Chambers says Fulham ‘have stomach for the fight’

Calum Chambers believes Fulham’s incredible fightback against Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday night shows that they ‘have the stomach for the fight’ as they battle to stay in the Premier League.

The Arsenal loanee’s first goal for the club sparked a remarkable comeback as the Whites scored four second-half goals without reply, having trailed to an early Glenn Murray brace. Chambers feels that the precious victory could serve as a turning point in their season and gives Fulham belief heading into Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace.

He told the Mirror after the final whistle:

We have shown we have the stomach for the fight. We were 2-0 down, conditions weren’t nice, we could have easily crumbled — but we didn’t.
We showed fighting spirit, we showed character and we showed a bit of pride. I think that’s what we are capable of and that’s what we need to do every game from now on. That’s going to be crucial. We have got to look at that second-half performance and what we did well. We have got to learn from that and take it into the next game.

That is the important thing – to try and build a bit of momentum. I think we can take a lot of positives from the second-half and go into the next games knowing we are capable of that.

Chambers also praised the impact of Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who grabbed a double to rock Brighton back on their heels.

Having him in the team can help you. He is a fighter, he is strong, and he scores goals. Having a player like him is crucial. That is why we need to use him. We need to use him as a player, know what his qualities are, and use them to our advantage.

He is a great character. He is a fighter. To have someone like that in the team is brilliant. He leads from the front. So having someone like that in the team is what we need.

There were obviously words from the manager at half time. We all spoke among ourselves as players. It was just a case of, we know it wasn’t good enough and we knew had to go out in the second-half and turn it around, show a bit of pride and character. That is what we did.

Fulham working on Nortdveit deal

Fulham are working on a deal to sign centre back Havard Nordtveit from Hoffenheim, according to reports from Norway this evening.

The 28 year-old Norwegian international, who can also play as a holding midfielder, has had two previous spells in English football with Arsenal and West Ham United and is reportedly keen on returning to the Premier League. Nordtveit has spent the past two seasons with Hoffenheim since leaving the Hammers, but has made just eight Bundesliga performances this season.

Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri has been desperate to bring in a centre back for much of the January transfer window, but talks over a potential move for Chelsea defender Gary Cahill broke down earlier this month. The move to sign Nordtveidt, who has won 45 caps for his country, has earned a thumbs up from former Fulham captain Brede Hangeland, who himself made a January move to Craven Cottage with the club deep in the relegation mire back in 2008.

Hangeland, who now works as a television analyst, told TV2 tonight:

I can’t see any other reason why Fulham should sign him than to go straight to the team. They have no need to get someone who cannot start and reinforce the base. Håvard also has no interest in sitting on the bench in the Premier League.

Fulham has a defence that is definitely not good enough. If he is intended for a defender role, he will be an upgrade on Odoi who plays on the right of the back three right now.

Mitrovic revels in ‘magical night’

Aleksandar Mitrovic revelled in what he described as ‘a magical night’ at Craven Cottage after Fulham roared back from two goals down to breeze past Brighton and Hove Albion last night.

The Cottagers breathed new life into their battle against the drop with a storming second half display that stood in stark contrast to their abysmal first half showing. Mitrovic scored two goals and came out on top in a real battle with Brighton’s two centre backs, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, after a display of classical centre forward play.

The Serbian striker told Fulham’s official website that he relished the physical battle with the Brighton centre halves:

They are tough, tough guys, really strong, tall guys, like every Premier League defender.

I enjoy competing with different defenders every week, and against Brighton I scored two goals.

I had good service second half and we played unbelievably. We got four goals, and could have scored a few more, so it really was an unbelievable night. After a very bad first half, we tried to give everything second half. We wanted to go out and do everything we could.

We scored nice and early with the first goal, then the second goal, third goal, and the fourth goal finished the game. We didn’t concede any goals at the end.

It was really a joy to play in, and the fans were unbelievable. They believed as well, like we believed, and it was a magical night, and hopefully there are more wins to come.

It was a big game, a big three points. We had an unbelievable second half. We believed, and we fought until the end, and I think we deserved this.

