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Saints pile on the agony

If Scott Parker was seeking some solace on the south coast after Fulham succumbed to relegation earlier this week, it didn’t arrive at St. Mary’s. Southampton swept to a comfortable victory – their margin established by Che Adams’ first half strike and a first Saints goal for Nathan Tella seconds after coming off the bench – that emphasised the size of the rebuild required in west London this summer as the Championship beckons. Even the silver lining of a first senior goal for talented teenager Fabio Carvalho, which briefly threatened an unlucky comeback, was swiftly followed by a strike from substitute Theo Walcott to put clear water between the sides once again.

Parker’s caustic comments following relegation – and his assertion in a pre-match press conference that he had yet to speak with the club’s ownership – suggested that his own future is still to be resolved. Fulham have plenty of business to take care of behind the scenes, but the absence of a genuine striker from the start, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Josh Maja left on the bench, meant this side had an experimental look. In truth, with both sides have little to play for, this resembled a low-key pre-season friendly – and there was very little quality in front of goal in a turgid first half.

Referee Craig Pawson seemed to enter into the charitable spirit, ignoring a succession of hefty tackles before eventually cautioning Joachim Andersen for a clumsy foul near to the by-line on Stuart Armstrong. That allowed James Ward-Prowse to whip in one of his dangerous set pieces and Fulham’s defending from the free-kick was shambolic. Adams didn’t need to do anything special to lose Ola Aina, who had one of his poorest games in a Fulham shirt, and sweep a half volley into the net from six yards out.

Ward-Prowse was then denied a trademark free-kick goal, with Alphonse Areola making a magnificent save and, right at the end of the half, Danny Ings almost doubled Saints’ lead. The forward latched onto a precise pass from Takumi Minamino, kept his feet to round the goalkeeper but his cross-cum-shot was headed clear by Joachim Andersen. Fulham’s brightest moments came from Carvalho, whose energy around the penalty area kept the home defence occupied, but his shot after a clever backheel from Ivan Cavaleiro lacked the power necessary to beat Alex McCarthy.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Fulham saw plenty of possession, but as so often during this campaign, couldn’t find enough penetration in the final third. Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side didn’t have that problem and might have been further in front shortly after the interval only for Areola to deny Nathan Redmond after the winger had cut in dangerously from the left flank. You felt a second goal wasn’t long in coming and it arrived after a slick move that followed Bobby Decordova-Reid giving the ball away and saw a purposeful run from Armstrong find Kyle Walker-Peters down the right and the full-back’s low cross put a simple finish on a plate for the recently introduced Tella.

A few brave blocks prevented Fulham from getting a foothold in the contest. Decordova-Reid produced a gorgeous pass to unlock the Southampton defence only for Jack Stephens to deny Cavaleiro and Salisu arrived just in the nick of time to close down Decordova-Reid when he went through on goal. Joe Bryan drilled an effort wide from long range, but Fulham’s likeliest source of goal still looked like Carvalho, who had been switched to a number ten role in the second period.

The Lisbon-born England youth international had sparkled on a couple of senior substitute appearances earlier in the season after stellar displays for Fulham’s under 18 and under 23 sides and he lit up his first Premier League start with a smartly taken goal in the 75th minute. Having began the move around the halfway line, Carvalho surged away from Stevens to reach Decordova-Reid’s through ball and fired high into the net. Having scored on his debut for Fulham’s under 16s, under 18s and under 23s, perhaps we should have expected this precocious talent to find a way to mark this auspicious occasion, but it was still a special moment.

Any hope of a stirring comeback quickly evaporated when Walcott grabbed a third with eight minutes left. It was too easy for Southampton to play through the remnants of the away side’s defence – Armstrong’s probing ball brought the lively Tella into play and the youngster unselfishly laid it off from a shooting position for Walcott, with an untimely deflection off the unfortunate Bryan leaving Areola with no chance. Carvalho’s cameo might have been pleasing but there can be no getting away from the fact that Fulham have exited the top flight with a whimper at odds with all their fighting talk.

SOUTHAMPTON (4-4-2): McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Salisu, Stephens, Vestergaard; Ward-Prowse, Armstrong (Diallo 78), Minamino (Walcott 76), Redmond; Ings (Tella 58), Adams. Subs (not used): Forster, Ferry, Ramsay, Djenepo, Obafemi, N’Lundulu.

