There was plenty of drama during a rare Friday night double-header in the Premier League.
West Ham United came from behind to beat Fulham 3-1 at the London Stadium thanks in part to a controversial Javier Hernandez goal.
Meanwhile, Cardiff City suffered a heavy 5-1 defeat at home to Watford, which could have major repercussions at the bottom of the table this weekend.
Here are four winners and three losers from Friday night’s action.
Winner: Javier Hernandez
Only Tim Cahill has scored more Premier League goals from exclusively inside the box (56) than Javier Hernandez.
The ultimate poachers. 🦊 https://t.co/5t9bCq7hiA
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 22, 2019
Javier Hernandez was the luckiest man in the capital on Friday night. The striker handled the ball for his goal and he knew it, staying down as the net rippled, waiting for a penalising whistle that never came.
His subsequent celebrations were sheepish, indicative of a man who knew he had just received a huge slice of luck. It would perhaps be too easy to totally condemn Hernandez – not many players would confess to such a crime in the moment – but Fulham will feel incredibly hard done by.
Regardless of the body part he scored with, Hernandez was on hand(!) to net his 50th Premier League goal as a result of his instinctive positioning. In doing so, he became the first Mexican to reach 50 strikes in the competition, and remarkably all 50 have come in the penalty area.
Winner: The case for VAR
VAR is coming to the Premier League next season whether its detractors like it or not. But after Hernandez’s goal, surely the number of critics fell.
Put simply, the goal wouldn’t have counted had VAR been introduced this season rather than next. The referee, Lee Mason in this case, can’t be blamed for failing to see what really happened. Barely any of the Fulham players – even those within touching distance of Hernandez – appealed with any conviction, such was the speed at which it happened.
All of which is to say: the sooner VAR is here the better. Mistakes are looking more and more ridiculous the longer we’re forced to wait for technology that’s already present in other competitions. Roll on next season.
Loser: Ryan Sessegnon
The ball’s rolling again.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) February 22, 2019
West Ham and, predominantly, Pablo Zabaleta endured a nightmare opening three minutes at the London Stadium. After apologising for a dreadful back-pass inside 40 seconds, Zabaleta failed to properly close down a low Ryan Sessegnon cross which led to Ryan Babel’s opener.
It looked as if Zabaleta would face a difficult game against Sessegnon, but in reality it was the opposite. The teenager repeatedly failed to stop the veteran getting forward down Fulham’s left, and Sessegnon was eventually hooked at half-time despite his contribution to the goal.
It wasn’t all bad for the 18-year-old. Only Angelo Ogbonna made as many successful tackles as Sessegnon in the first half; both players completed all three of their attempted tackles. But being substituted at the break is never a nice feeling. Hopefully his confidence won’t have taken too big a knock.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel: sqwk.at/Squawka-Sub
Loser: Sergio Rico
Fulham have switched between three different goalkeepers this season with none of the options cementing a place in the team.
The Cottagers have now conceded 61 league goals this term, more than two of last season’s relegated clubs – Swansea City and West Brom (both 56) – conceded in the whole of the 2017/18 campaign, which is perhaps the most damning indictment of Fulham’s lack of quality.
Sergio Rico has been directly at fault for a small percentage of the 61, including – in part – the first two goals against West Ham. At just about every corner he was neither coming nor going, and twice it resulted in a goal. It’s a shame because Rico made a couple of decent saves from open play.
Winners: Gerard Deulofeu and Troy Deeney
Gerard Deulofeu increased his Premier League goal tally by 25% in one evening with a hat-trick against Cardiff. In fact, five of his 12 goals in the competition have come against the Bluebirds.
Cardiff will be sick of the sight of the Spaniard, who was clinical in front of goal, helping Watford climb up to seventh in the table above Wolves. It was a display Deulofeu is known to be capable of but rarely fully produces.
Not to be outdone by Deulofeu’s exploits, Watford captain Troy Deeney chipped in with a brace, increasing his side’s chances of staying above Wolves on goal difference this weekend.
Loser: Neil Warnock
Neil Warnock has a surprisingly poor record against Watford and that continued here. The Cardiff coach has lost 18 of his 38 encounters with Watford, more than he has lost against any other side.
The Bluebirds will be relying on their home games, particularly against teams outside of the top six, to remain in the Premier League, so Warnock will be bitterly disappointed after being humbled by Hornets.
Floating just one point above the relegation zone, it’s certain to be a cagey final stretch of the campaign for Warnock and his players.
Winners: Southampton and Newcastle
Without even playing, Southampton and Newcastle have already had a great start to their weekend. Defeats for Fulham and Cardiff will ease some of the pressure on the other sides at the bottom, who go into their games knowing their relegation rivals have already dropped points.
Burnley, Brighton and Crystal Palace, who are also still in danger of being dragged into a dogfight, will be equally happy. Fulham are surely set to join Huddersfield Town in the small group of teams already doomed.
There is still hope for Cardiff, but they are relying on other results going their way to stay out of the bottom three this weekend.