If Fulham’s display against Liverpool was eyebrow-raising and energetic, this performance against relegation rivals Brighton and Hove Albion looked a little listless. In one respect that was understandable given the energy levels needed to stay with the reigning and, while Scott Parker’s charges were rather limited in the final third, the Whites head coach will be delighted with a second clean sheet of the season that has lifted his team back out of the relegation zone.
Parker stuck rigidly to the formula that has delivered a dramatic improvement in defensive durability over the past fortnight. He made just one change from the eleven that might consider themselves unfortunate not to have beaten Jurgen Klopp’s men on Sunday, reinstating Harrison Reed into Fulham’s midfield instead of Mario Lemina. Defences were definitely on top in a game of few clear-cut chances and Joachim Anderson, captain again in the continued absence of Tom Cairney, was a commanding figure at the heart of Fulham’s well-drilled back five.
Brighton were much more defensively sound that during their last outing, where they shipped goals at an alarming rate against Leicester, with Graham Potter’s six changes, including the surprising omission of first-choice goalkeeper Matt Ryan. Robert Sanchez wasn’t called upon too frequently but he produced two key saves at the end of both halves: the first showcasing his agility as he turned over a snapshot from Ivan Cavaleiro and the second his bravery, diving at the feet of Ademola Lookman after the winger had linked up impressively with Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Albion were on the front foot for most of the evening. The lively Tariq Lamptey won an all-action battle of the wing-backs with Antonee Robinson and almost fashioned an opening goal just before the half hour. The former Chelsea full-back burst down the right flank and flashed a dangerous low ball across the six-yard box, with Danny Welbeck narrowly failing to make contact. Alphonese Areola was only extended by ambitious efforts from long-range by Lewis Dunk and Yves Bissouma and a looping cross-shot from Solly March, whilst Fulham struggled to find spaces between the Brighton back three. Their best moment arrived on the stroke of half-time when Cavaleiro, a willing worker on scraps up top, spun and shot from the right edge of the area, extending Sanchez into a fingertip save.
Potter’s side penned Fulham back for long periods at the start of the second period, winning a succession of corners. Dunk went close from one of them seeing a header clawed away by Areola before improvising a finish from the rebound while laying on the turf and there was an even bigger let-off for the hosts from Albion’s very next move. March sent in a cross that Welbeck tried and failed to convert, with the loose ball breaking for Adam Lallana to roll what he thought was a first Brighton goal into the far corner. The former Liverpool midfielder looked offside, but before a ruling could be made on that by the video assistant referee, it became clear that Welbeck had handled the ball as he tried to turn it goalwards.
The Fulham goal was now leading a charmed life but there was one more moment of fortune to come. Potter’s men continued to threaten from set plays and Adam Webster powered a header against the crossbar from a Leandro Trossard corner, only for the ball to bounce down and away to safety. The Whites looked laboured – and about ready to crack. It was to their immense credit that they didn’t cave in. Lemina added some timely bite in midfield and they could have stolen a late winner of their own.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek will feel he should have done better than shoot straight at Sanchez after an untimely Webster slip left him through on goal, whilst Mitrovic – belatedly introduced with a quarter of an hour to play – immediately gave a glimpse of what Fulham had been missing, going close with a header that seemed to flick off Ben White, even though the referee awarded a goal kick. The Serbian striker supplied a clever header to offer Lookman a sight of goal, but Sanchez blocked his first effort and gamely went in to claim the rebound as he was clattered by the RB Leipzig loanee.
A stalemate probably suited both managers by the end, even if it ended Fulham’s remarkable run of 196 competitive fixtures without a goalless draw at Craven Cottage, a sequence that stretches back some nine years. The point lifts Parker’s men above Burnley and out of the bottom three – with Sean Dyche’s men and Sheffield United due to play tomorrow – and offers further evidence that Fulham might have found an answer to the defensive difficulties that bedevilled their return to the top flight. In these grim times, that’s at least something worth smiling about.
FULHAM (5-2-3): Areola; Decordova-Reid (Kamara 62), Robinson, Aina, Anderson, Adarabioyo; Reed (Lemina 62), Anguissa; Loftus-Cheek (Mitrovic 76), Lookman, Cavaleiro. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Ream, Cairney.
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (3-4-2-1): Sanchez; White, Dunk, Webster; Lamptey (Veltman 79), March, Alzate, Bissouma; Lallana (Gross 86), Trossard (Jahanbakhsh 79); Welbeck. Subs (not used): Steele, Burn, Maupay, Connolly.
REFEREE: Rob Jones (Cheshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Andy Madley (Huddersfield).