Cairney eyes another ‘great escape’

Tom Cairney says last night’s stirring fightback against Brighton and Hove Albion shows that Fulham can pull off another ‘great escape’ and stay in the Premier League.

The Cottagers are still five points from safety, but Cairney feels that coming back from two goals down to record their first win in a month has boosted morale around the club. The Scottish international, who was introduced as an early substitute after Glenn Murphy’s double inside the first twenty minutes, also believes that passing football is the way to get Fulham out of trouble.

Look, we have got players to play football. I just feel like we have got to pass the ball. I think that is what we did in the second-half. That is what I came on and tried to do to the team. I mean it is tough, we can’t really outfight teams.

We aren’t big enough, we aren’t strong enough. But we have got good footballers in the team with Ryan Babel coming in, Jean-Michael Seri who can play football, myself. With Aleksandar Mitrovic up top, we have always got a chance to score. That is our best way; playing to feet.

I think that is the only way we can do it. We tried to fight, we tried to scrap a little bit, go a bit more direct. But I think we have our most success and look most dangerous when we play football.

Obviously it is still going to be the great escape if we get out of the situation we are in. I think to have any chance we have got to go back-to-back wins for the first time.

Tom Cairney: 150 Not Out

Lost in all the euphoria of last night’s epic comeback against Brighton and Hove Albion was the fact that Tom Cairney’s introduction as an early substitute marked his 150th appearance for Fulham.

Cairney’s class on a football field has never been in doubt. He flickered brightly with Hull City as a teenager and his capture from Blackburn Rovers for little more than £3m in 2015 seems a steal in hindsight. With such a smart football brain and crisp passing ability, it was no surprise that he flourished under Slavisa Jokanovic’s tutelage and, when he was switched into a playmaking central midfield role, the classy midfielder became the fulcrum around which an unassailable team was built. Cairney’s partnership with Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald comprised the most complete midfield in the Championship, with Fulham’s domination of possession appearing almost absolute at times.

The Scottish international, who has also matured markedly as he assumed the captaincy following the retirement of Scott Parker, has also had to show serious resilience as he has battled back from two troubling injuries over the past couple of seasons. It was noticeable that Fulham’s indifferent start to the last campaign ended with Cairney’s return to the side and, despite another injury-troubled season this term, there is no doubt that he makes such a difference to the side. Last night’s turnaround only served to underline the point, with Fulham able to impose themselves on Brighton only once Cairney had come off the bench to replace Tim Ream on 26 minutes.

The difference in Fulham’s patterns of play and assertiveness with Cairney able to protect possession and set the Whites moving forward alongside the outstanding Jean-Michael Seri was massive. Although Claudio Ranieri has so far sought to play only one of the pair having opted for a back five, I’m hoping that he can tweak the system to fit Fulham’s two best passers of a ball into the same side. The momentum garnered from last night’s revival is massive – and, with a number of away wins needed to secure survival, it would make sense for Ranieri to become a little more adventurous.

Without Cairney, Fulham suddenly seem primitive and predictable in possession. His composure on the ball in tight spots is a real asset for a defence that has suffered so regularly this season and his eye for a pass provides a greater threat going forward. Ranieri might have correctly identified that Cairney doesn’t score enough goals for a player of his calibre, but you could hardly quibble with his effectiveness last night. He was incredibly unfortunate not to mark his landmark with a goal, curling two sumptuous efforts against the crossbar, even if one did rebound kindly for Luciano Vietto.

Cairney has already served up so many special moments in his time at the club. His tears at Reading following the play-off defeat were followed by his desire to lead the team back to the promised land and he delivered in such fine style on that magnificent day at Wembley. That outstanding injury-team equaliser at Leeds that propelled the Whites’ late charge into the play-offs will live long in the memory as well his wondrous strike at Wolves. He’s already etched his name into Fulham folklore – and you wouldn’t bet against Cairney carving out a few more memories between and now and the end of this campaign.

Fulham’s fabulous fightback restores belief

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.

