3472

Tom Cairney admitted to feeling ‘bittersweet’ about scoring the winner against his old club – but was delighted to extend Fulham’s unbeaten start to the season.

The Scottish midfielder, who left Ewood Park to join Fulham for £3.5m last summer, returned to haunt Rovers yesterday with a stoppage time winner that leaves his old side without a win in their first six games. Cairney told Fulham’s official website after the final whistle that it was ‘one hell of a feeling’ to secure a priceless three points with a swing of his trusted left foot deep into added time.

It’s one of a hell of a feeling. The ball just fell to me like I placed it there myself, it was perfect and as soon as I hit it, I knew it was in and what a feeling running off with the boys into the corner [to celebrate].

Despite the joyous nature of his celebrations, it is clear that Cairney is still very fond of Blackburn and shares the fans’ sense of unease at the direction Rovers are being taken in by their Venky’s ownership.

It is bittersweet. I had a great two years here, I’m thankful for everything Blackburn did for me, I had a great time, we had a good team and stuff, things change, people move on and it’s not really the same team that I played in. I do have a lot of respect and love this club still, so it is bittersweet.

Cairney has called on his Fulham team-mates to believe that they can win promotion back to the Premier League this season. Whilst his head coach Slavisa Jokanovic has emphasised the arduous nature of the Championship season, his key midfielder sees no reason why this new-look side can’t challenge at the top of the table.

I think we’ve got to believe. Some of the football we’ve played this season, we’ve still unbeaten with five wins out of seven, we’ve got to believe – why not? We’re playing some great stuff and it’s great to be a part of.

The match winner also had some warm words of praise for new signing Neeskens Kebano, who enjoyed an impressive debut just a day after joining from Genk, whom he played for in the Europa League on Thursday night.

He’s only had a day or so, but on first impressions, I think he’s been fantastic. He brings pace, trickery and he’s got a decent football brain so the competition for places is brilliant and, for his debut, I think he did outstanding.

{ 0 comments }

The case for the defence

by Dan on August 28, 2016

Perhaps the most extraordinary statistic of August is that Fulham have already achieved forty per cent of the clean sheets they managed throughout the whole of the last league campaign. Winning sides are built from the back and if a single fact encapsulates the transformation in Slavisa Jokanovic’s side since May, then this may be it. Just as encouraging has been the way the Serbian has seamlessly integrated an entirely new back five into his first team without a hitch.

The sheer scale of Fulham’s defensive frailty during their first two Championship campaigns cannot be understated. The simple numbers are still watering. They conceded 83 league goals in 2014/2015 – only eight fewer than rock bottom Blackpool – and shipped 79 last season. The team often appeared the reverse of Kevin Keegan’s free-scoring Newcastle side – ‘if we score three, we’ll give you every chance to score four’. Entertaining it may have been initially, but it quickly became infuriating. You didn’t need any psychological skills to interpret Jokanovic’s scowls on the touchline.

The Serbian made a defensive overhaul the first part of his summer plans. Securing Michael Madl, who shone like a beacon among the surfeit of centre halves who tried and failed to step up to the mark last season, on a permanent basis was a no brainer but bringing in Tomas Kalas, a promotion winner with Middlesbrough, was a real coup. The pair have struck up such an instinctive understanding – evidenced against yesterday when up against the gnarly Danny Graham and the talented Sam Gallagher – that even finding a place in the starting line-up for Ragnar Sigurdsson will require some serious thought.

The Icelandic Euro 2016 hero’s arrival does give Fulham both a strength in depth at centre back the club haven’t enjoyed since the days when Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland kept the promising Chris Smalling out of a flourishing first team and offers Jokanovic options to tweak his tactics depending on the opponent, something he did successful when navigating a path out of this division with Watford two seasons ago. While Kalas could reprise the right back role he performed so solidly for Boro, he could equally become part of a formidable back three alongside Sigurdsson and Madl, whose innate calmness was wonderfully captured when he quickly stepped between David Button and Graham to nod a dangerous ball away for a corner yesterday with the minimum of fuss.

Quietly, Button – already looking a very shrewd capture from Brentford for an initial £250,000 – has usurped Marcus Bettinelli in goal. He might have been downcast to have been beaten from long-range by two terrific Cardiff strikes a week ago, but he produced a magnificent reaction save to prevent Graham from giving Blackburn the lead shortly after half time. He’s comfortable to the point of laid back with the ball at his feet, as shown by just how far he was out of his goal to retrieve a loose ball in injury time and the quality of his distribution that ultimately led to Tom Cairney’s crucial winner.

