Building the momentum

by Dan on February 23, 2017

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If last night’s rather routine victory at Ashton Gate gave Fulham belief that they could mount a late charge for the Championship’s play-off places, then the news that Slavisa Jokanovic has committed his future to the club will have the fans positively buzzing ahead of what is another massive away trip this weekend. Where Fulham displayed signs of being able to ‘win ugly’ in their two frantic home victories over Wigan Athletic and Nottingham Forest, the trick to closing the gap on the division’s top six will be stringing together a run of victories that puts the Whites in poll position to leapfrog Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday during the run-in. Confirmation that the boss, who has restored a feelgood factor to the club at long last, is in it for the long haul will only add to the positive vibes.

Given that Jokanovic was heavily rumoured to be ready to walk away from contract negotiations only a few weeks ago after Fulham’s modest January dealings, tonight’s announcement that he has ended the uncertainly surrounding his immediate future and signed a two-year extension is excellent news. Any reservations about the influence of analytics must have been satisfied fairly decisively – given the promotions handed to Tony Khan and Craig Klein – and, perhaps most pleasingly of all, it allows Jokanovic to concentrate on what he enjoys most, extracting flawless football from a talented bunch of players.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Serbian coach has totally transformed Fulham’s playing style in the space of six months. When you consider that the Whites began last season with Dan Burn and Shaun Hutchinson in central defence, it is clear why they were unable to play out of the back in the attractive fashion that Jokanovic prefers. Anybody who doubts the value of possession-based football – and there are plenty of ‘lump it forward’ advocates amongst the Fulham support – should take a long look at the 24 passes that concluded with Lucas Piazon putting the Whites ahead last night. Patient, probing football tires out opponents and when you possess players with the ability to unlock defences like Tom Cairney an opening is always around the corner.

Jokanovic alluded to the loss of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele in his excellent interview in last Saturday’s Times with Henry Winter, by referencing the fact that he had lost more than 40 goals in the summer. The unnoticed by-product of the duo’s departure at the time was that it allowed Jokanovic to design a far more balanced side that the one that squeezed their two most potent goal threats into a 4-4-2. The talents of Cairney, far too often shunted out to the right wing during his first season, are far less easily shackled from a central position and the introduction of a lone striker allows freedom for pacey wide players, not to mention overlapping full-backs, to gallop forward to great effect.

There have been some suggestions on various social media platforms that Jokanovic is underachieving when compared to managers like Garry Monk or Jaap Stam, whose teams occupy those priceless play-off positions. Considering the enormity of the changes that needed to be carried out during the summer, I’d say the integration of most of the fourteen August signings into a side that seems to be beginning to peak at just the right time is a phenomenal achievement. Fulham have no divine right to waltz out of the Championship – indeed the past two years of struggle should serve as a stark reminder of how easy it is to disappear the other way – but they are making a decent fist of it this year.

Jokanovic’s penchant for speaking his mind is also utterly refreshing. It would be easy for a man who is far from comfortable in English to retreat into his shall and offer monosyllabic answers in response to questions from the media, but instead his press conferences have become compulsive viewing. His insistence that Fulham was not ‘a primary school, democracy or a train station … where players can go in or out when they want’ in response to Chris Martin’s first bout of homesickness was a genuine classic – and there are plenty more where that came from.

The head coach’s confidence translates through to his players in other ways, too. You can see how somebody like Ryan Sessegnon, who is being entrusted with an awful lot of first-team football at the tender age of 16, has benefited from his manager’s belief. The teenager had one of his best games in a Fulham shirt at Ashton Gate last night up against a top operator in David Cotterill – and all that after a chastening experience at the Cottage against the same opposition earlier in the season. Jokanovic’s faith in Tim Ream as a balancing option at the heart of the defence – a left-footer to partner the peerless Tomas Kalas – has been rewarded with the American’s finest form in his Fulham career.

The important thing, of course, is kicking on from the encouraging platform that Jokanovic has constructed. The head coach deploys thinking further ahead than the next game and, that’s a good thing, because Cardiff are on something of a roll. Disregard the FA Cup result when Neil Warnock rested a number of players and consider that the Bluebirds are higher in the form table than Fulham and have a number of boys playing for their Cardiff futures even after the threat of relegation seems to have receded. The trip to Wales will be the crucial barometer of whether Fulham can continue to dream of making the play-offs.

It’s probably advisable not to draw too many conclusions with three months still to run in the season. Many things could still happen in a league as gloriously unpredictable in the Championship. But Jokanovic has achieved something that has eluded a lot of Fulham managers for a while – he’s put a smile on our faces again.

P.S: If you want some of those rather lovely stickers, get in touch with the Fulham Nice Guys.

