A brace from veteran striker Glenn Murray inspired Brighton to mount an impressive fightback from 2-0 down and claim a point against Fulham in an absorbing contest at the AMEX Stadium this afternoon.
The three points from these two sides’ first ever top-flight meeting looked set to be heading back to London when Aleksandar Mitrovic stroked home his fourth of goal of the season to double the visitors’ advantage after Andre Schürrle had put them in front. But Slavisa Jokanovic’s side quickly had any illusions of comfort dispelled by Murray and Mitrovic was to go from hero to zero, conceding a late penalty after being adjudged to have handled in his own area. Unlike Pascal Gross, who had seen a first half penalty superbly saved by Marcus Bettinelli, Murray made no mistake from the spot and set up an end-to-end finale, where both sides spurned chances to win it.
This was a strange game where Fulham, even at two goals to the good, struggled to get their fluid passing football functioning in the absence of injured captain Tom Cairney. Jokanovic’s men never seemed in control of the contest, initially knocked off kilter by Albion’s energetic high pressing game and a high-tempo start. The Serbian head coach elected to deploy Maxime Le Marchand, impressive at centre back in his first few outings for the Cottagers at left back in place of Joe Bryan and the Frenchman’s lack of adventure severely limited Fulham’s options in the final third. More crucially, he also sparked Brighton’s unlikely comeback by presenting possession to Anthony Knockaert and, moments later, Murray had halved the deficit.
Fulham had to weather an concerted spell of early Brighton pressure as the Seagulls swarmed dangerously around the away side’s penalty box and won a succession of set plays. Murray, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy all offered warnings of their ability in the air – and another long afternoon on the south coast seemed in prospect for the Whites, who had lost all of their last five meetings with Brighton. Alfie Mawson impressed on his league debut after coming through 75 minutes of League Cup action against Exeter City in midweek, but all of his composure and Premier League experience were needed to guide the visitors through a tough start.
They were indebted to Bettinelli for preserving parity after the goalkeeper did brilliantly to dive to his right and claw away Gross’s 24th minute penalty. Lee Probert’s awarding of the spot-kick might not have been controversial – as Luciano Vietto clearly upended Murray as he sought to turn in the penalty area – but Fulham were incensed that the Brighton striker was not flagged offside earlier in the move. Justice was done, but Jokanovic’s men still struggled to plot a way through the Albion midfield, with Davy Propper and Dale Stephens successfully nullifying their pretty passing game.
Fulham had threatened only sporadically, through a speculative Jean-Michael Seri shot and a wayward Mitrovic header, before taking the lead on the stroke of half-time. Seri, who oozed class again throughout, fashioned a few yards of space of the edge of the box after being found by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and floated a devilish ball between the Brighton back line and Mat Ryan. Schürrle stole into the space and swept a clinical finish to score his second goal in as many games for his new club.
The game followed a similar pattern after the break. Albion looked the more threatening in the final third and should have been level ten minutes into the second period. Propper produced a brilliant through ball that sent Solly March through on goal, but the winger somehow spooned his finish high over the crossbar with only Bettinelli to beat. Chris Hughton scowled in frustration on the touchline and his anger only grew six minutes later when Fulham took advantage of some sloppy defending to double their lead.
Mitrovic punished one-time Fulham target Dunk’s failure to deal with a lofted ball forward, nipping in to steal possession and then leaving the Brighton centre back trailing in his wake as he surged into the penalty area. Ryan did well to save Mitrovic’s first effort, but the Serbian striker rolled the rebound into the bottom corner to send the travelling fans into ecstasy. The former Newcastle forward has four goals in as many games since completing his protracted move from St. James’ Park – not bad for someone supposedly not clinical enough for the Premier League.
It was then that Fulham’s fallibility began to show. Jokanovic isn’t a coach who tells his teams to shut up shop – as demonstrated by Le Marchand’s attempt to pop off a shot pass as the rest of his back line pushed up the pitch. His ball inside was seized upon by the dangerous Knockaert who set off on a marauding run in from the right before picking the perfect moment to play in Murray, who had all the time in the world to thread the ball through the legs of a helpless Bettinelli.
That goal changed the complexion of a contest that might otherwise have meandered out of Brighton’s reach. The home side were galvanised and, after Hughton threw on Jurgen Locadia, went even more direct. Fulham appeared to have dealt with a dangerous free-kick when Mitrovic looked to bring the ball down in his own box with only Ryan Sessegnon for company. The assistant referee immediately flagged for a penalty and Murray made no mistake – sending Bettinelli the wrong way from 12 yards.
There was still time for either side to win it. Martin Montoya sent a rasping drive fractionally wide as Brighton looked for a grandstand finish before Sessegnon slalomed his way past two Brighton defenders but his tame finish – into the arms of Ryan – couldn’t match the quality of the teenager’s terrific approach play. All in all, the draw felt like a fair result.
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-4-1-1): Ryan; Montoya, Bong, Dunk, Duffy; Stephens, Propper, Knockaert (Jahanbakhsh 74), March; Gross (Bissouma 60); Murray. Subs (not used): Button, Kayal, Balogun, Bernardo.
BOOKED: Stephens, Propper, Murray.
GOALS: Murray (67, pen 84).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand, Odoi, Mawson; McDonald, Seri, Anguissa (Johansen 74); Schürrle (Chambers 87), Vietto (R. Sessegnon 74); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Christie, Bryan, Kamara.
BOOKED: Johansen, Mitrovic, Le Marchand.
GOALS: Schürrle (43), Mitrovic (62).
REFEREE: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire).