Liverpool deepen Fulham’s gloom

This turned out to be the routine Liverpool victory that almost everybody expected, but a tight and cagey contest turned on fourteen pivotal seconds just before half-time. Slavisa Jokanovic’s rejigged defensive unit had battled bravely before the interval, spurning a couple of chances on the counter-attack, and looked to have taken the lead when Aleksandar Mitrovic powered home Tom Cairney’s cross. As the visitors celebrated what they thought was the opening goal, Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson reacted to the offside flag and sent a quick free-kick out to Trent Alexander-Arnold. The full back’s forward ball released Mohamed Salah, and with Denis Odoi attempting to play offside on the half-way line, the Egytian sauntered in to slot the ball beyond Sergio Rico. Television replays suggested assistant referee Adrian Holmes might have been wrong to rule out Mitrovic’s goal and that Alisson’s quick bit of thinking had seen him strike a moving ball. When your luck is out, it’s well and truly out.

Fulham’s formation might have been conservative, designed to try and remove some of the truly awful defensive mistakes that have characterised their calamitous start to life back in the top flight, but they did pose Liverpool a few problems in a low-key first half. Teenage winger Ryan Sessegnon will feel he should have done much better than merely shoot wide of the far post when a clever flick from Mitrovic sent him clear through the middle of the Liverpool defence, whilst Alisson was almost embarrassed when he nearly parried a Schurrle shot straight back to the Serbian striker.

In between times, Fulham were indebted to Rico for keeping them in the contest. The Spaniard produced a smothering save to keep out Salah as he sought to link up with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on the edge of the Fulham box and spread himself well to prevent the Egyptian from opening the scoring. The recalled Xherdan Shaqiri proved the most likely source of Liverpool inspiration for much of the first period, twice firing wide from promising positions, whilst also sending a steady supply of chances to Jurgen Klopp’s three forwards. Alexander-Arnold might have done better than waste good positions when he pushed forward on the right – but the turning point on the cusp of half-time put an entirely different complexion on proceedings.

Calum Chambers had enjoyed an encouraging outing as an additional holding midfielder alongside Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who still looks to be getting to grips with the demands of Premier League football. But the concession of that goal to Salah necessitated more urgency in Fulham’s play after the break, especially with Mitrovic horribly isolated up front for much of a fruitless afternoon. The visitors were penned back almost from the start of the second half and were grateful to another splendid save from Rico, who somehow turned Mane’s shot, that looked destined for the top corner, over the bar.

The relief was merely, temporary, however. Fulham seemed to have survived the danger when Alexander-Arnold’s corner was overhit but as the ball broke to Robertson in a crossing position down the left, Tom Cairney made the critical decision to leave Shaqiri unattended at the back post, and the Swiss international handsomely volleyed home his second league goal of the season from eight yards out. From the point on, the result was an inevitably – it was a surprise that Liverpool couldn’t plunder further goals as the belief drained from their opponents.

Fulham were limited, but spirited. There was far more fight soon here than in the spineless surrender at Huddersfield last Monday night. A seventh consecutive defeat could spell the end for Jokanovic, but on this performance that would be particularly harsh. The Serbian should get the international break and the opportunity to prepare his side for another crucial six-pointer at Craven Cottage against Southampton at the very least.

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Gomez, van Dijk; Fabinho (Keita 90+2), Wijnaldum (Henderson 69), Shaqiri (Milner 82); Mane, Salah, Firminio. Subs (not used): Mignolet, Lovren, Moreno, Sturridge.

BOOKED: Gomez.

GOALS: Salah (41), Shaqiri (53).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Christie, Le Marchand, Mawson, Odoi; Chambers, Anguissa (Johansen 84); Schurrle (Vietto 78), R. Sessegnon, Cairney (Seri 63). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Fosu-Mensah, Kebano.

BOOKED: Chambers.

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Wigan).

ATTENDANCE: 53,128

Spineless Fulham fold at Huddersfield

The pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic grew last night after a lackadaisical Fulham side slumped to the bottom of the Premier League table following an abject defeat at Huddersfield Town. The Terriers recorded their first home goal for 659 minutes as well as their first Premier League win of the campaign and fully deserved the three points for their desire and putting together the only real quality on display. Jokanovic delivered a scathing assessment of his side’s lack of fight after the final whistle and questions will be asked about his future with his side now rock bottom of the table.

David Wagner celebrated the best possible anniversary present after Huddersfield marked his third year in charge with a vital win. From the outset, the home side looked the more likely winners: more determined in the challenge, more progressive with the ball and more threatening in the final third. They set the tempo early, with a high-octane pressing game that Fulham struggled to deal with, disrupting the visitors’ time on the ball and their possession-based approach. Town almost grabbed the lead from a move that encapsulated their strong start to the contest, with the energetic Jonathan Hogg snapping in to steal the ball from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Philip Billing smashing the crossbar with a venomous strike from distance.

It became clear that a low on confidence Fulham side were fragile and there for the taking. Jean-Michael Seri barely moved out of first gear in the heart of the midfield, whilst the battling qualities of powerful midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa were entirely absent. There was even an absence of endeavour about the manner in which Fulham conceded. Anguissa afforded Alex Pritchard all the time in the world to turn on the edge of the box and fire a deflected shot that Sergio Rico did well to claw behind. Then, Chris Lowe’s corner was headed out of the penalty area by a combination of Mitrovic and Tom Cairney at the near post. The Fulham captain stayed down nursing a head injury whilst Lowe whipped a teasing ball into the far post where Christopher Schlinder and Timothy Fosu-Mensah contested the aerial challenge, with the ball looping in last off the Manchester United loanee.

It might have been worse before the break but for Rico’s alert reactions when a deft header from Hogg almost crept into the corner. Jokanovic took immediate action at half-time – sending on Cyrus Christie and Kevin McDonald for Fosu-Mensah and Luciano Vietto, but the lack of an attacking substitute to make the difference in the final third was to prove costly. Mooy lashed over as Fulham struggled to deal with a long throw from Billing before Christie at least gave Fulham some attacking intent down the right flank. The Londoners looked laboured going forward for much of the contest – typically their only shot on target, a fine finish from Schurrle, was ruled out for an offside against Mitrovic in the build up.

The Serbian sent their clearest chance – a free header at the far post from a corner – wide, but Huddersfield looked the more likely to add to their lead as time ticked by. Denis Odoi was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he handled just inside the box under pressure from Huddersfield substitute Laurent Depoitre. It was another Town substitute, Isaac Mbenza who had the chance to put the game to bed but he snatched horribly at his shot when he seemed clean through on goal and the ball flew harmlessly wide.

Fulham pushed on in the final ten minutes but only created one real opening. Cairney carved open the Huddersfield defence with a beautifully weighted through ball that sent Schurrle away down the left wing. The German zigged and zagged his way into the penalty area but placed his finish wide of Jurgen Lossl and the far post. Added time came and went with a whimper – and the sight of Ryan Sessegnon, possibly Fulham’s best performer on a forgettable evening, lying face down on the turf in the centre circle for fully five minutes after the final whistle will live long in the memory.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (3-4-1-2): Lossl; Zanka, Schlinder, Kongolo (Bacuna 90); Hadergjonaj, Lowe, Billing, Hogg; Mooy, Mounie (Depoitre 56), Pritchard (Mbenza 82). Subs (not used): Hamer, Smith, Sobhi, van la Parra.

BOOKED: Billing, Mbenza.

GOAL: Fosu-Mensah (o.g. 29).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rico; Fosu-Mensah (Christie 45), R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Le Marchand; Anguissa, Seri, Cairney; Vietto (McDonald 45; Johansen 65), Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Chambers, Mawson.

BOOKED: Fosu-Mensah, Mitrovic.

REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Manchester).

ATTENDANCE: 21,855.

Wilson brace leaves Fulham reeling

After Callum Wilson had fired home his second of the afternoon, putting an imperious Bournemouth 3-0 up at Craven Cottage, it was left to Aleksandar Mitrovic to sum up the mood of the Fulham followers. The Serbian smashed the ball high into the air as it headed back towards the centre circle for the kick off, perhaps the sweetest a Fulham player had connected with it all day, aptly encapsulating the air of depression that has swiftly enveloped the Whites. That glorious May afternoon at Wembley seems a lot longer than six months ago.

