I don’t mind admitting that I was flagging a bit last night. The monotony of the Premier League was beginning to wear me down. It has been something of a traumatic season. The loss of Slavisa Jokanovic was keenly felt because of the identity and sumptuous football that he got Fulham playing and, of course, the magical run towards the end of the season and an unforgettable day out at Wembley. The realisation that this squad was plucky and determined rather than properly equipped to be competitive at this level meant that grim gallows humour has been the order of the day for a few weeks now.
It was no surprise that the gut-wrenching defeat by Spurs was followed by the quick concession of a couple of goals to Glenn Murray last night. Whatever Claudio Ranieri does – and the defence has become a lot better since he took charge – our back line seems keep on making damaging mistakes. Murray could have had a first-half hat-trick and it wasn’t as if Brighton played us off the park or he was making magnificent runs. The basics of getting goalside and shutting down crosses from the flanks are honed at a young level: it is as our defenders have forgotten everything they have been taught.
The comeback was as glorious as the weather was icy. There was simply no inkling of it coming. Jean-Michael Seri has had his detractors since that summer move from Nice but he was outstanding in the middle of the field. Some of the one-touch stuff Fulham played in the second half was reminiscent of that Jokanovic side at its silky best. I am still firmly of the belief that our best side includes Tom Cairney, whose cameo on the right side of midfield injected some class into proceedings, but whether Ranieri will be willing to jettison his back five to fit Fulham’s two best passers into the team remains to be seen.
It does give Fulham’s previously rather forlorn fight against the drop a real shot in the arm. There’s no question that Aleksandar Mitrovic is one of the best strikers in the division and it is clear that he relishes a scrap. His first goal last night was a throwback to goals strikers snaffled in the 1940s and 1950s and the second was a great illustration of his desire and aerial ability as he beat Mat Ryan when Lewis Dunk was blatantly backing into him. He clearly has a great understanding with Ryan Babel, who continues to look a smart acquisition, and Luciano Vietto built on an encouraging cameo at Brighton with probably his most complete display in a Fulham shirt.
I do hope there is a change of emphasis in Ranieri’s strategy going forward. It is clear that he is the archetypal Italian coach who wants his teams to be cautious and hard to beat, but barring a phalanx of defenders arriving at Motspur Park in the closing days of the transfer window, I don’t think this Fulham squad has the personnel to play the way he would like. Instead, we are packed with ball-players and attacking talent – the route to safety could well be found by allowing our artisans to express themselves.
The last time the Whites came back from 2-0 down to win a Premier League fixture was that incredible revival against Manchester City that sparked the Great Escape under Roy Hodgson. Last night, reminded me a bit more of that feverish fightback against Tottenham at Loftus Road capped by Sylvain Legwinski’s injury-time winner. Momentum is vital in a relegation run-in – we can’t afford to waste ours now.