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NICK SZCZEPANIK'S PRESS VERDICT: FULHAM

30 January 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Nick Szczepanik reviews the press coverage of yesterday's game.
Match reports in the early editions of papers are usually compiled as ‘runners’ – written while the match is going on, with the first chunk, covering the first half, emailed to the sports desk at half-time.
 
These would have been the most – actually, make that the only – enjoyable parts of the coverage of the Fulham match for Albion fans.
 
Tom Barclay of The Sun admitted on Twitter: “Safe to say a HT match report on how all looks lost for Ranieri's side, and how they had got to that point, is on the cutting-room floor.”
 
His report reflected the weather: “ALEKSANDAR MITROVIC led an incredible second-half fightback to prove Claudio Ranieri’s snowflakes are made of sterner stuff than we thought.
 
“At half-time here, walking in 2-0 down thanks to Glenn Murray’s ice-cold finishing as the sleet tipped down, Fulham fans will have fancied hell freezing over before their side beat the drop.
 
“Murray’s brace meant their weak defence had conceded FIFTY-THREE in the league this term which is the worst record in Europe’s five major divisions.
 
“Relegation looked a certainty for the cut-adrift West Londoners.
 
“But an amazing turnaround after the break suggested all is not lost as Calum Chambers and a double from talisman Mitrovic earned a massive three points.
 
“Sub Luciano Vietto even managed to rubberstamp the win with his first goal for the club.
“And it was inspired by Serbian Mitrovic - the club's very own Beast from the East.”
 
 
 
Amy Lawrence of The Guardian wrote of the early stages that “Brighton sensed an opportunity too good to waste.
 
“Fulham’s plight has not been helped by the worrying number of goals conceded this season: they went into this game with the worst defensive record from any team in Europe’s five major leagues. They soon haemorrhaged another one.
 
“In the third minute Brighton’s first meaningful attack saw the hosts’ loose rearguard unspool. Martín Montoya galloped down the right and clipped a cross towards Glenn Murray, who swivelled to steer his shot into the far corner of the net.
 
“Brighton were elated. Mat Ryan, in the team for the first time since Boxing Day after his spell with Australia at the Asian Games, pelted down the entire pitch to join in the celebrations. As the travelling fans noted, this was a rare moment to cherish: winning away has not come easily to Brighton.
 
“Murray, with his evergreen nose for goals, was perfectly positioned to double the lead 14 minutes later. Again the danger came down Fulham’s left flank and when Pascal Gross hooked the ball into the box with an improvised overhead kick, Murray’s finish was almost like a dance move, the striker jutting out one foot to flick neatly past Sergio Rico.
 
"It was the 35-year-old’s 10th goal of the season, and his worth to Brighton this season is golden.
 
“He also had two opportunities to grab a first-half hat-trick. Brighton’s supremacy felt unchallenged as Davy Pröpper rattled the crossbar.
 
“The gravity of the situation called for a tactical substitution midway through the first half. Tom Cairney was introduced as part of a reshuffle. For a team incapable of defending, at least a capacity to engage in a shooting match would help.”
 
And how. After Calum Chambers pulled one back, “the chances came in a flurry. Luciano Vietto lifted a shot over the bar, Denis Odoi’s shot was blocked, and when a long ball fell in the vicinity of Mitrovic, the hulking striker beat two markers and Ryan to make sure he won the ball and nodded into the net.
 
“Suddenly there was expectancy, crispness in the tackle, ambition in the passing, confidence in the attack. This critical game hung in the balance and Fulham rode their luck as Rico saved a header from the unmarked Murray.
 
“The keeper’s teammates took it as the signal to come on strong again. Joe Bryan did the sensible thing by standing his cross up for Mitrovic, who again won the aerial battle to engineer a remarkable turnaround.
 
“The roar when Vietto gave them breathing space after Cairney struck the bar was visceral, immense. They have not had too many moments like that here this season. Now they need a few more.” 
 
