Ranieri's relief can't temper his urge 'to kill' selfish Kamara
Fulham 1 Huddersfield Town 0
As the whistle blew for full-time, bodies were strewn all over the Craven Cottage pitch. Fulham in white, exhausted and elated; Huddersfield in black, emptied of energy and emotion.
After 94 draining minutes, a game of almost unbearable tautness was decided in its final flings: a winning goal by Aleksandar Mitrovic, through the legs of Jonas Lossl, straight as an arrow, crippling as a punch to the guts.
For Huddersfield's players, their staff and their supporters, the aftershocks from that goal will be felt all along their trip back home up the M1, and perhaps even longer than that.
They will end 2018 bottom of the Premier League: still fighting, still furiously flailing against a tide that threatens to wash them right back where they came from. With every passing week, the waters are rising.
Fulham aren't safe either, not by any stretch. But three unbeaten games have at least given them back the hope that seemed to have been extinguished during a rotten autumn.
After a shocking first 45 minutes, Claudio Ranieri shuffled the pack at half-time and was rewarded with a far more convincing performance. Had Aboubakar Kamara not missed a penalty eight minutes from time, they may even have enjoyed a little breathing space.
It was the moments before the penalty, however, that laid bare the underlying tensions that remain within this squad. For a few surreal seconds, we were treated to the sight of Kamara and Mitrovic engaged in a heated argument over who would take the kick. Kamara argued that he had won the penalty, flicking the ball off Chris Lowe's arm, and scored their last spot kick, at Old Trafford a few weeks ago. But Mitrovic was the designated taker, and watched in horror as Kamara snatched the ball, placed it on the spot, and put it at a comfortable height for Lossl to save.
Kamara was booed by his own fans for the rest of the game, and despite the three points Ranieri, too, was livid.
"When a man thinks only of himself, it's not right," he said. "He didn't respect me, his team-mates, the crowd. I cannot accept Kamara taking the ball. It's unbelievable. I wanted to kill him, that is normal when one man takes a ball, only because he scored the last penalty It should be Mitrovic," said Ranieri, who also suggested Kamara may be about to enjoy a short period in the reserves.
It was his good fortune, and Fulham's, that Mitrovic still had his eye for goal. And after 90 minutes of the utmost caution, in which Huddersfield enjoyed 56 per cent of possession but did virtually nothing with it, there was a certain irony in the fact that it was a wildly ambitious attempt on goal that proved their downfall. It came from Philip Billing, eyeing up a spectacular injury-time winner from 30 yards out, trying an audacious scissor-kick, and missing the ball completely.
All of a sudden, Fulham were away. Tom Cairney laid the ball calmly out to the rampaging Ryan Sessegnon on the right, the substitute bore down on goal, slipped in Mitrovic, and just seconds after Huddersfield had been on the attack, the game was lost. Such are the margins at this level.
In a way, it was harsh on Huddersfield, the sort of spirited, hard-working side that make the Premier League such a compelling weekly spectacle. But they may be fast discovering that you can't defend your way to survival. Sooner or later you have to take a risk, string a few chances together, rely on more than good shape and relentless running to break teams down.
They gave everything here, stuck to their game-plan, defended for their lives. But at the end, it was only Fulham left standing.
Sunday Indo Sport