Are Fulham in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?
A recent run of three victories in six matches—including away at Liverpool and Everton—fuelled optimism that the Cottagers could beat the drop.
Similarly, Newcastle United’s own toils raised hope that the Londoners could pip the Magpies to safety.
After a bruising weekend, however, in which Fulham capitulated against Aston Villa and Newcastle battled back to take a point from Tottenham Hotspur, the Cottagers find themselves with another opportunity missed to boost their survival hopes.
Their goal difference is slightly better than Newcastle’s, but they’ve now got 26 points to the Magpies’ 29, while Steve Bruce’s side have a game in hand.
Crucially, while Newcastle have lost only one of their last five—and their morale will be boosted tremendously following their late equaliser against Spurs—Fulham have now lost four of their last five.
Their morale may well be low as well after their late capitulation against Villa, who, inspired by Egypt’s Trezeguet, scored three in the final 12 minutes.
The loss meant heartbreak for the capital club’s Nigerian quintet, all of whom have done themselves proud this season.
Josh Onomah and Josh Maja came off the bench in the encounter, while Ademola Lookman and Ola Aina featured from the start.
So too did Tosin Adarabioyo, whose error led to Villa’s second, as the Anglo-Nigerian defender lost the ball to Keinan Davis after being pressed for the ball. The Villains striker then crossed for Trezeguet, who made no mistake on the volley.
This was a major missed opportunity for Fulham, who had taken the lead through Aleksandar Mitrovic but ultimately let their intensity drop as the contest wore on.
Lookman could have also found the net, but his free kick was deflected wide by Joachim Andersen after Emiliano Martinez had been beaten, while Maja was unable to change the course of the contest after entering the fray.
While Lookman and Maja failed to influence proceedings at one end, Tosin—beyond his error—struggled when up against new England international Ollie Watkins.
Aina, at left-back, arguably had a tougher time when pitted against the irrepressible Bertrand Traore—another player once spurned by Chelsea—who relished the one-on-one battle with his fellow West African and…unfortunately for the Nigerian…had the better of the duel.
Speaking to Sky Sports ahead of the Liverpool game, Adarabioyo expressed optimism that the Cottagers would pull clear.
“I know it’s a difficult time for us as a team and the position that we’re in, I feel like everybody in this team is learning and pushing towards staying in this league,” he told Sky Sports.
“We are putting in some great performances at the moment individually and collectively.”
The Villa match was not a great performance—neither individually (with the exception of Mitrovic) or collectively—but Fulham have shown that they are capable of dispatching some of the best teams in the land.
However, the momentum they once had has dissipated, with Parker lamenting his side’s lack of nous after the match.
“At certain moments in the game, you have to understand where you are and what you need and we didn’t manage that,” he told journalists. “Sometimes you need to be horrible, play the game in the right territory.
“We were walking away with one point and then we were sloppy,” he added. “It’s a young team but we were naive and made silly mistakes.
“After the first goal, we dropped our intensity and it affected us too much and we weren’t streetwise enough.”
Time is running out for Fulham to learn in time to beat the drop.
They still have to play Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United; all are ominous, but after defeating Liverpool, the Cottagers won’t rule themselves out of any contest.
Encouragingly, they must still host Wolves, Burnley and—critically—Newcastle on the final day, although Parker must amend the side’s tendency to haemorrhage points from winning positions if they’re going to remain alive in the race.
Surely using Frank-Andre Zambo Anguissa—at least as a late substitute to give Fulham midfield control if not from the start—would be one wise move Parker could make to help the Cottagers give themselves fighting chance of survival.