The cliché these past couple of days has been that, as the new manager, Scott Parker was going to bring a no-nonsense style to Fulham with the endeavor that got this football club back into the Premier League. That was what the expectation was from the supporters that expected underachievement and failure every matchday for some reason.
This day was different, in spite of the fact that Fulham predictably lost. They unleashed a pressing game against one of the better teams in England that we haven’t seen all season. Plenty of players showed the courage to take Chelsea players on. And plenty of them went on to leave Craven Cottage with their heads held high as a result. Who knows of this will deliver any results the rest of the season, but there is now a new energy that has been instilled and supporters can finally look forward to watching the team play.
The first half did start brightly for Fulham from the start thanks to a Joe Bryan long range effort. It might have gone wide, but this was without some good movement along the left-hand flank by Ryan Babel who whipped in a deflected cross that found Tom Cairney in the penalty area. Once the captain’s shot was blocked, it was Bryan’s turn to give it a go. And that was the key all game, Fulham constantly had many more men forward in support than in previous games and were working to get the ball moving forward as well as possible.
However, Fulham’s defense continued to give themselves problems, just as it has been all season. Gonzalo Higuain was able to give the visitors the lead thanks to a lapse in concentration after committing a foul on the other end of the pitch. Before you know it, Cesar Azpilicueta was able to unleash a low fizzing cross towards the cutting Higuain to unleash a one-touch rocket past Sergio Rico.
But Fulham didn’t give up as they were generating set-pieces all game. But first, an interception by Joe Bryan in midfield led to finding a streaking Ryan Sessegnon, who was the heart and soul of everything positive for Fulham. The teenager’s cross might have been defelected, but it was perfect for Aleksander Mitrovic to give it a go on the volley and force Kepa to make a fine save over the bar. Afterwards, a corner that lead to Babel picking a wide-open Calum Chambers to tap it past Kepa to tie this contest up.
But as soon as we thought we had a proper game of football on our hands, Jorginho gave back the lead to Chelsea from a curling blast just outside the penalty area. This came after too many defenders were mesmerized by Eden Hazard hoping to unload a shot beforehand, but the Belgian star laid the ball towards his teammate who was able to do all the work.
It seemed like a foul should have been called by referee Graham Scott on a Jorginho challenge on Bryan, but it was more of Bryan being clumsly taken to ground on his own. Nonetheless, the Craven Cottage faithful were furious and were still voicing their frustration as the Chelsea players were congratulating each other. Higuain really should have made it 3-1 if he didn’t make his next attempt go so skyward. And besides one near-miss by Rico that gave Higuain one more shot at goal, Fulham were dominant the rest of this contest.
Plenty of this could be that Chelsea didn’t really put out their first-choice XI out there. Andreas Christenen, Emerson and Ross Barkley were out on the pitch instead and it probably made Fulham’s attack much better than the 1.18 expected goals, 12 total shots and five chances on target they delivered. Three of those shots stood out greatly in the second half for Fulham.
The first being a curling shot by Mitrovic that sailed just over the ball in the 59th minute after Tom Cairney performed well taking defenders on while on the dribble. Next, Cairney gave it a go himself in the 66th minute for Kepa to make a timid punch outside the penalty area. Unfortunately, it was Sessegnon that outraced Emerson to the ball and made him the substitute fullback he is. It was a darn shame the youngster couldn’t put a better ball towards Mitrovic that was well positioned to tap it home from close range once he brilliantly ran it back into the box. Finally, a long ball by Denis Odoi found substitute Floyd Ayite did really well to beat his defender, collect it with a bouncing volley towards Mitrovic who had a chance to head it home. But once again, Kepa was there to make the save that was required.
But really, one chance should have counted if Sessegnon stayed more onside. A desperate long ball towards Mitrovic found another substitute in Luciano Vietto and put a throughball towards the streaking Sessegnon who looked to have tied this contest and send all near the River Thames into a frenzy. Instead, the flag was up and all of the Cottage’s hopes and dreams came to naught.
On other days, this would be deemed a frustrating defeat. But with a new manager in charge, it felt like a new beginning and a smell of positivity that hasn’t been seen in Southwest London since the start of the season. Only time will tell if this stays the course the rest of the season, but it is nice to write in such a positive manner after going through such misery.