Ranieri salutes Fulham’s ‘fighting spirit’

Claudio Ranieri hailed Fulham’s fighting spirit after the Whites roared back from two goals down to beat Brighton and Hove Albion and breathe new life into their battle against the drop.

Fulham found themselves 2-0 down to a pair of Glenn Murray goals inside seven minutes and Ranieri was forced to abandon his back five by introducing Tom Cairney from the bench with less than half an hour played. The Italian replaced Andre Schurrle with Luciano Vietto at half-time and the impact was immediate with goals from Calum Chambers, a brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Vietto’s first Fulham goal securing a priceless win.

Ranieri told his post-match press conference:

“It was a very strange match. After 17 minutes we were down 2-0 and at that moment I said to myself it is much better to concede now rather than at the end, where you don’t have time to react.

It was good because we reacted immediately, even in the first half despite not scoring a goal. The Chambers goal was very important as it gave all the other players more confidence, which allowed them to think we can win tonight. We deserved to win and we played very good football. Tonight we provided Mitrovi? with good crosses, and with crosses Mitrovi? is a very dangerous player. Calum’s goal was also very good as we had very good build-up play leading up to it.

At half-time I gave my players positivity and let them know that we are still in the match. We had to move the ball very quickly and try and find a solution to break the lines with Mitrovi?, Cairney, Vietto and Babel. Babel gave us some experience and leadership, every time he received the ball he was very calm and did something good for the team, the other players also followed him.

These three points mean that we are alive, we can see a little light but it is only a little step forwards. I want to keep seeing this fighting spirit shown this evening.For us every match is tough but they are crucial because we are in the relegation zone. We are confident – this match and result tonight was very important for us. We believe always but tomorrow we have to restart because we have another tough match ahead of us on Saturday.

Mitrovic’s brace breaks Brighton

In September surrendered a two-goal lead at Brighton and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side never rediscovered the swashbuckling football that had characterised their rise to the Premier League. Tonight, at Craven Cottage, in a strange reversal of that glorious sunkissed afternoon at the AMEX Stadium, Claudio Ranieri’s men breathed some life into their stagnant relegation battle by storming back from a two-goal deficit. The villain on the south coast Aleksandar Mitrovic, who conceded a late penalty that day, was the hero tonight – proving pretty much unplayable as Fulham scored four goals without reply whilst playing a brand of football that would have had Jokanovic purring.

The transformation from a ragged side that seemed resigned to relegation at half-time was quite something. Fulham were fitful in the first half and Albion appeared likely to score every time they mounted an attack down the right flank. Chris Hughton’s side went ahead with their first serious attack in the third minute. Martin Montoya, a summer transfer target for the Whites, was afforded far too much time to advance into a dangerous position and whip over a dangerous cross for the seasoned poacher Glenn Murray, who stole ahead of Maxime Le Marchand and steered a fine finish into the far corner.

The veteran’s instinctive finishing doubled Brighton’s lead after seventeen minutes. The goal was unorthodox in its creation with Pascal Gross’s ambitious overhead kick causing consternation in the Fulham back line – Murray was the quickest to react and flicked another impudent finish past the helpless Sergio Rico. The 35 year-old hadn’t scored in eight league games prior to his visit to west London and should have had a hat-trick before the interval. He snuck clear of Denis Odoi but headed the wrong side of the far post. Rico was totally beaten by a thumping drive from Davy Propper that rattled the crossbar – and Fulham, whose only serious openings fell to the lively Ryan Babel and the otherwise anonymous Andre Schurrle, were unsurprisingly booed off at half-time.

The home side’s lethargy had forced Ranieri into an early reshuffle as he introduced Tom Cairney in place of Ream with just 26 minutes on the clock and the Scottish playmaker at least established a foothold in the contest for Fulham. Luciano Vietto came on for Schurrle at the back and produced his liveliest display of the season, roaming infield from the left wing to great effect. You felt an early goal was necessary and it arrived from the unlikeliest of sources when Calum Chambers, outstanding again in the holding midfield role he has made his own, displayed magnificent technique to fire an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 20 yards after Mitrovic’s knock-down.