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Jokanovic signs new Fulham deal

by Dan on February 23, 2017

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Fulham head coach Slavisa Jokanovic has signed a two-year contract extension to keep him at Craven Cottage until the summer of 2019.

The Serbian boss has transformed Fulham’s fortunes in his first year in London taking the Whites to brink of the Championship play-off places after two seasons of struggle at the other end of the division. Last night’s victory at Bristol City saw Fulham move up to seventh place in the table, just six points off the top six with a game in hand. Jokanovic’s new deal ends any speculation about his future after he had been linked with foreign managerial jobs as his initial contract expired in the summer.

Jokanovic told the club’s official website this afternoon:

‘I have made no secret of my desire to stay at Fulham and to continue the project that we have started. This is a fantastic Club full of history and tradition and I am proud to be part of that and hopefully to add a little to the story.

We have a squad of young and talented players, all eager to play their part, and as we grow together I know that there is much more to come. We’ve built an identity our fans can relate to which has brought us closer to our targets, which is exciting for the future of the Club and for those fans who deserve to see the good times of elite football being played back at the Cottage again.

On a day of busy announcements at Craven Cottage, the club also announced the appointment of chairman Shahid Khan’s son, Tony, as vice-chairman and director of football operations at the club. Khan junior, who has been working in Fulham’s analytics department for the past, immediately promoted chief scout Brian Talbot and his data analyst Craig Kline and insisted his first priority was securing Jokanovic’s future.

My No. 1 priority for months has been working toward an extension that keeps Slav at Fulham.  I’m personally and professionally thrilled that we have an agreement with Slav and I know Fulham supporters are right there with me.

Slav has been sensational for Fulham but he’s far from satisfied, and that’s just the ambition and direction we need to reach our goals.  I look forward to working with Slav and a bright future for our Club.

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Jokanovic hails Fulham’s concentration

February 23, 2017

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic professed himself pleased with the way his Fulham side put their FA Cup defeat to Tottenham behind them with a comfortable victory at Ashton Gate last night. Goals from Lucas Piazon and Tom Cairney set the Whites on their way to a crucial third consecutive league win as they closed the gap […]

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Fulham bounce back with win at Bristol City

February 22, 2017

Tweet Match report by Kevin Walters Fulham moved closer towards the Championship play-off positions after fine strikes from Lucas Piazon and Tom Cairney saw the visitors comfortably past a lacklustre Bristol City at Ashton Gate tonight. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side put the disappointment of Sunday’s FA Cup exit at the hands of a superior Tottenham side […]

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Jokanovic poised to sign two-year Fulham contract extension

February 22, 2017

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic is set to hand Fulham a major boost by agreeing a two-contract extension at Craven Cottage, according to a report in the Daily Mirror this afternoon. The Serbian head coach has transformed the west London side from perennial relegation candidates to genuine contenders for a Championship play-off place this season but his […]

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Kane sparks Spurs stroll

February 19, 2017

Tweet It was as if the FA Cup had enough of giantkillings after a Saturday sprinkled full of shocks. Mauricio Pochettino certainly wasn’t messing around, ditching his heavily-trailed plan of rotating his side following Thursday’s defeat in Belgium, in order to field what was closest to his strongest side to avoid any surprises at Craven […]

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The magic of Mousa Dembele

February 19, 2017

Tweet Mousa Dembele returns to Craven Cottage this afternoon as an integral part of a Tottenham Hotspur team that, despite a few recent setbacks, have established themselves as one of the best sides in the country. Reflecting on the Belgian’s remarkable consistency, it is easy to wonder what might have been were Fulham able to hold […]

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Jokanovic looking forward to Tottenham tie

February 17, 2017

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic is relishing the prospect of welcoming Tottenham Hotspur to Craven Cottage for Sunday’s FA Cup fifth round tie and believes a good Fulham performance can deliver greater ‘prestige’ for the club and himself. The Serbian head coach described the televised London derby as ‘an extra present’ for his Fulham squad who are […]

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Jokanovic ‘in contract talks’ over Fulham extension

February 17, 2017

Tweet Slavisa Jokanovic has revealed that he is currently in talks with Fulham over his extending his stay at Craven Cottage beyond the summer. The Serbian head coach was appointed as a permanent successor to Kit Symons in December 2015 on an eighteen month deal, but he has previously remained tight-lipped on his future. Jokanovic […]

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Why Marcus Bettinelli is a fans’ favourite

February 17, 2017

Tweet Jacob Steinberg’s piece in tomorrow’s Guardian talks up the recent success of Fulham’s academy. Nothing new there to people who keep a close eye on the Motspur Park conveyor belt expertly tended to by Malcolm Elias, Steve Wigley and Huw Jennings but the hook he uses to link the hard graft of the next […]

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