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Up next: Nottingham Forest (a)

Fulham head for Nottingham this weekend full of confidence after two convincing victories injected some much needed momentum into their promotion push. Both wins over QPR and Cardiff City had their jittery moments but the fact that the Whites were able to come through a couple of sticky periods and put stubborn opposition to the sword said something about their strength of character after the catastrophic collapse at Coventry prior to the international break – and a rare West Brom defeat even ensured that Marco Silva’s men moved into the top two for good measure.

Any suggestion that a third consecutive win is a mere formality should have been dispelled by the crazy nature of this Championship season. If it hasn’t, then Forest’s form under Steve Cooper demonstrates that they will serve as a strong test of Fulham’s tenacity. Chris Hughton paid for a dire start and an unambitious approach as he left the City Ground having picked up a single point from his first seven league games. Cooper, a vastly underrated coach at this level who might have pitched up at Craven Cottage this summer had things gone a little differently, has had an immediate impact at one of English football’s sleeping giants.

The man who led Swansea to two successive play-offs is undefeated in five games in charge by the Trent, winning four. The latest victory – which saw Forest stun Bristol City by coming from behind through a Lyle Taylor double in the space of fifty seconds in added time – attested to just how successfully Cooper has restored a sense of belief into his squad. Always an innovator in his impressive coaching career, Cooper’s switch to a back three has worked a treat, with Joe Worrall, Tobias Figueiredo and Scott McKenna really gelling at the heart of what had previously been a porous defence, and former Fulham academy man Djed Spence injecting some real energy at right wing back.

There are plenty of threats throughout the Forest ranks. Lewis Grabban has been a regular goalscorer at this level for years and seems to be finally clicking into gear at the City Ground, whilst Brennan Johnson’s talent is beginning to flourish for both club and country. Cooper could be tempted to make a couple of alterations tomorrow afternoon with Joe Lolley likely to replace Philip Zinckernagel after making a real impact off the bench at Ashton Gate in midweek. The Reds have plenty of midfield talent to pick from with Manchester United loanee James Garner a cultured operator in the engine room and homegrown Ryan Yates also blossoming in the heart of midfield.

Fulham will therefore face a side full of confidence and eager to add another scalp to their impressive winning run, which has catapulted the early-season strugglers up to fourteenth in the table. Silva’s side took a while to break down Cardiff City, who were spirited if limited, and had to rely on the returning Tom Cairney to supply an emotional breakthrough twelve minutes after he stepped off the bench. Cairney said in the aftermath of that dramatic intervention that it is probably too early for him to start matches, but the Fulham skipper will be keen to feature at the City Ground, having been born in Nottingham to a fanatical Forest supporting father.

Without Fabio Carvalho, Cairney definitely provides something that Fulham have lacked since the early weeks of the season. He helps a team so committed to possession keep the ball more comfortably, but on Wednesday night at least injected a sense of purpose and energy that had been missing in the first half. He’ll no doubt be a pivotal piece of the puzzle for Fulham going forward, but it isn’t worth risking his astonishingly swift recovery this early. Silva left us in no doubt that he had been disappointed with Domingos Quina’s early performances – and, if the Portuguese playmaker was signed as a possible Cairney replacement, he has yet to fulfil that brief.

There’s still a sense that Fulham’s midfield is a bit of a work in progress. Jean Michael Seri has orchestrated things wonderfully from a deep-lying role that nobody imagined he would be filling, but Harrison Reed’s transformation to a busy, box-to-box midfielder at Silva’s urging still strikes me as a radical reskilling of the club’s only proven defensively-minded midfielder. Reed came close to grabbing a first goal for the club with a couple of goes from long range against Cardiff but this uber-adventurous Fulham side does look a little shorthanded when the oppositions breaks our initial press, which is where Reed’s excellent reading of the game would typically come in handy.

Silva has a few injury concerns to consider before he settles on his starting eleven for Sunday, but it would come as a big surprise were there major changes to a winning formula. Marek Rodak has appeared much more convincing since replacing Paulo Gazzaniga in goal, whilst the only other question will be when Kenny Tete is fit enough to reclaim the right back spot from Denis Odoi. This won’t be an easy encounter – but it is another opportunity for Fulham to send out a statement about the seriousness of their promotion credentials.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri; Decordova-Reid, Kebano, Wilson; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Odoi, Mawson, Onomah, Cairney, Muniz, Stansfield.

Silva: Quina must ‘work harder’

Marco Silva has demanded that Domingos Quina ‘work harder’ if the midfielder wants to feature in Fulham’s starting line-up.

The Portuguese playmaker played 55 minutes of the under 23’s 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest last night to gain more match practice having not been involved at first team level for more than a month after the League Cup tie against Leeds United. Speaking during his pre-match press conference yesterday, the Fulham head coach said the 21 year-old will need to drastically up his performance levels following Tom Cairney’s goalscoring return in midweek.