That goal galvanised Fulham. The Hammersmith End’s boos had now turned to exhortations of encouragement. Against all the odds, Ranieri’s men pulled themselves level just before the hour mark. A corner sparked pinball in the Brighton box and the ball was only half-cleared. The impressive Babel whipped over another dangerous ball and Mitrovic fought off the attentions of two Brighton defenders to reach the ball before Mat Ryan and head into the net. Pandemonium ensued in the stands.

The gravity of Fulham’s situation meant a draw would change little. They had to go for the win and, in doing so, left themselves open at the back. Rico made a splendid reaction save when Murray seemed certain to score from another Montoya cross and the white shirts continued to pour forward. A wonderful move that saw Babel and Vietto link intelligently culminated in Jean-Michael Seri, who probably had his best game into a Fulham shirt, striking the base of the near post with a low drive from the edge of the box.

Fulham kept on asking questions of a creaking Brighton defence and finally Joe Bryan, who looks far more comfortable going forward than defensively, prized it open with a wonderful goal. Mitrovic outjumped Lewis Dunk and planted a header beyond the despairing Ryan to complete the most incredulous of turnarounds. Given how porous their defence has been for most of the season, Fulham weren’t about to sit on their slender lead. Cairney was denied a deserved goal when his lovely curler came back off the crossbar but Babel was alive to the rebound prodding back into the danger area, where Vietto guided home his first Fulham goal to give Ranieri’s men a bit of breathing space.

A guttural roar enveloped Craven Cottage. They might have had a fifth, with Cairney again denied by the crossbar as he sought to bend home a finish after Mitrovic and Babel had pulled the Brighton defence from pillar to post. The effervescence with which Fulham finished the game suggests that they have both the spirit and the quality to make a decent fist of their survival bid but Ranieri will know they need to back up these three points with another strong showing at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream (Cairney 26); Christie, Bryan (R. Sessegnon 77), Chambers, Seri; Schurrle (Vietto 45), Babel, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cisse, Kebano, Ayite.

BOOKED: Seri, Babel.

GOALS: Chambers (47), Mitrovic (58, 74), Vietto (79).

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-3-3): Ryan; Montoya, Bong, Duffy, Dunk; Groß (Andone 77), Stephens, Propper; March, Locardia (Knockaert 71), Murray. Subs (not used): Button, Bruno, Burn, Kayal, Bissouma.

BOOKED: Stephens, Duffy, Dunk.

GOALS: Murray (3, 17).

REFEREE: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire).

ATTENDANCE: 22,008.

From defence to midfield: The rise of Calum Chambers

Sunday 11th November 2018. A daunting task faced the Whites. A trip to Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s title hopefuls against relegation contenders.

When the team was released at 11am, most of the travelling Fulham faithful were baffled by the line-up. One name stuck out on the list. Calum Chambers. Was Slaviša really playing the on loan Arsenal defender as a central midfielder? Does Slaviša really want to keep his job? Has he given up completely? The feeling of doom and gloom around the concourse at Anfield was all-consuming. ‘We’re going to lose, 100%, mate’. Of course, Fulham did lose as it turned out. But it could have been very different.

We all knew what happened that day, but Chambers starred in his new role. He provided some ballast in front of a shaky defence, offering grit, determination and he definitely wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. It was a masterclass in a ball-winning role that showed the Fulham fans something they hadn’t seen before during Chambers’ unconvincing start to his loan spell at Craven Chambers. The one-time England international hadn’t pulled up any trees at centre back and was utterly dreadful when tried at right back in the desperate defeat to Cardiff.

Having arrived amidst much fanfare as Fulham bought in a host of players towards the end of the summer transfer window, Chambers couldn’t establish himself at his new club. He was rejuvenated in a new role, however, although the battling performance at Anfield wasn’t enough to save Slavisa Jokanovic’s job. Replacing the Serb was a man who knew all about building from the back: a far more defensive coach in Claudio Ranieri. Chambers would have been forgiven for wondering whether he would have to prove himself all over again.