The hero of that afternoon, Slavisa Jokanovic, is coming under increasing pressure – and not just because Shahid Khan had parted with more than £100m to make his newly-promoted charges competitive at the highest level. Jokanovic selected his tenth consecutive defence of the campaign and a third goalkeeper, although Sergio Rico was largely blameless on his Premier League debut. The defensive errors appear endemic no matter who lines up at the back for Fulham at the moment and Bournemouth’s easy-on-the eye passing style, with pace in the forward areas, was almost tailor-made to take full advantage of their hosts’ frailty.

Fulham began impishly but were fighting an uphill battle from the moment that Timothy Fosu-Mensah brainlessly bought down Wilson inside the box when there appeared little danger. The Bournemouth forward confidently dispatched the spot-kick and Eddie Howe’s side never seriously seemed like they were about to give up that advantage at any point afterwards. They seemed to have time on the ball and, in the graceful midfielder David Brooks, they had the afternoon’s outstanding performer. It was fitting that the Welsh international, who had starred for Sheffield United in the Championship last season, grabbed the crucial second goal – such was his influence on steering the contest gradually away from Fulham.

The home side struggled for fluency in possession and more than a fleeting side of the Bournemouth goal. Such was their desperation for a route back into the contest, Aboubakar Kamara flung himself to the ground under a challenge from Asmir Begovic and was rightly booked for simulation. Andre Schurrle sent their only shot on the target straight at the former Chelsea goalkeeper from just outside the box, whilst Denis Odoi perhaps should have done better with a free header at the near post when Fulham whipped up a rare head of steam.

The hosts’ did up the ante briefly in the second period, when Tom Cairney added a little more craft to their play when he was introduced from the bench, but typically Fulham the crucial second goal at a point when they were beginning to look a little more threatening. Adam Smith nipped in to steal possession from Jean-Michael Seri and the nippy Ryan Fraser carried the ball deep into Fulham territory before feeding Brooks, who slipped the ball between the legs of a stranded Rico to put the game beyond Jokanovic’s men.

The gravity of their situation only increased a minute later when the unfortunate Kevin McDonald was shown a second yellow card for hauling back Brooks, who looked set to double his tally, after he had capitalised on another mistake from Odoi. Bournemouth did make it three with four minutes to go when Wilson finished clinically after being released by a fine ball from Fraser and claimed his fifth goal in his last four matches. Jokanovic cut a diminished figure in lengthy conversation with his assistant Javier Perreira just before the final whistle – and he will need to work hard to lift his troops ahead of what already looks like a six-pointer with fellow strugglers Huddersfield.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand (Cairney 60), Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Seri (Anguissa 80); Kamara, R. Sessegnon, Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, Mawson, Johansen, Vietto.

BOOKED: Kamara, McDonald, Mitrovic.

SENT OFF: McDonald.

AFC BOURNEMOUTH (3-4-3): Begovic; Francis, Ake, S. Cook; Smith, Daniels, Lerma, L. Cook (Gosling 80); Brooks (Stanislas 86), Fraser (Defoe 89), Wilson. Subs (not used): Boruc, D. Rico, Surman, Ibe.

BOOKED: S. Cook.

GOALS: Wilson (pen 14, 85), Brooks (72).

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).

ATTENDANCE: 25,071.

Cardiff send Fulham into drop zone

Cardiff ramped up the pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic by recording their first league win of the season and sending Fulham into the relegation zone after an end-to-end contest at the Cardiff City Stadium.

The Whites failed to build on going in front thanks to a long-range thunderbolt by Andre Schürrle and were left to rue familiar failings as more wretched defending allowed Neil Warnock’s men to leapfrog them and climb out of the drop zone. A new-look back four, which Jokanovic admitted included ‘four centre halves’ and was designed to introduce more solidity at the back, crumbled under the weight of the task in front of them and, at times, it looked as if Cardiff, who had only scored two league goals all season, could score at will.

