Seven days, seven points

I’m not sure how you would work it out, but the Championship has to be one of the toughest leagues in Europe. It is ultra competitive, as we saw yesterday with a direct Millwall side posing Fulham plenty of problems, and anybody stands a chance of beating anyone else (I give you Burton’s victory over Slavisa Jokanovic’s side in September). There’s also the sheer weight and frequency of the fixtures that mean injuries and suspensions can prove very costly – and the stakes are so high that the pressure is intense.

Perhaps that’s why after the reverse at Wolves a couple of weeks ago there were those amongst the Fulham fanbase who were giving serious consideration to the idea of ditching Slavisa Jokanovic. Dan wrote at the time that he felt that was madness – and I haven’t spoken to a match-going fan who can come with a reason why the Serbian should be sacked – but, as the men who count the money never tire of telling us, football is a business now. And, to borrow a phrase from West Brom’s statement when they ran a mile from the odious Tony Pulis, it’s a ‘results-based’ one these days. If Jokanovic, who came so close to leading Fulham out at Wembley after that unbelievable end to last season, doesn’t manage to inspire some sort of promotion push than a parting of the ways could come at the end of the season.

But this week has shown us that dismissing the man who has got Fulham playing the best football since Craven Cottage witnessed Jean Tigana’s French revolution would be as big a mistake as, say, employing a stats fanatic with no experience in English football, as your assistant director of football. The Serbian certainly hasn’t become a bad coach overnight and Fulham’s prospects of reaching the Championship play-offs look an awful lot better after the Whites picked up seven points in a week where they hosted one of the promotion contenders, travelled to the league’s early pacesetters and won a thriller and then beat Millwall for the first time at this level since before Margaret Thatcher took up residence in Downing Street.

Jokanovic also tells us whether he can satisfied or not after each Fulham performance. It always reminds me of the pained high school teacher during parents’ evening trying to tell parents that their beloved boy or girl isn’t the angel they envisaged. Fulham’s head coach is such a stickler for the standards he set in his own playing career that he’s rarely ‘satisfied’ – and the last two games provided good examples of this. After the almost coronary-inducing end to that goalfest in south Yorkshire, Jokanovic told the press that, whilst it might have been a great game to watch for the fans, he’d have preferred a much less stressful evening.

The fear was always that Fulham, who looked like they could score at will when going forward at Bramall Lane, would grant the coach his wish – or wise – by struggling to break down a stubborn Millwall side. You could tell by the way some in the Hammersmith End began booing as Fulham nearly played themselves into trouble at the back that some fans felt Neil Harris’s men should be swept aside in an instant. That’s the danger of the sublime football we saw last season – those sort of standards are incredibly hard to maintain, especially when your opponents have had a whole pre-season to mug up on the things you do well.

People should also recognise that Fulham were markedly weaker yesterday than when they took the field in south Yorkshire. Tim Ream – undoubtedly Fulham’s most improved player during Jokanovic’s time at the club – was missing after succumbing to a knock picked up against the Blades. Denis Odoi, who had been an excellent left back against Derby and Sheffield United, reprised his central half role from Reading and Leeds. Kevin McDonald, arguably the most pivotal performer during last season’s surge to the play-offs, was missing from the base of the midfield and Stefan Johansen, promoted from the bench to the starting line-up, lasted only 45 minutes. Floyd Ayite’s hamstring injury is likely to get him out until much closer to Christmas at the very least.

In the circumstances, Fulham coped well with an aerial bombardment from a Millwall side who were desperate to end their six-game winless streak. On another day, the Whites could easily have been punished for allowing Tom Elliott two free headers inside the penalty area – one thudded against the far post – and affording the silky George Saville the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham at times in the second half. There were plenty of hairy moments, not least when Aboubakar Kamara made a clumsy challenge inside the penalty area during stoppage time, but Fulham ground out an important home win for only the second time this season.