As it turned out, Chambers have been one of the mainstays of Ranieri’s side, retaining his defensive midfield role even after the Italian switched to a five-man defence. He has been unfortunate not to open his goalscoring account for the Whites, forcing a splendid save out of Kasper Schmeichel and going close with a number of efforts in the SW6 derby at Chelsea. It is workmanlike displays in front of the defence that have caught the eye – Chambers simply never stops running  Nobody would have predicted that the Arsenal would become a regular in midfield, especially after Fulham decided to supplement their promotion-winning quartet with the likes of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Jean-Michael Seri. Anguissa has had to play second-fiddle to Chambers, who must surely be playing some of the best football of his career.

His energy, bravery and a desire to work his socks off for the cause have quickly won over the Fulham faithful. Chambers covered almost every blade of grass in an outstanding display against Tottenham last weekend, where the Whites deserved more than that gut-wrenching last-gasp defeat. In the unlikely event that the Whites manage to pull off another great escape, then Chambers would surely have to be one of the Khans’ first signings. Even if Ranieri’s side drop through the relegation trap door, Chambers’ attitude and determination won’t be forgotten. His tireless running has shown every player who finds themselves on the sidelines how to get back into the action – there’s no substitute for hard work.

Time to get Seri-ous! Fulham v Brighton – Preview.

Fulham welcome Chris Hughton’s Brighton and Hove Albion to Craven Cottage tomorrow night in what is now unmistakably a must-win game.

Despite the desolation of the last-gasp defeat to Tottenham, there would have been plenty of positives for Claudio Ranieri to take from a battling performance. The Whites created a number of good chances in the first half and certainly should have been in front by more than a single goal at the break. Eyebrows were raised when Fulham brought in Ryan Babel, a 32 year-old winger with shocking red hair, during the transfer window but, on the basis of his powerful display against Spurs, it was clear that the former Liverpool winger offers something different. Babel showed determination, fight, an ability to link up with Aleksandar Mitrovic, and all that was missing was a deserved debut goal.

Results certainly haven’t gone for Ranieri since the new year. Now’s the time for Fulham to be brave, play with some spirit and treat our remaining games like Cup finals. Draws at home won’t be good enough any more – especially when you look at the fixtures that our relegation rivals have in the weeks ahead. Brighton are brilliantly drilled by Hughton and their continued survival in the top flight is a story in itself. Albion will be tough to breakdown but pose a real threat on the break as well as set pieces, with their tall centre halves Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy likely to cause problems. There is also the ex-Fulham contingent with David Button, who has been deputising for Matty Ryan in recent weeks, recently joined by Dan Burn.

Ranieri’s team selections have been baffling for a while. I hope that he can reintroduce Ryan Sessegnon, who seems to have been treated a little shabbily in the past few weeks, especially with some of the criticism that has come the teenager’s way. Sessegnon is a prodigious talent who is still learning his way at the highest level, but his quality has been evident in the way he scored a vital goal against Wolves and then set up that last-gasp winner for Mitrovic against Huddersfield. I feel he offers far more than Andre Schurrle at the moment – and the pace of him and Ryan Babel could make Fulham’s front three a bit more formidable.

If Ranieri was being bold, he could also sacrifice a centre back to play both Jean-Michael Seri and Tom Cairney in front of Calum Chambers. The five at the back might have helped stabilise things defensively for a while, but it seems as though teams have been able to figure out the gameplan. Fulham need to score goals and take the game to the opposition, particularly at home. We have only scored more than goal under Ranieri once – and that was against Southampton, back in his first game in charge. The combination of Seri and Cairney have the guile to unlock even the tightest of defences and, if Sessegnon and Babel are raiding down the flanks, then Seri will have the runners that his passing game thrives upon.

The margin for error is now very slender: if we don’t pick up three points against Brighton tomorrow night, I fear the fat lady might be clearing her throat.

My match prediction: Fulham 2-1 Brighton!

COYW!