Button blunder gifts Villa victory

by Dan on October 22, 2016


A horrible howler from goalkeeper David Button ended Fulham’s unbeaten away record and extended Aston Villa’s mini-revival under new boss Steve Bruce. With a tepid encounter seemingly meandering towards a forgettable goalless draw, Button dallied on the ball outside his penalty area and saw his mistimed clearance flew off the advancing substitute Albert Adomah, who conjured up a cross for Jonathan Kodija to apply the punishment with an excellent acrobatic finish.

Button’s error will raise questions about his place in the side – vastly overshadowing the two fine saves he had previously made to preserve parity. He produced an instinctive reaction stop to prevent Kodija from opening the scoring with a first-time shot from an acute angle at the near post ten minutes in and moved smartly to his left to tip over a Jordan Ayew free-kick that was heading for the top corner, but his culpability for the decisive moment of the contest cannot be brushed over.

This was Fulham’s flakiest away display of the campaign – full of frustration as the Whites seemed unwilling to exploit the pace of the recalled Ryan Sessegnon and Sone Aluko in wide areas and laboured in possession. As per usual, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side had the lion’s share of the ball but most of the possession saw the visitors weave pretty patterns inside their own half rather than threaten the previously creaky Villa back-line. Aluko eventually registered Fulham’s only shot on target shortly before the break, but even that was a speculative strike from range, easily fielded by Pierliugi Gollini.

Villa, who seemed content to give Fulham the time and space to play out from the back during the first period, were much more aggressive after the interval and played at a far higher intensity. Had Gary Gardner’s composure not deserted him as he surged into the box just after the break, the home side might have taken the lead earlier. Rudy Gestede sent a couple of headers wide before he was replaced by Adomah and former Fulham forward Ross McCormack was introduced with just over a quarter of an hour to play as Bruce went in search of his first victory at Villa Park.

Fulham’s football was functional and ponderous and for all the industry provided by the willing Lucas Piazon and Aluko’s energy, their clearest opener came from a set play. Stefan Johansen whipped in a dangerous corner that located Michael Madl at the back post, but the Austrian couldn’t guide his header on target – although the last touch appeared to come off a Villa defender. The visitors seemed content to take a point from a contest they were largely pushed back in and the class of Tom Cairney, brought in the final quarter following the whack he took on his knee at Barnsley, proved peripheral once Jokanovic summoned Matt Smith from the bench and Fulham went route one in search for an equaliser.

In truth, Villa looked the far likelier scorers, even after they had profited from Button’s generosity. Just seconds after going in front, they should have put the game beyond Fulham but Ayew skewed his shot horribly wide after being sent clear of the Fulham defence by an inch-perfect McCormack pass. Fulham did belatedly apply pressure to the home goal with Chris Martin’s 20-yard shot looping over the crossbar after taking a wicked deflection and a late cross from substitute Floyd Ayite causing Gollini a moment of concern before he turned it over the bar with Smith and Martin in close attendance. Fulham’s fleeting ambition proved far too little, far too late.

ASTON VILLA (4-3-3): Gollini; Hutton, Amavi, Chester, Baker; Jedinak (McCormack 73), Bacuna, G. Gardner; J. Ayew, Gestede (Adomah 55), Kodjia (Westwood 86). Subs (not used): Bunn, Cissokho, Tshibola, Green.

GOAL: Kodjia (80).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Sigurdsson, Madl; Parker, McDonald; Piazon (Ayite 81), Aluko (Cairney 67), Johansen (Smith 81); Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Fredericks, Malone, Ream.

BOOKED: Piazon, McDonald, Martin, Madl.

REFEREE: Andy Madley (Huddersfield).



Up next: Aston Villa (a)

by Dan on October 22, 2016


The gap between Fulham’s achievements at Craven Cottage and away from home is as vast as it possibly could be. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side remain unbeaten on the road this season and have outplayed each of their opponents in a string of displays that have hinted at the quality necessary to achieve promotion back to the Premier League, only to continue to be ridiculously generous on their own patch. It is something the Serbian reflected on after last weekend’s encouraging victory at Barnsley, but the quest to make his team tougher to beat on our own patch was undermined by the concession of two first-half penalties against Norwich City on Tuesday.

The character and determination of this new-look side is not doubt – otherwise they would have meekly surrendered in the second half in midweek against one of the favourites for promotion. That certainly would have been the case last season, but the desire typified by the way Lucas Piazon snapped into a challenge to spark the move that lead to Chris Martin’s equaliser could quite easily have carried Fulham all the way to all three points. Putting together the complete performance still seems to elude Jokanovic but the achievements of the last seven days have at least gone somewhere to expunging the doom and gloom of the derby defeat to QPR.

Today’s trip to the Midlands might just represent the toughest examination of Fulham’s new-found resilience away from home. Aston Villa under Roberto di Matteo resembled Fulham circa 2014 – a club confident they could breeze back to the top flight having supplemented their talented squad with a renowned goalscorer at this level (Ross McCormack). The similarities even run to the kamikaze defending that ultimately cost the Italian his job. Villa moved quickly to bring in a Championship specialist in Steve Bruce – brushing aside any local difficulty that might result from his years with Birmingham City – and are already reaping the rewards judging by their late win at Reading in midweek.

