couldn’t handle a Bettinelli goal kick. What came of it was Mitrovic collecting the loose ball, cutting inside the penalty area and taking two cracks at goal towards Ryan to make it 2-0. With not that many opportunities, Fulham looked like the club that were able to take their chances, while Brighton looked wasteful all game.
That was, until Le Marchnand decided to give the ball away to a pressing Knockaert, streaked towards the middle of the attacking third and found an unmarked Murray who was able to put it past Bettinelli in the 66th minute. Just like that, Brighton were back to their pressure packing ways and were able to draw a penalty thanks to some poor decision making under pressure.
In defending a corner kick, Mitrovic tried to collect a poor clearing attempt inside Fulham’s own penalty area with either the shoulder or the forearm depending on one’s point of view. Unfortunately, the nearest linesman thought the latter and awarded another penalty to Brighton. With Gross substituted earlier in the game, it was Murray’s turn to try and slot it past Bettinelli. There was no mistake this time. Fulham had one chance to take the lead as substitute Ryan Sessegnon received a wonderful pass from Mitrovic only for it to be saved by Ryan. By the time 90 minutes came to an end, it felt like a fair result.
Fulham had the most clear cut chances, but Brighton had the most shots in general. Fulham did lack enough balance in midfield to impose their attacking will and their defense still wasn’t good enough to shut down a simplistic system that Brighton has. Ideally, Cairney wouldn’t have injured his foot so badly that he would be missing significant time, but football doesn’t go according to plan. Fortunately, there is an international break to recover from injuries and for Jokanovic and his coaching staff to get back to the drawing board with the players he has. Until then, Fulham didn’t lose and they aren’t thinking about relegation battles just yet. That within itself, is a win right there.