“Domingos has to work harder to win back his place. He got his chance and that is clear by getting in the starting eleven against Leeds and Blackpool, and it was not just a matter of performance, but in the training sessions as well. He is fit, but was not in the squad the last game – a technical decision and it was mine.”

Quina has made just three appearances since joining Fulham from Watford on the last day of the summer transfer window – and has yet to complete a full ninety minutes.

Fulham and Chelsea share spoils after eight-goal thriller

Fulham and Chelsea had to be content with a share of the spoils after a see-saw under-18 west London derby finished 4-4 at Motspur Park this afternoon. Luke Harris’ second half brace looked to have pinched the points for Ali Melloul’s youngsters but the home side were denied by the second of a pair of strikes from Jude Soonsup-Bell with six minutes left. The Blues also missed a second half penalty in a crazy game that cantered from end to end.

A scrappy start gave way to disaster six minutes in when Harvey Araujo slipped on the edge of his own penalty area, allowing Edwin Andersson to nip in and slip a simple finish under the stranded Alex Borto. The hosts almost offered an immediate reply with Prince Adegoke pushing Imani Lanquedoc’s rising drive over the bar after Araujo had conjured up a brilliant pass to find the midfielder. The young Whites drew level on eleven minutes when some patient build-up play culminated in Araujo delivering a lovely low cross for Jaylan Wildbore to find the corner.

That sparked a prolonged spell of Fulham pressure. Araujo almost made further amends with a header from Matt Dibley-Dias’ corner before Wildbore whacked a drive straight at Adegoke in the Chelsea goal. Dibley-Dias then drifted a delicious curler agonisingly wide, but Araujo grabbed the second goal with a fine header after the visitors had struggled to clear Delano McCoy-Splatt’s corner.

Chelsea came roaring back. Borto just about kept out Louis Flowers’ measured finish and then produced an even better save when Flowers turned provider, somehow denying Andersson with the goal gaping at close range. But the Blues were level two minutes later when Soonsup-Bell glanced a great header home from Lewis Hall’s devilish delivery. Ed Brand’s side stormed into the lead within three minutes when Soonsup-Bell surged down the right flank and sent in a cross-cum-shot that Borto batted away, but Andersson was on hand to power home from close range.

Fulham appeared shellshocked by the sudden turnaround but went on the front foot after composing themselves during the half-time break. Olly Sanderson might have brought them level in the early stages of the second period but the striker blazed over at the back post after a patient move unlocked the Chelsea defence. The lively Luke Harris went close with a low drive from distance and it was the prodigiously-talented Welsh teenager who levelled matters with a moment of magic ten minutes into the second half.

Harris, who has featured for Steve Wigley’s under 23 side already this season, gave another reminder of his unerring eye for goal when he curled a majestic right-footed finish into the far corner from 20 yards as Chelsea foolishly stood off him. The gripping contest appeared to have tilted towards the visitors again midway through the second period when Soonsup-Bell was brought down by Araujo in the area. The striker and Lewis Hall squabbled over who should take the spot-kick with the latter prevailing, only for Borto to pull off a brilliant diving save.

Substitute Michael Olakigbe then won Fulham a penalty at the other end and Harris blasted it straight down the centre of the goal to put the hosts ahead. But the young Whites couldn’t hold on to claim all three points as Luke Badley-Morgan’s cross was superbly controlled by Soonsup-Bell who turned to thump a terrific finish in off the crossbar. The only surprise was that the frantic finale didn’t produce a winner – but perhaps it was fitting that this pulsating contest ended all square.

FULHAM UNDER 18s (4-4-2): Borto; Tanton, de Fougerolles, C. Robinson, Araujo; McCoy-Splatt, Dibley-Dias (Okkas 90), Lanquedoc, Harris; Sanderson, Wildbore (Olakigbe 65). Subs (not used): McNally, Works, Caton.

BOOKED: Tanton, de Fougerolles.

GOALS: Wildbore (11), Araujo (23), Harris (55, pen 76).

CHELSEA UNDER 18s (4-1-3-2): Adegoke; Olise (Abu 88), Tobin, Hughes, Silcott-Duberry (Badley-Morgan 71); Hall; Webster, Andersson, Thomas (Mendel-Idowu 78); Flower, Soonsup-Bell. Subs (not used): Merrick, Tiemcani.

BOOKED: Webster.

GOALS: Andersson (6, 33), Soonsup-Bell (30, 85).

Hilton hails hard working Fulham

Sonny Hilton hailed Fulham’s hard work after the under 23s battled back from a goal down to record their fifth straight win against Nottingham Forest last night.

