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Up next: Birmingham City (h)

By now, you’ve probably all seen Lee Bowyer’s face after he learns that Fulham scored six against Bristol City to follow their seven goals at Reading. Something tells me that the Birmingham City boss might not be the best poker player. The Blues, badly mismanaged by a set of mysterious and shambolic owners, might be on a poor run of form at the moment but Bowyer and his players will head to Craven Cottage in good heart after Scott Hogan broke his scoring drought to pinch a precious point at Preston on Saturday.

Bowyer has been honest about his motivations for returning to St. Andrew’s to take on a managerial job that many would have considered one to avoid, especially with financial strife and boardroom uncertainty. He hopes to reawaken the second city’s sleeping giant – recalling that the Blues were a competitive top flight force during his playing days. The rebuilding job remains substantial, especially after being left with one fully fit striker after the departure of Chuks Aneke, but the arrival of Onel Hernandez on loan from Norwich has already added creativity in the final third.

The Cuban, who has lit up this league for the Canaries, looked bright on his debut at Deepdale and should pose problems for a Fulham defence that looked bewildered by the pace and direct running of Antoine Semenyo on Saturday. The creator of Hogan’s equaliser, an underrated figure in Ryan Woods, will likely slot back into Bowyer’s midfield and there should be a return to Craven Cottage for Neil Etheridge, who began his career tussling with Marcus Bettinelli for the goalkeeping duties in Fulham’s academy. Silva’s side comfortably beat Birmingham in their two previous meetings this season but, this being the Championship, a shock result is never too far away and Fulham will need to be on their guard.

Silva is unlikely to tinker too much with a winning formula after two emphatic victories – unless covid cases or injuries force a rethink. His focus is likely to be on mentality rather than method in the final few hours before a quick turnaround. Harry Wilson’s insistence after the win at Reading that the Whites want to win their way back to the top of the table was borne out in the way Fulham roared back from two early setbacks to take a commanding lead by half-time against the Robins, but the coaching staff will have been unnerved at just how easily Nigel Pearson’s side exploited the lack of pace in the middle of the pitch.

The key to another staggering result was the intensity of Fulham’s response, typified by Tom Cairney – embarrassed by Semenyo for the opening goal – launching into a tackle to win the ball back immediately after Bristol City’s second. Too often Fulham have been passive and their pretty football at a leisurely pace that becomes easy for a well-drilled opposition to defend against. When they take it up a notch, the Whites look irresistible in the final third, especially with Neeskens Kebano in such sublime form. There just aren’t enough superlatives to describe Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal return – and, when Cairney is dictating play in the manner that he did on Saturday, chances seem certain to arrive.

Consistently putting together strong displays is now the key to consolidating Fulham’s position at the top of the table. It won’t be easy – on account of sides setting up to nullify Silva’s most creative players as well as a punishing schedule caused by the postponements over the festive period. Ugly wins are just as valuable as the thrashings handed out in the last few days and tell us plenty about the desire and drive of a squad. Patience may well be required tomorrow night.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Cairney; Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho, Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Hector, Odoi, Chalobah, Decordova-Reid, Stansfield, Muniz.

Cairney confident ahead of Birmingham test

Tom Cairney believes Birmingham will make life difficult for Fulham tomorrow night – but feels the league leaders will be full of confidence after three straight wins.

The Fulham captain told the club’s official website:

“They’re going to be looking to make it awkward for us and cagey when they come here on Tuesday night. But we’ve beaten them twice already this season and, on our patch, we can beat anyone on our day, so we’ve got to be looking to get three points.”

Cairney is looking forward to the second part of a Craven Cottage double header having suffered through a succession of postponements over the festive period.

“It’s nice. We wanted to play straight after that Sheffield United game because it was a frustrating night all round. But we had a long lay-off, we’ve come back with the right mindset, and it’s great to be back at the Cottage.”

Silva wants to build on ‘very good week’

Marco Silva wants to take the momentum from ‘a very good week’ into Fulham’s Championship clash with Birmingham City tomorrow night.

