Jeff Hendrick scores but Burnley beaten at Fulham
Fulham’s excellent passing and movement was led by the marvelous Jean Michael Seri
Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick scores at Craven Cottage. Photograph: Reuters
Fulham 4 Burnley 2
The thought will be anathema to most football romantics, but Burnley’s hopes for the season may hinge on an honourable defeat.
This particular reverse, against a Fulham side that could have scored twice as many, did not really fit the category; eyes at Turf Moor will now be on the two-goal deficit they must overturn against Olympiakos on Thursday, though, and on current evidence a prolonging of their Thursday-to-Sunday regimen would put them at risk of serious trouble.
A relatively kind start to the campaign has now brought just one point and, not helped by the kind of defending that will set alarm bells ringing, they were outmanoeuvred here by opponents whose passing and movement, led by the marvelous Jean Michael Seri, was simply on a different level.
That fact will bring relief to Slavisa Jokanovic, who will feel confident of his team’s prospects after seeing goals from Seri - with a stunning strike - and Andre Schurrle sandwich two headers from Aleksandar Mitrovic. Replies from Jeff Hendrick and James Tarkowski presented complications but the home team rarely looked short of answers.
Fulham had lacked a cutting edge in losing to Crystal Palace and Tottenham but found it within four minutes. In previous games, Seri had shown flickers of the playmaking ability that, a year ago, brought him to the verge of a move to Barcelona but a goal of such stupendous quality felt like his announcement to the Premier League. There was little on when he gained possession, taking a straightforward ball from Luciano Vietto, but he evaded a labouring Hendrick within one movement and set his sights. The strike, arrowed across Joe Hart from around 25 yards, was achingly clean and Burnley’s leg-weariness was about to be tested to the full.
As it happened their response was only seven minutes in coming, and exceptionally surprising given that it was their first respite from waves of Fulham pressure. Counterattacks have been an early-season achilles heel for Jokanovic’s side and the same proved true when Aaron Lennon, running into space vacated by Joe Bryan, made ground down the right. His centre reached Hendrick, who appeared to have squandered the chance by allowing Denis Odoi to block; the ricochet fell kindly, though, inviting an emphatic angled finish.
For a time that put Fulham off their stride but, with the near-faultless Seri dictating the tempo, they began to rediscover their early fluency. Hart made a sharp save from Schurrle shortly after the half-hour mark but, with the danger ramping up again, was soon less fortunate. There was ingenuity behind this goal, too, with Tom Cairney receiving a short corner and offering a wicked, spinning high delivery towards the back post. Hart could not get there and, as he flailed under the dropping ball, an unattended Mitrovic nodded home.
It was a soft concession and Sean Dyche must have been aghast when another swiftly followed. This time Vietto was allowed time to retrieve his own blocked cross and, having failed with his left foot, have a go with his right. Mitrovic, running off Stephen Ward with Burnley’s backline looking ragged, accepted another free header gleefully.
Burnley are nothing if not redoubtable and, aided by the fact that Fulham’s own defending left little to be admired, were able to redress some of that damage before half-time. In fairness Tarkowski was a shade offside when bundling Ben Mee’s header in from close range after a corner; the goal stood and the outcome remained in serious doubt.
It had all been good fun on a sodden afternoon: ragged fare, but almost the better for that. Hendrick could have added another plot twist six minutes into the second half but shot over; Schurrle, who had adopted a shoot-on-sight policy from the start, then came close to outdoing Seri but dipped a vicious effort on to the top of the bar after cutting inside.
Fulham’s threat was less concentrated by now and mainly came from the feet of Schurrle, who saw another shot deflected wide, but left plenty to be desired in his approach play.
Dyche threw on Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes but, without anyone ingenious enough to feed them, Burnley’s cavalry never came remotely close to an equaliser. Instead Fulham, finding innumerable gaps as the clock ticked down, helped themselves on the break. Schurrle had just seen yet another strike saved by Hart when, after the goalkeeper had brilliantly tipped Mitrovic’s drive on to the post, a chance finally arrived that he could hardly miss. He duly made sure; for Burnley, though, the immediate future looks anything but certain.