‘Slavisa out?’ – Why Fulham fans should keep the faith.

by Dan on November 4, 2017

It sounds strange to say it, when the game was screened on national television, but the full horror of Fulham’s flat display at Molineux last night was far worse in person. Nuno Espirito Santo has clearly got Wolves playing the sort of the football that befits Wanderers’ illustrious past, but the Championship’s best side didn’t win through outstanding moments of class. Instead, they were only in cruise control because of Fulham’s baffling failure to take care of football’s fundamentals.

Stuart Gray and Jokanovic have worked hard to eradicate the defensive deficiencies that plagued Fulham’s disastrous early years back in English football’s second tier, but the ease with which Wolves assumed control of the contest from a couple of set plays was embarrassing. Both deliveries from Barry Douglas were dangerous, but against a well-drilled opponent, the defending was diabolical. Ollie Norwood, a late replacement for Tom Cairney, appeared happy to pass Romain Saiss onto Denis Odoi at the first corner – but neither man made much of an effort to prevent the Wolves midfielder from getting a run at the ball inside the six-yard box. Whoever was policing the near post zone showed about as much interest in their defensive duties as Dimitar Berbatov did at Southampton a few years back.

Heads dropped and Fulham didn’t look like recovering. It was almost an action replay fifteen minutes later. A free-kick from the same side, again whipped in by Douglas, and there was Leo Bonatini arriving between defenders to glance the deftest of free headers beyond a blameless Button. Both Jokanovic and Gray seethed on the sidelines – and they’ll be a thorough inquest into just easily the league’s in-form striker, whose now scored six in six, was able to shrug off the attentions of Ryan Sessegnon and Rui Fonte at the front post.

The headline of this piece might seem a little curious four paragraphs in. But defensive fundamentals can be drilled down at Motspur Park – just ask the boys bored rigid by Roy Hodgson how successful a regimented regime can become. Upon getting to the concourse at half-time, most of the hardy 500 or so Fulham fans who had braved a late Sky fixture switch, train delays and the spaghetti junction on a Friday afternoon, were questioning quite why they didn’t just watch it on the telly.

I fall into conversation with two young lads who travel to watch Fulham all over the country for reasons passing understanding. Both were utterly convinced that Slavisa Jokanovic had to go. I was fairly astonished that the head coach who had engineered such a startling turnaround in Fulham’s fortunes last season already had an ‘Out’ faction against him, but I heard them out. ‘It’s bollocks. We just pass it from side to side, we can’t defend, and teams have worked out how to beat us. There’s no Plan B, nothing else we can do – and you know we’ve lost if we concede first,’ was what the first fan offered.

I attempted to counter with the fact that the recent two draws with Preston and Bolton showed that Jokanovic’s Fulham have some fight in them, but the second lad shot me down with, ‘they ain’t doing much fighting tonight’. I couldn’t argue with that point and just shook their hands because it was getting quite heated – reasoning that sacking Jokanovic would precipitate a such for a new manager and given how long it took to get the Serbian in place I wouldn’t fancy Fulham’s recruitment taking place during the Championship season’s most unforgiving phase.

The idea that Jokanovic is under any sort of pressure from the fans – and he clearly seems to be, judging from the social media posts and some of the opprobrium aimed at him from the fans who went last night – seems odd to me. Perhaps it’s a sad reflection of modern football. You’re only as good as your last game and wins are what counts. He might well be behind his points target, which apparently was the reason for Fulham dispensing with Kit Symons services around this time two years ago, but you’d think that the mesmorising football Fulham played to reach the play-offs would earn him some credit.

There’s no doubt it has been a difficult week down at Motspur Park. Jokanovic strives for the highest standards from his players and you can see him turn away exasperated every time a midfielder shirks a challenge or sends a pass astray that he wouldn’t have done during his Yugoslavian/Serbian/continental playing career. It couldn’t have been easy to retain the team’s focus on the upcoming fixtures with the hoo-ha that accompanied Craig Kline’s departure, although the end of the American data analyst’s input must be chalked up as a victory for the head coach.

Those predicting the end of Fulham’s ‘Moneyball’ approach following Klein’s abrupt exit are mistaken. Analytics are woven heavily into the fabric of modern football and, with Tony Khan having revolutionised the way in which the club applies data, they will remain a part of how things are done in SW6. There’s nothing wrong with that. Klein’s interim replacement, James Lovell, is also a disciple of numbers and knows just how blending them with sports science and very English traditional coaching methods can work from when he helped Wolves win promotion from this league in 2009. Crucially, Lovell is a respected member of the team at Motspur Park – having been brought in six years ago largely on the back of his innovative approach – and has a good working relationship with the head coach.