Bruce has quickly made his mark, asserting that the squad he had inherited were far from fit enough after the 1-1 draw with Wolves, and a man of his experience won’t suffer fools gladly. Even though his new charges sit nineteenth just two points above the relegation zone, the sheer number of points left to play for and the unpredictability of the Championship, means you’d be foolish to bet against the man who has had won more promotions from this league than any other manager fashioning another trip to the play-offs from this inauspicious start. Four points from his first two games suggest that he’s already fixed a few of the problems.

A master of winning ugly, Bruce is also never knowingly underprepared. He’ll know just how Jokanovic has rebuild Fulham over the summer – but the Whites frailties against the high press and the susceptibility of exposed full backs won’t have escaped his attention. For now, the new Villa manager will have to do without Jack Grealish – suspended for three games for violent conduct – as well as injured defenders Tommy Elphick and Micah Richards. The pace and power of Albert Adomah, who is facing a race against time to prove his fitness, would be a real miss, but you can bet McCormack, who only appeared as a late substitute at the Madjeski, will be desperate to make his mark.

Despite Fulham’s fine comeback against the Canaries, there are still plenty of question marks against Jokanovic’s side. The defence appears alarmingly brittle without the reassuring presence of Tomas Kalas, who will miss the trip to Villa Park as he is still sidelined by a hamstring problem. The decision to play Tim Ream ahead of Michael Madl has more to do with the American being the only left-sided centre back still at the club and Scott Malone, so impressive at Oakwell a week ago, might be wondering whether he’ll be giving up his place to Ryan Sessegnon after enduring a nightmare against Norwich.

The Parker-McDonald axis at the base of the midfield, which afforded the defence such excellent protection in the early part of the season, suddenly looks limited and unambitious. Stefan Johansen has stitched together his best games in a Fulham shirt over the past week – although quite where the Norwegian will feature should Tom Cairney return to the starting line-up is anyone’s guess. And could Ryan Fredericks, who introduction as a substitute in the second half gave Fulham more vitality down their right, make a first start of the campaign either at right back or in a more advanced role?

Fulham’s recent record against Villa – such as it counts for anything at all – is pretty impressive, with the Whites having lost just one of their last eight league meetings. A hero to rival Hugo Rodallega, whose late intervention at Villa Park back in April 2014 had us all dreaming of another great escape, would be more than welcome.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Button; Fredericks, Sessegnon, Sigurdsson, Madl; Parker, Johansen; Cairney, Piazon, Aluko; Martin. Subs: Bettinelli, Ream, Malone, Tunnicliffe, Christensen, Kebano, Smith.


How to react to Ross McCormack tomorrow

October 21, 2016

Tweet It says something about modern football that the concept of the former player takes up so many column inches these days. How will fans react to one of their old heroes returning and should a player celebrate a goal against his previous employers. There was none of the studied indifference to scoring from Chris […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Jokanovic salutes Fulham’s courage

October 18, 2016

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic bemoaned Fulham’s fortunes from twelve yards – but saluted his players for their character after they turned around a two-goal deficit to draw with Norwich City at Craven Cottage tonight. The Fulham head coach was left to reflect on a succession of ‘big mistakes’ that have derailed his side’s excellent start to […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Martin inspires Fulham fightback

October 18, 2016

Tweet Fulham showed commendable character to shrug off the concession of two first-half penalties to battle back and earn a draw against Norwich City, one of the early Championship pace setters, in a pulsating encounter tonight at Craven Cottage. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of a see-saw evening for Slavisa Jokanovic will have been the […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Curing the Craven Cottage-itis

October 17, 2016

Tweet How strange football can be. A few years ago, when Fulham’s place in the elite league of English football was sustained almost exclusively on the back of their outstanding home form, writing about the perils of playing at Craven Cottage would have been the signal for the men in white coats to come and […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Peerless Parker rolls back the years

October 16, 2016

Tweet I have to admit I was sceptical when I read that Fulham were extending Scott Parker’s contract at the end of last season. There can be no doubting the veteran’s value around Motspur Park and guiding the younger players and his ability on the field is still beyond question, but you wondered whether the […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Piazon points the way

October 16, 2016

Tweet Lucas Piazon has had something of a footballing odyssey even since he made a big-money move to English football – and was quite outspoken about the impact of Chelsea’s loan policy shortly after he made the short move down the King’s Road. The Brazilian forward has spoken about the need for some stability for […]

1 comment Read the full article →

Jokanovic seeks home solution

October 16, 2016

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic was pleased to see his Fulham side return to winning ways at Barnsley yesterday – but has urged his players to replicate their flawless away form at Craven Cottage if they want to move up the Championship table. The Serbian head coach saluted his side’s character and professionalism after they battled to […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Four-star Fulham return to winning ways

October 15, 2016

Tweet Chris Martin finally broke his Fulham scoring duck as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side returned to winning ways with victory in an absorbing Championship contest at Oakwell this afternoon. The game was not without its complications for Fulham, who trailed twice to predatory strikes from Marley Watkins and Sam Winnall, but the visitors showed considerable character to […]

0 comments Read the full article →