The diminutive playmaker converted a crucial 83rd minute penalty to secure all three points but was in no doubt as to how hard Steve Wigley’s said had to work for the victory. He told FFCTV after the final whistle:

“The celebrations kind of said it all. The first half was a bit sloppy. The second half we came out, showed them what we were really about and put the game to bed in the end. I think we came out more on the front foot, maybe not rushing it, making them make simple mistakes and capitalising on it.”

Hilton made light of his successful spot-kick, believing it will give him the bragging rights in the dressing room after hours of practice from twelve yards.

“We all have competitions – who’s on pens, who’s taking them and now I’ve scored two in two games!”

The attacking midfielder, in a rich vein of personal form so far this season, believes that spirit and work ethic lies behind the under 23’s excellent start to the new campaign.

We all know each other. The lads have played with each other throughout the age groups. We work hard together. Even if someone’s not having a good day, we end up working hard for that person and it ends up working out on the pitch.

Hilton spot on to fell Forest

Sonny Hilton scored an 85th penalty as Fulham’s under 23s came from behind to see off a spirited Nottingham Forest and consolidate their grip on top spot in the Premier League 2 Division 2.

Steve Wigley’s side’s unbeaten home record appeared in real jeopardy when Ollie Hammond crashed in a tremendous long-range strike to give the visitors the lead. That was a fitting reward for Forest’s enterprising start that had seen Will Swan head into the arms of Taye Ashby-Hammond in the opening seconds and Ateef Konate drag a drive inches wide. Fulham, with a side that featured Terence Kongolo and Domingos Quina, struggled for their usual fluency with two efforts from Adrion Pajaziti the closest they came to mustering a response.

Forest might well have been two up before the break but Josh Barnes fired wildly over at the far post after Fulham had failed to decisively clear a corner. The away side continued to look dangerous at the start of the second half with Ashby-Hammond having to be at full stretch to push a Swan shot aside for a corner. Hilton seemed like Fulham’s most likely source of an equaliser and his instinctive effort from distance was brilliantly kept out by Nicky Hogarth.

Jean-Pierre Tiehi couldn’t make a telling contact on the end of a teasing Quina cross as the hosts upped the ante and substitute Kieron Bowie bulldozed his way through the Forest defence just moments after coming off the bench but shot fractionally wide of the far post. Fulham were penning their opposition back now and they got their reward midway through the second half. Ziyad Larkeche roamed forward from left back and his speculative shot was deflected past the unfortunate Hogarth.

The Forest goalkeeper made a brilliant instinctive save with his legs to prevent Bowie from putting Fulham in front, but the Scot still had a telling role to play in the outcome of this tense fixture. The former Raith Rovers forward floated a beautiful ball over the away defence that Terry Ablade sped onto and the Finnish forward was brought down by Hogarth as he bore down on goal. Hilton took responsibility from twelve yards, calmly placing his penalty into the corner to give the young Whites the lead with five minutes remaining.

Wigley’s side held out for another impressive home victory, which drew on all their reserves of character. Fulham are now four points clear of West Brom at the top of the table, with the Baggies due to take on Stoke City on Monday afternoon.

FULHAM UNDER 23s (4-2-3-1): T. Ashby-Hammond; Fossey, Larkeche, Odutayo, Kongolo; Page, Pajaziti; Hilton, O’Neill, Quina (Ablade 56); Tiehi (Bowie 56). Subs (not used): McNally, C. Robinson, Harris.

GOAL: Larkeche (66), Hilton (pen 85).

NOTTINGHAM FOREST UNDER 23s (4-3-1-2): Hogarth; Back, Donnelly, Richardson (Fernandes 86), Sanders; Fornah, Barnes, Hammond (Gibson-Hammond 71); Konate; Swan, Larsson. Subs (not used): Akers, Fewster, Salmon.

BOOKED: Larsson, Konate, Hogarth

GOAL: Hammond (27).

View from the opposition: Nottingham Forest (a)

Ahead of Sunday’s trip to Nottingham Forest, we caught up with huge Forest fan Ben Dore to get the lowdown on all the goings on at the City Ground so far this season. Ben, the star of a popular Forest Youtube channel, was kind enough to give up his time to answer a few questions ahead of our game this weekend.

What have you made of Forest’s start to the season?

It was a terrible start with poor tactics and the manager constantly blaming the players for very poor results. The turnaround in the last month has been unbelievable.

Why did it all go wrong for Chris Hughton?

Chris Hughton’s approach was very defensive and his tactics were very dull. This clearly affected the players. Under Hughton, there was toxicity amongst the supporters and most of us felt very disconnected from the club. All of this made things much easier for our opponents – and the result was disastrous.

What has Steve Cooper changed? Things seem to have started very well with him at the helm.