It looked as if the trip to Wales might bring some relief for Jokanovic, whose side were thumped 5-1 by Arsenal last weekend. The visitors went in front through a sensational strike from Schürrle , who may have been given far too much time to advance in a central position 35 yards from goal, but nobody would have expected him to curl a goal of the season contender past former Fulham keeper Neil Etheridge and into the top corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, but it proved a false dawn as the Bluebirds hit back twice in the space of five first half moments.

Calum Chambers, who endured a nightmare 45 minutes at right back, was caught horribly out of position going for an expansive one-two with Schürrle in the centre circle and Josh Murphy had the freedom of the city to race onto a searching through ball from centre back Sol Bamba. The former Norwich winger ran at Denis Odoi and finished clinically into the bottom corner with Marcus Bettinelli having little chance as the strike took a deflection off the covering Belgian defender. Five minutes later, it was 2-1 and again it proved a calamity of Fulham’s own making.

The Londoners’ looked to have dealt with the danger from a Cardiff free-kick which Gunarsson blasted into the wall but Schürrle attempted to take an extra touch rather than clear his lines and was robbed of possession outside his own area. Aron Gunnarsson’s tackle ricocheted past Tim Ream, who was slow to react, and Bobby Reid pounced to slide a finish under the advancing Tim Ream. It might have been worse for Fulham had Chambers been dismissed for pulling back his tormenter Murphy when he seemed set to race through on goal. The on-loan Arsenal man was shown a yellow card instead, before being substituted at half-time.

The Whites did at least go in level courtesy of Ryan Sessegnon’s first top-flight goal. The teenager, who has now scored five times in five appearances against City, produced an excellent finish to a flowing move to level the contest after Aleksandar Mitrovic – horribly isolated for most of the afternoon – beautifully flicked a through ball from Chambers into the winger’s path. Fulham might have been fortunate to have restored parity by the break, but the second half was a much more even and cagey affair until Jokanovic made the decision to replace Jean-Michael Seri with Floyd Ayite, unbalancing a midfield that was dominating possession until that point.

Both sides had chances to win it, but Fulham’s defence caved in with 25 minutes to go. Cardiff worked an opening down the right with the excellent Gunnarsson and Bruno Ecuele Manga involved before makeshift centre forward Calum Paterson beat both Ream and Mawson to the ball, turned and shot into the far corner, with Bettinelli seemingly going down in slow motion. Mawson had a header from a corner brilliantly palmed away by Etheridge but Fulham’s soft underbelly was underlined when Ream slipped on the halfway line allowing Victor Camarasa to surge into the area and cross for substitute Kadeem Harris, who made sure of the points with a low finish. No wonder Jokanovic admitted Fulham have ‘so many defensive problems to fix’ afterwards.

CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Etheridge; Ecula Manga, Bennett, Bamba, Morrison; Gunarsson (Richards 77), Arter (Damour 86), Camarasa, J. Murphy (K. Harris 82); Paterson, Reid. Subs (not used): Smithies, Cunningham, Hoilett, Zohore.

BOOKED: Gunnarsson, Morrison, Bamba, Richards.

GOALS: J. Murphy (15), Reid (20), Paterson (65), Harris (87).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Chambers (Mawson 45), Odoi, Ream, Le Marchand; McDonald, Seri (Ayite 58), Johansen (Vietto 82); Schürrle , R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Anguissa, Kamara.

BOOKED: Chambers, McDonald, Johansen.

GOALS: Schürrle (11), R. Sessegnon (34).

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

ATTENDANCE: 29,681.

Five-star Arsenal rip Fulham to shreds

By the end, it was a massacre. Arsenal accelerated to their ninth straight league win and there seemed to be an ocean between the Gunners at Fulham by the time that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rolled in a fifth at the Putney End seconds into stoppage time. The sight of Ryan Sessegnon, disconsolately on his knees after the final whistle in the centre circle, showed just how much this defeat hurt.