The Fulham head coach told FFCTV this afternoon that he was delighted with the way the Whites returned to competitive action – with thirteen goals in two wins over Reading and Bristol City – but also by progressing to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

“Very good last week. Not just because of the two wins in the Championship, I think the FA Cup as well – it was a really important match for us, even if it wasn’t the perfect performance because I had to make a lot of changes. I expected that. The result we got, a good feeling to win a football match again and after a long break and some bad results was really important. It was the first step for us for to get back on the right track on.

We had a very, very good second half against Reading. It was a fantastic score for us and that three points. We kept the momentum, gave the players that confidence. After the way we reacted last Saturday, the way we came back twice, the way we scored five goals in the first half, some very good moves and mobility – it was a very good week for us.”

Much of the focus has been on Fulham’s goalscoring exploits but Silva believes a miserly defence is just as important as he seeks to solidify their position at the top of the table.

“The attacking philosophy is there and it is something that in our model for sure, but the main thing is that we are not conceding many goals. I know we conceded twice last time, but we are not conceding many goals – that means you have a good defensive organisation and that we are improving. We change many things, we play a lot of the time in the midfield and in attack, but you have to keep the balance and not be surprised like we were on Saturday.”

Silva highlighted the contribution of Tom Cairney, who had his best game of the season against Bristol City at the weekend, and emphasised the improvements he wants from his playmaker when not in possession.

“He’s improving. I feel I am seeing more from Tom. His physical condition is growing, he’s more involved. Of course, it is really important for me as a manager to have Tom Cairney in the best physical condition that he can. He knows what I expect from him. He’s a guy with a very good knowledge of football, he loves football. My job is get to him more involved with the ball, but without the ball as well – because he’s playing a different role than the previous seasons without the ball. He has the ability to find the spaces, find the gaps and to create the moments for our forward players to get the chances and I need to take the best from him.”

The Fulham boss isn’t going to take Birmingham lightly despite the Blues heading to Craven Cottage on a poor run of form – arguing that the reverse fixture at St. Andrew’s was much tighter than the scoreline eventually suggested.

“When we played Birmingham away, the game was really tough for us. We know that nothing is guaranteed in this competition. We have already forgotten the last two results, the last two scores. They gave confidence to us but the next match will start 0-0. We have to go with our maximum desire, maximum commitment, try to play good football because if you perform well you will be closer to winning. We respect them. All the throw ins from the halfway line will be in the box, they will put the ball in our box and we’ll have to be aware of that.”

Silva keen on keeping Mawson

Marco Silva has reiterated that he wants to keep Alfie Mawson at Fulham despite firm interest from Birmingham City.

Blues are eager to take the 27 year-old centre back, whose contract at Craven Cottage expires at the end of the season, to St. Andrew’s but Silva told his pre-match press conference this afternoon that he is keen to keep both Mawson and Hector as part of his first team squad, whilst considering loan offers for Terence Kongolo.

Silva said:

“Alfie is our player. We will keep our player I hope. We have four central defenders, plus Terence Kongolo, who, as you know, we are trying to find a solution for him to go on loan. We want to keep the four central defenders. Of course they want to play more, but football is like that. The other two are having a very very, good season. They have to keep fighting to get the chance, and when the chance is there, to perform in the right way.”

Bowie eyes another win

Kieron Bowie is targeting another win as Fulham’s under 23s travel to Southampton this evening.

The Scottish striker scored one and made another as Steve Wigley’s side triumphed at Nottingham Forest last week and told Fulham’s official website that he was full of confidence as a result.

We weren’t at our best on Monday but we got the three points which says a lot about this group of players. On a personal note, I’m definitely feeling refreshed after some time off and hopefully I can continue to score goals for the rest of the season and push us to promotion.

I feel I’ve adapted well. I’ve already played against bigger boys than at Under-23s level previously, so I don’t think I’ve struggled in terms of the step up in quality. We try to play our game no matter where it is, as venue shouldn’t make much difference to how we go about doing our things.”

Middlesbrough match rescheduled for 5 April

Fulham’s trip to the Riverside Stadium to play Middlesbrough has been rescheduled for Tuesday 5 April, kicking off at 7.45pm.

The fixture – originally planned to take place on Saturday 5 February – had to be moved after both sides progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Marco Silva’s side drew 1-1 with Boro at Craven Cottage on the opening weekend of the season – with Harry Wilson scoring Fulham’s goal.