Steve Cooper has come in and removed all that anger almost immediately. Suddenly, there’s a real connection between the fans, the team and him – and a bond between each other again. There’s energy on the pitch and excitement off it. He’s the polar opposite to Hughton.

Where could you realistically finish come the end of the season?

I think if we can carry on the fantastic form under Cooper then the top six wouldn’t be out of reach. That might sound a bit crazy and it is early days under the new manager, but a bit of euphoria is understandable given that we looked like we were going down under Hughton. They say winning is a habit and we’ve certainly rediscovered that at the moment!

Who should we look out for on Sunday as the dangerman?

Since Cooper has taken over, Lewis Grabban has been outstanding and proved me so wrong. He’s been brilliant. Young Brennan Johnson has been great as well but Ryan Yates has been fantastic for Forest after putting up with so much hate at the start of his career here.

Finally, can you give us a score prediction?

I’m going to go for 1-1. Fulham have been fantastic so far this season and will be a really tough test but Forest are on a feel high and we should give you a good game.

Massive thanks to Mr. Dore for his time – and the very best of luck to Forest for the remainder of the season.

Bournemouth clash switched to Friday night

Scott Parker’s return to Craven Cottage with Bournemouth has been switched to Friday night for television coverage, Fulham have confirmed this afternoon.

The unbeaten Cherries currently have a five point lead over Marco Silva’s Fulham at the top of the Championship and Sky Sports have selected what could prove a pivotal promotion six-pointer for live television coverage. The game will now kick off at 7.45pm on Friday 3 December.

Chalobah ruled out of Forest trip

Fulham will definitely be without Nathaniel Chalobah for Sunday’s trip to Nottingham Forest and could be missing several other key players, according to Marco Silva.

Harrison Reed was withdrawn at half time in Wednesday night’s win over Cardiff City after feeling his calf late in the first half – and head coach Silva says he will wait as late as possible before making a decision over whether the former Southampton midfield can participate at the City Ground. Both Joe Bryan and Fabio Carvalho have resumed training following their respective injuries but the Fulham boss told his pre-match press conference this afternoon that it was too soon to know whether either could be involved this weekend.

Discussing Reed’s injury, Silva said:

It’s nothing serious, but he’s not 100% fit. We have one more training session, so we have to see how all three are. How long is Chalobah out? It’s difficult to say right now. We have to wait and see.”

Silva is wary of in-form Forest, who have yet to lose since replacing Chris Hughton with Steve Cooper, who came close to being offered the Fulham job earlier this summer.

“Forest are in great, great form and have a good start under a new manager. To win as they did on Tuesday in the final minute is a real boost. But we are looking forward to the game and will prepare to win it, as we normally do.”

McAvoy joins Wealdstone on loan

Fulham defender Conor McAvoy has signed for Wealdstone on an initial one-month loan deal.

The Scottish under 19 international, who has been with Fulham since the age of eight, helped Steve Wigley’s under 18s side win the Premier League south title and has become a regular in the under 23 starting line-up over the past couple of seasons. McAvoy, who has made eight appearances and scored three times at under 23 level so this season, will go straight into Wealdstone’s squad for their meeting with Weymouth tomorrow.

He joins Fulham goalkeeper George Wickens on loan at the Stones.

Comeback goal is ‘just the start,’ says Cairney

Tom Cairney insists his magical comeback against Cardiff City is ‘just the start’ of the next chapter in his Fulham career as he bids to build up his match sharpness following ten months on the sidelines with a knee injury.

The Fulham captain scored within twelve minutes of coming on as a substitute at half-time last night to break struggling Cardiff’s brave resistance at Craven Cottage last night – and admitted to FFCTV after the final whistle that such a fairytale moment left him pretty emotional.

“Yeah, it’s mental. It’s been a hard ten months or so – a lot of setbacks. It’s been difficult, obviously seeing my team get relegated as well and not being able to do anything about it. I’ve had some magical moments but that’s up there.

“It’s crazy. It’s the longest time out of my career. Watching the guys train, watching them play this season – it’s been great to watch, they’ve played some good stuff, but to be a part of it is an amazing feeling.

Cairney admitted that he might not be able to start a competitive game as he feels his way back to competitive football but the playmaker is delighted to back amongst Marco Silva’s midfield options at long last.

“I’ve had some great moments in a Fulham shirt but that’s right up there. It’s fantastic. The gaffer’s got us playing some good football, we’re a good unit, we’re hungry and, look, I’m not fully, fully back yet but hopefully this is just the start. Starting a game would be very hard as I’ve had a long time off playing football, but I think 45 minutes there could only hold me in good stead.

The boys helped me out. The boys were brilliant. It’s great to be back out there. Onwards and upwards. We’ve got a big game at the weekend – touch wood, everything’s cool.