It was yet another reminder of how defensive vulnerabilities can be brutally exposed in the top flight. Fulham had began feistily, with plenty of spirit and tempo, penning Unai Emery’s side deep in their own half during an opening twenty minutes that saw Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominate possession and create a couple of clear chances. They even had the momentum going in at half-time following Andre Schurrle’s sumptuous finish to a flowing move and were arguably in the game until Jokanovic opted to replace Tim Ream with Aboubakar Kamara. Had the French forward directed a header on goal with his first touch instead of it drifting harmlessly wide, who knows what the outcome might have been?

Instead, Arsenal’s formidable football, explosive pace in the forward areas and the sort of supreme confidence that comes with winning nine league games in a row took hold. Alexandre Lacazette had underlined his devastating ability in front of goal with two wondrous finishes before a sweeping move that began in the Arsenal right back position after Schurrle’s untimely slip ended a promising Fulham attack, led to an impudent flick from Aaron Ramsey completing a contender for goal of the season. The game might have been effectively out of Fulham’s reach from that moment on, but Jokanovic would not have been enamoured with the way his charges wilted after that. The Whites appeared to have run horribly out of gas in the final twenty minutes, with Aubameyang slotting home clinically from close range before adding that late fifth. Fulham have a reputation for being welcoming hosts, but this was unforgivable generosity.

Jokanovic’s solution to a horribly shaky defence was to deploy three centre backs and give Sessegnon and Christie the license to roam forward from wing-back. The teenage Sessegnon did it effectively, arguably bettering Hector Bellerin in the first 45 minutes, but Christie’s limitations at this level were horribly exposed during a chastening afternoon. With Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s return from a serious shoulder injury probably more than a month away, right back appears to become another problem position. Most of the problems came down the Arsenal left in the first half and, with Denis Odoi frequently dragged out of position to cover, it was inevitable that the Gunners would eventually fashion a goalscoring chance. Maxime Le Marchand had already produced two last-ditch interventions before Lacazette took the first opening that came his way clinically, spinning inside the box and firing a low shot beyond Marcus Bettinelli, to make light of Fuham’s encouraging start, which saw Bernt Leno produce an excellent save from Luciano Vietto’s deflected shot and Aleksandar Mitrovic have a strike blocked behind.

As it turned out, Fulham’s equaliser just before the break only delayed a deflating second half collapse, but at the time it felt significant. Vietto gleefully seized on a poor Arsenal pass, galloped into space just outside the box and measured a lovely ball through for Schurrle. There was a still a lot for the German to do, but he brilliantly lifted a clever finish over Leto and the home side were level. It was the least they deserved for the spirit and resolve demonstrated in shaking off going behind once again, but Jokanovic will be alarmed at how devastatingly his side fell from that high-octane start for the second week running. The Whites had no answer to Everton stepping up a gear at Goodison Park last Saturday – and you never really felt they were likely to mount a comeback once Lacazette lashed home from distance after Danny Welbeck had flicked on a hopeful long ball from the impressive Lucas Torreira.

Ramsey’s first touch was an artful back flick from close range that left Marcus Bettinelli with no chance and capped a mesmerising length of the field move that hinted at the sort of football Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles put together in their sleep. You can feel the belief drain away from Fulham’s shell-shocked players – and Jokanovic now has a real job on his hands. The Serbian head coach, no closer to knowing his best eleven and with injuries sidelining key performers, has to lift his team ahead of their return to domestic action following the international break, which includes three possibly pivotal fixtures against Cardiff City, Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town. Aside from fashioning a functioning back line, the Fulham boss needs to add more bite to the midfield, especially ahead of that trip to south Wales. The confidence of last May already looks a thing of the past.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Ream (Kamara 54), Le Marchand; Christie, R, Sessegnon, Zambo Anguissa (McDonald 62), Seri; Vietto (Johansen 83), Schürrle, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Mawson, S. Sessegnon.

BOOKED: Vietto, Schürrle.

GOAL: Schürrle (44).

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Leno; Bellerín, Monreal, Mustafi, Holding; Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Xhaka, Iwobi (Ramsey 67); Welbeck (Aubameyang 62), Lacazette (Guendouzi 80). Subs (not used): Martínez, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner, Kolasinac.

GOALS: Lacazette (29, 49); Ramsey (67); Aubameyang (79, 90+1).

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 25,401