Blues trying to seal Mawson deal

Birmingham City are holding discussions with Fulham as they try to conclude a deal to take Alfie Mawson to St. Andrew’s, according to reports this afternoon.

The former Swansea City centre back is out of contract at Craven Cottage this summer and has been little more than a back-up player under Marco Silva this season. The 27 year-oold has made eight first team appearances this sterm, with his last outing coming as a late substitute in the narrow win at Peterborough in November.

Birmingham City boss Lee Bowyer has made defensive recruitment a major priority in the January window as Blues currently only have three fully-fit centre halves in the form of Harlee Dean, Marc Roberts and recent arrival Tegen Mengi. The two sides meet at the Cottage tomorrow night in a Championship fixture rearranged from Boxing Day following a covid oubreak amongst the Birmingham squad.

Silva ‘happy at Fulham’

Marco Silva is happy at Fulham and would not consider returning to manage Everton, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The possibility of the Portuguese head coach heading back to Goodison Park had been discussed in some quarters following Everton’s decision to dispense with the services of Rafa Benitez earlier today. The paper confirms that there has been no surprise from the Merseyside club for the man they sacked in December 2019 and Silva would not countenance the move in any place.

Whilst he believes he has unfinished business in the Premier League and regards his Everton dismissal as harsh, Silva is happy at Craven Cottage and wants to take the Whites back to the top flight. Fulham returned to the top of the Championship table yesterday after twice coming from behind to beat Bristol City 6-2. They now lead second-placed Bournemouth by two points with a game in hand.

Lydia’s Bristol City Takeaways

When Bristol City scored after just 6 minutes yesterday, that feeling of dread that we often get when facing the Robins at Craven Cottage was quick to enter my head. They were on a five game winning streak at the Cottage and games against them in the capital had quickly become ones to not look forward to. But yesterday we finally put those demons to bed with a, quite frankly, ridiculous first half display. What a performance from Marco Silva’s men. Both individually and as a team Fulham were head and shoulders above City and with Bournemouth losing earlier in the day to Luton Town, this result was possibly one of the most important of the season so far. With a game in hand still to come, Fulham are back at the top of the table and have a big chance to consolidate that position on Tuesday night against Birmingham.

There are so many positives to take from yesterday, and one or two negatives defensively, but I’ve picked out two things to look at from our performance yesterday and our season in general.

  1. Set piece goals galore –

Anyone who knows me will know that I love a good stat. Yesterday we scored another two goals from corners taking our tally for the season in the league so far to 13. It wasn’t long ago when Fulham rarely scored from a set piece, particularly corners, so to have 13 already this year shows a considerable change in our threat levels in that area. Now you could point out that we are scoring a heap load of goals this year, so it understandable that we are scoring more from set pieces because of that. By the law of averages, the more goals we score, the more that should be set pieces etc etc, so let’s look at the breakdown of how we are scoring our goals, rather than just the amount.

Our 13 goals from set pieces this season accounts for 20.3% of our goals. One whole fifth of our goals are from corners or free kicks. Last season our 4 set piece goals  accounted for 14.8%, the year before that it was 17.3%. Then if we go back to the year we went up under Slavisa Jokanovic in 2018, our 9 set piece goals that season only accounted for 11.3% of our goals that season. We already have 4 more this season in about half the games. This is important because it shows that where our goals are coming from this season is much more spread out than in previous seasons. When we went up under Slav we scored 79 goals and 75.9% came from open play. While this was great at the time, we were never going to be able to replicate anything like that in the Premier League. Set pieces are incredibly important for teams in any underdog position. We won’t get as many open play goals if we go up next season, so we have to be able to take advantage of any dead ball situation around the box. It’s great for this season, but I’d like to think that our ability to score from set pieces will help us if we are playing our football in the Premier League next season.

And one more thing that I noticed which I just found quite funny, was that during our two full seasons under Scott Parker we scored just 2 goals on the counter attack in the league. Hashtag Parkerball.