As a result of last night’s defeat, Fulham sit in sixteenth place after sixteen games and will probably fall further when the rest of the weekend’s results are in. It’s nowhere near where the Whites want to be, but the measure of character is how people respond to tough times. Watching the second half and then listening and reading to the comments posted by Fulham fans who did the same, I was reminded of the way Micky Adams always ended his programme notes with three words, ‘keep the faith’.

It’s not so long ago that Fulham fans were snapping up those wonderful ‘Slavisa – Making Fulham Great Again‘ tees and the successor that welcomed everyone to the ‘Slavalution’ (you can still get them courtesy of Cult Zeros and the Fulham Nice Guys, by the way). The man who got Fulham playing their sexiest football since Jean Tigana hasn’t become a busted flush in six weeks. The internet, our individualist society and the modern game mean that the fickle football fan has become forgetful as well as impatient. Fulham fans have always been far with managers who respected the club and our illustrious history. Jokanovic has talked about how he wants to lay down roots here, something he hasn’t done during a fairly nomadic managerial career to date – and he deserves a bit of faith from the Fulham faithful.

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  • Shaun

    Completely agree. Slavs hands have been tied time after time in the transfer market & the loss of Cairney through injury, the drop-off of Kalas’ form as well as not really having a recognised “proper” striker at the club have compounded things. People have to be realistic in that we were playing the top team in the division who are absolutely flying at a time where we are having a dip in form. The expectation level has risen purely because we overperformed last year but people have completely forgotten that is what it was; exceeding expectations. Back the manager, give the players encouragement & be patient. We will come good in the end. #COYW

  • Forest Dweller

    It is incredibly disappointing to be in the position we are in and playing with such lack of confidence. Something needs to happen to change things. The club needs to do something big this January. And Slavissa needs to come up with new solutions.
    Changing the manager now would be absolutely crazy.
    I rate SJ over any of our previous three probably five managers. Our playing style has been breathtaking and he is clearly tactically very good; he can change things through substitutions – something Kit and Meulensteen were never capable of.
    There are some obvious problems that need to be addressed. The lack of height in our team make us impotent at set plays, making short corners a preferred option.
    If Ayite had put away that goal against Villa and his goal against Bolton have stood (three players were playing on – one about two yards) the teams confidence wouldn’t be this down.
    The biggest issue by far has been TC injury. He links up all the play. When he is switching the play from fredricks to Sessegnon with pinpoint driven passes we open teams up. Without him we are playing down a gear.
    Replacing Aluko with Ojo, Mollo and Graham might make financial sense over three years, but hasn’t paid off yet this season.
    Unfortunately I can’t see us getting much from the next couple of games and it won’t be too long until the playoffs will be out of sight. Incredibly disappointing.
    But calling for SJ’s head might help letting off some of the anger, but it won’t make things worse.

  • David

    I totally agree with the comments regarding the failure of the fundamentals of defending. Our back four (and McDonald) have been left completely exposed due to the inability of the team to understand how to defend. The lack of creativity in the middle of the park leads to more impetus on Sessegnon and Fredericks to be invariably our only attacking options. Well you can’t attack concede possession then get back and defend!
    The Wolves game is the straw which broke the camels back for baby a frustrated Fulham fan as Wolves didn’t really impose themselves on a game that they played largely in second gear. However the problems in defence were there when we were playing well last season. Wide players had time to put their crosses in as our full backs were generally in attacking positions starting higher up the pitch. You cannot play wing backs in a flat back four and not expect to concede goals.
    My next point is that Jokanovic and Gray have invested hours in the back four but the philosophy is to be quality in possession first and have the ability to defend second. That leads to the current defensive line up where we get out muscled and simply dwarfed at this level. Mobile defenders like Ream and Kalas are probably more suited to the Premier League than the Championship.
    We’re now in a precarious position and we cannot rely on Cairney this season which is a crucial blow. If you can’t get quality balls in to the forwards, why play three?
    We are desperate for some quality recruitments as August was a disaster. Fonte, Mollo, Graham, Kamara and Norwood may look great on paper but they aren’t making the grade. We need to get Sessegnon further up the field. Soares will hopefully step up as he has looked adequate in his two bit part performances.
    Sacking Jokanovic? Don’t be so fickle. Everyones entitled to their opinion but he is a large part of the clubs progress. We have serious recruitment issues so imagine how long it would take to replace Slavisa!!

  • David

    I am not sure if this is true but allegedly we haven’t scored from a corner in over 12 months.

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