They perhaps should have made their possession count earlier in proceedings. Sheyi Ojo, cruelly mocked for that ‘go faster’ hairdo by the excellent travelling supporters, wasn’t quite as clinical as in Sheffield but he has certainly shown why Fulham were so pleased to conclude that loan deal with Liverpool. A moment of magic, when he decided to try and chip Jordan Archer from outside the box seemingly because nothing else was on, almost put the Whites ahead and his movement and willing running injected energy into the hosts’ play. Having Tom Cairney pulling the strings makes such a difference – twice two sumptuous through balls might have released Ojo and Neeksens Kebano, but Archer and Shaun Hutchinson just about snuffed out the danger.

Harris was convinced there was an element of fortune about the award of the penalty, but Conor McLaughlin clearly pulled back Rui Fonte, who had struggled to get much change out of the Millwall defence until that point. Given the baffling penalties that Fulham have seen awarded against them – the phantom penalty at Burton still sticks in my mind – you could understand Jokanovic’s bullishness on that point after the final whistle. He won’t have been happy at how Fulham ceded the initative in the second half, even if both Kamara and Tayo Edun showed both an appetite for the fight and an aptitude at this level that might lead to more first-team outings over the festive period.

Fulham’s lowly league position has been caused by a failure to bank points in August and September unlike the early pace setters. They’ve struggled to break down resolute defences at Craven Cottage and, as a result, only just climbed back into the top half of the table. Few would have expected seven points from a home game against Derby, who demolished Middlesbrough yesterday to move into six, a midweek trip to Sheffield United and a south London derby. The manner of this scrappy and yet gutsy three points was almost more important. It showed Fulham have the stomach for a fight.

Danny Murphy – Retiring Fulham Legend

This week saw the announcement from former Fulham captain Danny Murphy that he was retiring from Professional Football.

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In an age where a club like Fulham is often a stepping stone for players on the way up, or the way down, it is rare for players to ever achieve legendary status amongst the fans. Danny Murphy is one such player.

With the modern player stays are often short, exits can be acrimonious and performances often wavering. Not with our Danny. When Martin Jol decided to call time on Murphy’s Fulham career after five years, Danny showed immeasurable class in not speaking out, despite obvious and justified disappointment.

The last leg of his career saw him drop down a division with the promise of a two year contract from fallen former Premierleague champions Blackburn Rovers. It seems an ill-fitting end that such a top performer and footballing gentleman’s last professional appearances were under-appreciated and largely unseen in a division where brute force dominates ahead of wisdom and guile.

As ever, though, Danny, the model professional, simply got on with life in the Championship. Symbolic of a career where under-appreciation was a recurring theme; despite 170 league appearances for Liverpool, Danny was often overshadowed in the eyes of some by the meteoric rise of some of those around him, in particular Steven Gerrard. While Gerrard, now England captain, made an early career living out of 35 yard wonder strikes and 60 yard passes, it was Murphy that made Liverpool tick. Like Fulham fans, Liverpool fans would never forget Danny.

A Liverpool supporting friend of mine would always come to Fulham once or twice a season with me when Danny was at Craven Cottage, only to spend 90 minutes watching and cheering Murphy’s every move. As a Liverpool fan, Danny was one of them.

He is also one of us. His leadership, desire and ability made him a favourite amongst the Fulham Faithful. That goal at Portsmouth, one of the single most important in Fulham’s history, can never be forgotten.

That goal alone would have led Danny to go down in Fulham folklore. It was what followed that made him a legend.

The run to the Europa League Final saw Danny lead Fulham on our greatest ever adventure. There was a goal at home to Basel that I remember, but furthermore it was his leadership. A talisman, Danny symbolised all that was good about Roy Hodgson’s Fulham. Honest, hardworking and with a touch of flair.

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Danny also had that special something that the rest of football would kill for – the uncanny ability to beat Manchester United. There were the free kicks at Old Trafford in his Liverpool days and then there were the victories for Fulham. For two glorious years the biggest team in English football were surreptitiously beaten and forced to leave Craven Cottage with their tails between their legs. Oh those were the days.

Since his departure there has been a void at Fulham. Whether it’s the on field leadership, the role of the off-field figurehead, the Murphy turn that always won him time on the ball or the ability to play a pass when you needed it most, he’s never quite been replaced. To suggest he could be would be remiss. Players like Danny don’t come along very often. Thankfully, we could call this one our own.

Thanks for everything Danny and best of luck for the future. You’re welcome back any time.