  • Arise, Sir Neeskens Kebano

There have been a multitude of players playing the best football of their careers this season at Fulham. Mitrovic has been sensational, Harry Wilson has already reached double figures for assists alongside his 8 goals so far and Marek Rodak has perhaps finally claimed that number one spot as his own. But I’m going to pick out Neeskens Kebano for some extra praise because this is surely the best he has ever been for us. Kebano has always been a bit of a fans favourite at Fulham since his signing back in 2016, but not necessarily for his ability. He was always fun to watch, but often wasn’t seen as someone who could really own that winger spot. And when he was loaned out under Parker last season, you could have been forgiven for thinking that his time at the club was coming to an end. But fast forward one year and Kebano is now undeniably one of the first names on the team sheet. I reckon that he has massively benefitted from playing under the guidance of Luis Boa Morte as he has improved his finishing as well as his all around play. This has been his most fruitful season at Fulham with his seven goals and five assists so far. His second goal yesterday was outrageous. Everything from the take down, the turning the defender to the finish was superb. He is playing with a lot of confidence as well and it’s just so brilliant to see. He always plays with a smile on his face, and I hope he ends his career with us. What a guy.

All in all, Fulham have been incredibly fun to watch this year but let’s not forget that we have another full half of the season to go. The Championship is generally the hardest league to call so let’s enjoy the moment, but not get too far ahead of ourselves. Roll on Birmingham.

#COYW

Do Fulham need to strengthen?

After scoring thirteen goals in two games and looking a cut above the competition going forward, it may strange to pose the question about whether Fulham need to strengthen to support their promotion push? But the best sides never stop seeking constant improvement and Marco Silva was clear in his press conference on Friday that the Whites are open to making a move in the market should the right player be available.

One area where an acquisition might prove valuable would be in the middle of the park. Seri has options such as Reed, Cairney, Chalobah and Francois while Seri is currently on AFCON duty. Reed is undoubtedly much better when he plays his defensive disruptive role for Fulham but a midfield enforcer focused on protecting the back four could be a shrewd signing. Someone who is a master of the dark arts: the like of which we haven’t seen since Stefan Johansen departed or Kevin McDonald, a slightly different type of player immediately, was laid low by his kidney problems.

We saw just yesterday against Bristol City that when the opposition broke at pace Fulham lacked the nous to take one for the team. Tom Cairney was badly caught out for the first goal as the Robins raced forward from a corner and both Tim Ream and Harrison Reed had the opportunity to stop Antoine Semenyo when he burst over the half way line. Neither brought him down, and whilst the striker finished before chances impressively, both goals felt avoidable.

It remains to be seen if Chalobah can step up to fill the void left by the lack of a genuinely defensively-minded midfielder. There’s no doubt the one-team England international has the pedigree to become a key player at Craven Cottage, but we’ve yet to see him demonstrate it in a Fulham shirt so far. Fulham were heavily linked with former West Brom man Okay Yokuslu earlier in the window but of late that rumour has gone cold with Celta preferring a permanent move for the Turkish international. He has however stated he’d like to return to England and there is no doubt he is the type of player that is in question here, in his short stay in the Midlands he showed his craft at breaking the game up but also composure to find the more creative players in the side.

The Whites might still need additional bodies in the wide positions. At present, Kebano and Wilson look formidable and are looking devastating down the flank but what happens if one or god forbid both got injured? It seems unlikely that Silva will turn to Knockaert, who has been told that he can leave the club, or Cavaleiro, who is some way from full fitness. Carvalho or Bobby Decordova-Reid might be able to fill in on account of their versatility and it would be interesting to see what Sylvester Jasper could do after his impressive performances at Colchester. The suggestion is that our new Bulgarian under-21 international is likely to go out on loan again however.

There haven’t been a lot of credible links to wide players but Josh Bowler is one that has popped up briefly, he has the most completed dribbles in the league this season and Fulham fans know first hand what he can do because he found the net when Blackpool beat the whites at Bloomfield Road earlier this season with one of his mazy runs and an assured finish.
That rumour has also gone quiet as of late, Fulham are also linked to Algerian attacking midfielder Angelino Fulgini but the asking price of 20m euro seems too step in January and especially with the club’s FFP status it would be too much of a risk at this stage.

So transfer rumours have been few and far between this window so far but as we know the window hots up towards its close however in another Pandemic affected year and with the whites performing as well as they are the hierarchy may feel that now is not the the time to add to the squad and the reason we haven’t seen many links is because Silva is more than happy with his squad.