In the full back positions, Fulham have shrugged off the unfortunate pre-season injury to Ryan Fredericks, previously the only real flier in the squad, by recruiting Dennis Odoi and unearthing a real gem in Ryan Sessegnon. The 16 year-old was collecting his GCSE results on Thursday like thousands of other teenagers but continues to shine in senior football, nullifying the likes of Craig Conway and Ben Marshall yesterday as though he’d played hundreds of professional games, and offering a real offensive option by galloping forward to supplement attacks down the left flank. Odoi might have marked his debut with that extraordinary piece of skill against Newcastle but he is a diligent defender – calm enough to react quickly when caught out of position – and it was noticeable that Fulham’s threat increased exponentially when he pushed on in the second half.

Of course, it is about more than just the personnel. Jokanovic has implemented a structure and discipline that has been sadly absent from a Fulham side for three and a half years. The ballast provided by two holding midfielders, who have license to roam a little when their team are on the ball, gives a double screen to a defence that badly needed it last year. The evergreen Scott Parker was exemplary again at Ewood Park, but the poise and positioning of Kevin McDonald has made a real difference at the base of the midfield. Whilst that pairing present more opportunities for the forward players to express themselves, nobody is excused defensive duty in this set-up – it is noticeable how tigerish Cairney has become in the tackle, with Matt Smith defending from the front whilst both Sone Aluko and new signing Neeskens Kebano got through plenty of hard yards in support of their team-mates.

Three testing away trips in the north west have surpassed expectations and yielded seven points. Yesterday’s victory was the epitome of winning ugly – Fulham were far from their fluent best, but continued to believe in their passing ability and scrapped for a victory. It is far too early to be casting gleeful glances at the Championship table, but the building blocks are at least in place for a far more successful season, and that is all down to the solid foundations Jokanovic has laid down.

{ 0 comments }

Jokanovic hails Cairney’s ‘Premier League’ quality

August 28, 2016

Tweet Fulham head coach Slavisa Jokanovic lavished praise upon matchwinner Tom Cairney after the Scottish midfielder came back to haunt Blackburn Rovers with an injury-time winner at Ewood Park yesterday. The Serbian head coach hailed Cairney’s composure on the ball and suggested that he could be a Premier League star – although he hopes that the […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Fulham chase Martin

August 28, 2016

Tweet Fulham have been heavily linked with a big-money move for Derby County striker Chris Martin overnight as they look to add forwards in the final days of the transfer window. Martin, now 27, is believed to be towards the top of Slavisa Jokanovic’s target list as Fulham look to bolster their attacking options with […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Jokanovic lauds Fulham’s fluid football

August 28, 2016

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic praised Fulham for their free-flowing football and felt his side were full value for the three points secured by Tom Cairney’s stoppage-time winner at Ewood Park. The visitors dominated the contest for long periods, pinning Blackburn back with pace and movement, but had to wait until the 94th minute for the decisive […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Cairney clinches late Fulham win

August 28, 2016

Tweet It just had to be Tom Cairney. If one player has symbolised the Venky’s firesale at Blackburn Rovers and the continuing unhappiness of the Ewood Park faithful at their owners, it would be the classy midfielder who returned to Lancashire – a year after his departure for what still seems like a pittance – […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Up next: Blackburn Rovers (a)

August 27, 2016

Tweet Today’s trip to Ewood Park could be seen as a representation of the ills of modern football. It wasn’t long ago that Blackburn Rovers were a thriving community club, playing to a packed stadium with a host of young talent and aiming for European football. We all remember Jack Walker’s philanthropy and passion for […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Fulham sign Johansen

August 26, 2016

Tweet Fulham have tonight confirmed the arrival of Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen on a three-year contract. The Norwegian midfielder is believed to have cost around £2m after turning down a new deal in Glasgow and not being part of new Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers’ future plans. The 25 year-old will be looking to reignite his […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Fulham sign Kebano

August 26, 2016

Tweet Fulham have confirmed the capture of attacking midfielder Neeskens Kebano from Genk for a fee believed to be around £3.8m this afternoon. The Congolese midfielder, who can play in a number of positions including attacking midfield and on the wing, completed a medical earlier this week but played for twelve minutes as a substitute […]

0 comments Read the full article →

Fulham close in Johansen

August 26, 2016

Tweet Fulham are on the verge of completing a deal to sign Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen, according to various reports this morning, The Norwegian midfielder has been a long-term target for Fulham – having been linked with a move to London earlier in the summer – and Jokanovic is keen on adding to his attacking […]

0 comments Read the full article →