 
Most writers managed to avoid a predictable reference to a ‘game of two halves,’ perhaps too surprised by Fulham’s revival to reach for the cliches. Ian Winrow, for The Independent, wrote that “Aleksandar Mitrovic inspired Fulham’s dramatic recovery after Claudio Ranieri’s relegation-threatened side rescued themselves from a two-goal half-time deficit to secure a victory that will fuel belief they can survive in the Premier League.
 
“In desperate trouble having fallen behind to two early Glenn Murray goals, Fulham produced an outstanding response with their fight-back kick-started by Calum Chambers valley two minutes after the break before two Mitrovic headers put the home side in front.
 
“Luciano Vietto added a fourth to cap a remarkable comeback that left Brighton overwhelmed.”
 
“Brighton, though, could have ended the contest shortly before half-time when Davy Propper struck the bar and the boos from home supporters that greeted the half-time whistle summed up Fulham’s first half display.
 
“The Cottagers needed an early response and, with Luciano Vietto on for Schurrle, they immediately looked more purposeful. Brighton found themselves pushed backwards and Fulham were quickly rewarded when Chambers latched on to Duffy’s headed clearance to volley past Ryan from the edge of the area.
 
“Mitrovic then twice bullied the Brighton defence to put Fulham ahead before Vietto wrapped things up."  
 
 
Thankfully, most reports concentrated on Fulham’s resurgence rather than Albion’s collapse. Kieran Gill of the Daily Mail wrote that “Fulham showed there is life in them yet as Claudio Ranieri’s side completed a stunning second-half comeback at Craven Cottage, clawing their way back from two goals down to win.
 
“A brace from Glenn Murray had given Brighton a 2-0 lead at the break and all seemed lost for Ranieri’s relegation scrappers. Then, Aleksandar Mitrovic turned into the hero in west London.
 
“He helped himself to two goals, scoring the leveller then giving them the lead as Fulham picked up their first points in 2019. Who knows how vital this could prove come May?
 
“Ranieri previously told his players to show some fight, though Aboubakar Kamara took those comments too literally., This was the courage that Ranieri called for.
 
“Show more of this when those four Big Six sides visit Craven Cottage in the next two months and hope might not be lost for Fulham after all.
 
The Times headlined their report ‘Mighty Mitrovic powers Fulham to comeback victory.”
 
Their report read: “It was difficult to believe Fulham could conjure such a spirited response when they left the field to boos at half-time.
 
“The second 45 minutes, however, left Brighton shell-shocked and there was no doubt that this win was deserved. Had Tom Cairney not hit the bar, the margin of victory could have been greater.” 
 
 
Matthew Howarth, on the BBC Sport website, compared the two sides’ strikers, but he was also blunt in his verdict on Albion’s poor recent results and what a missed opportunity this match represented.
 
“Mitrovic, who had failed to score since his last-minute winner against Huddersfield on 29 December, was a constant thorn in Brighton's side after half-time and put his side on course for an unlikely victory with a pair of trademark headers,” he wrote.
 
“The former Newcastle man capitalised on some questionable Seagulls defending to nod home the equaliser, before heading Joe Bryan's exquisite cross past Mat Ryan to make it 3-2 after 74 minutes.
 
 
 
Brighton have fared no better than Fulham in recent weeks, with both sides registering only five points from a possible 24 in the run-up to Tuesday's meeting.
 
“The Seagulls also went into the game with the worst away record outside the Premier League's bottom three, but they looked set to claim only their third win on the road this season after Murray's early brace.
 
“It ended a run of eight league games without a goal for the 35-year-old striker, but the contest could have taken on an entirely different complexion had he taken one of several opportunities to complete his hat-trick either side of half-time.
 
“He headed Gross's cross inches wide of the Sergio Rico's right-hand post late in the first half, before firing straight at Fulham's Spanish custodian from point-blank range moments later.
 
“Murray was thwarted again by Rico two minutes before Mitrovic's second goal, his flicked header from Montoya's delivery palmed to safety by the Cottagers' goalkeeper.
 
“Victory for Brighton would have lifted them 10 points clear of the bottom three with 14 games remaining, but their second-half capitulation leaves them seven points clear of the relegation places, and just four points off Southampton in 17th.”

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