Sports are stupid. If they’re not, every outcome can be predicted before a game could ever get played. So while Fulham have been looking more the in-form team then Cardiff City, the way we all got to this outcome was quite a shocker.
First, the conditions in London were downright awful as it was nowhere near the rays of sunshine that was spilled upon Bournemouth last week. Instead, we got overcast and windy and it truly affected how both teams played.
Even worse, the weather might have also affected the health of one of Fulham’s leaders. About 20 minutes into the first half, the ball was going everywhere if it was put up high in the sky and this one in particular was a challenge for both Denis Odoi and Maxime Le Marchand to read. The result was the latter unintentionally kicking Odoi flush in the face when the Belgian was trying to head the ball back to Sergio Rico. What happened afterwards was Odoi falling unconscious and both medical staffs needing to tend to the Fulham fullback. Over nine minutes were needed to tend to him and a stretcher was needed to carry him off the pitch. It was truly a scary sight and no one should wish that upon their worst if enemies.
Once all the dust was settled, some of game of football tried to take place. However, passes went wayward, attempts at goal went into the clouds instead. Oh, and Oumar Niasse tried to lead a line. Both teams combined for just five shots and it really showed with the poor quality of play.
As the game progressed into the latter stages of the second half, however, Fulham looked like the more comfortable side. Aleksander Mitrovic has plenty of chances to score, but his shots just couldn’t hit the target all game. Ryan Sessegnon, like he has been doing all season, had a poor performance, but showed plenty of fight and endeavor to give Fulham advantages all contest. Tom Cairney returned and was as industrious as ever beating the opposing midfield and looking for that final ball.
But it was Ryan Babel who will get all the accolades today. All his work around the ball seemed to produce the best results and his wonder-strike in the 79th minute. It all came from a wonderful run by Cyrus Christie who went from his left back spot into the center of midfield and then towards the left-hand corner of the penalty area. That route gave the space for Babel to run onto and the ageless Dutchman blasted it hard and curled one past Neil Etheridge and looked to have put the exclamation point on a three points well deserved.
Babel’s goal finally gave Cardiff the motivation to score themselves. After all, they’re the ones whose Premier League safety is still undecided. Any points could help them in the long run. It’s just amazing that it took time until the last 10 minutes for them to finally get going. Danny Ward went on to get three shots off in his 20 minutes as Niasse’s substitute. The other attacking substitute, Rhys Heeley, generated a 0.31 xG chain in just eight minutes. Niasse only generated 0.02 xG chain in 70 minutes.
And man, Sean Morrison seriously should have scored at least twice in that final barrage. This is where Sergio Rico did all that he could to make up for all the criticisms that he’s received all season in this one game. His saves and positioning in the last ten minutes were simply brilliant and his performance will be why Cardiff could be ““going down with the Fulham” in the Championship next season.
When the final whistle blew, there was a combination of relief and joy all around Craven Cottage. If only this football club could have found this run of form much sooner. But for now, we can enjoy what Scott Parker has done to bring some pride back into the badge and dream of finishing this season a note much higher than we all expected.