GOALS: Adams (27), Tella (60), Walcott (82).

FULHAM (3-4-2-1): Areola; Tete, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Aina (Bryan 62), Reed; Anguissa (Lookman 63), Onomah; Carvalho. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Loftus-Cheek, Mitrovic.

BOOKED: Andersen.

GOAL: Carvalho (75).

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).

Fulham U18s clinch consecutive titles

Fulham’s under 18s secured back-to-back Premier League south titles with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Chelsea this morning. Steve Wigley’s youngsters ended a thrilling battle with Crystal Palace by claiming the championship on goal difference after goals from Jay Stansfield, Mika Biereth and Luke Harris saw the young Whites claim the local bragging rights in fine style.

Young striker Stansfield, who has seen his season interrupted by a troublesome ankle injury, settled any nerves at Cobham by firing into the roof of the net from an acute angle after Biereth had helped on Adrion Pajaziti’s header. The visitors then soaked up a spell of prolonged Chelsea pressure before strikes from distance by the impressive Ollie O’Neill and Pajaziti ensured that Fulham ended the half on the front foot.

Joe Haigh came close to levelling matters just after the break but Fulham responded with some fluent football of their own and Pajaziti hammered an effort against the woodwork from twelve yards out after excellent work from Biereth. Kieron Bowie’s near post drive was kept out by Lucas Bergstrom, before Chelsea ramped up the pressure again and Alex Borto produced an excellent save from Haigh to preserve Fulham’s lead.

Biereth almost fashioned a second for the away side after some more silky skills took him away from a couple of Chelsea tacklers. His cross was smuggled away from the onrushing Pajaziti but the clearance fell kindly from Stansfield, who was disappointed not to hit the target. Fortunately, that miss was not to prove too costly. Biereth breezed through the middle of the Chelsea defence and kept his cool as he went through on goal, rolling home his 21st league goal of the campaign to give the young Whites real breathing space.

Any doubt about the destination of the title was extinguished when Biereth burst away on the break again and supplied a low cross for substitute Luke Harris to drive home at the near post. Winning back-to-back league titles in such an impressive manner speaks volumes about the quality of Fulham’s academy under Huw Jennings and several of these young starlets should stand a great chance of progressing into the senior set-up when the Championship campaign gets underway in August.

FULHAM UNDER 18s (4-3-3): Borto; D’Auria-Henry, Parkes (Williams 83), Bowat, Odutayo; Dibley-Dias, O’Neill, Pajaziti; Bowie (Harris 62), Biereth, Stansfield (Lanquedoc 76). Subs (not used): Trialist, Sanderson.

GOALS: Stansfield (21), Biereth (66), Harris (73).

The Reality of Relegation

As a result of yet another lacklustre result, the curriculum vitae of both Scott Parker and Tony Khan are now marred with the two Premier League relegations. Something must change for Fulham to build a stable project, But, what does relegation mean and how should the club prepare for yet another season in the second division?

In a previous article that analysed Fulham’s financial accounts for the previous Premier League season, it was abundantly clear of the consequences of dropping into the second tier. Should these same trends reoccur, which they most likely will, here is a summary of what could happen:

  • Revenue streams drop by around £100 million, with a reduction in broadcast revenue of around £80 million and a halving of commercial revenues.
  • Normally, decreased attendances and lower ticket prices lead to lower matchday revenue. However, the club can expect around £7 million in matchday revenues should we should begin to see supporters re-integrated into stadiums next season.
  • To help plug the gap, the club will receive parachute payments of £45 million for the first season and £35 in the second in the Championship.

However, the club must avoid making a loss of more than £61 million between 2019/20 and 2021/22. Whilst the accounts have not yet been released for the 2019/20 season, the two main costs for football clubs are wage costs and amortised transfer fees. Even though we don’t know the side’s wage costs, Fulham’s costs in 2018/19 were a whopping £92.6 million. This may have been even higher this season with the only recent sales of note being Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Babel whilst the club has loaned multiple high earners, including Areola and Andersen.

Thus, whilst all senior players reportedly have wage reduction clauses, it is known that the Whites had by far the largest wage costs in the Championship last season, which may be a problem when considering that my calculations put the current team’s amortised transfer cost at a mind-blowing total of £119.34 million over next year’s three-season FFP period, prior to any further spending.

The EFL have relaxed their FFP rules to help clubs deal with the impact of the pandemic, allowing clubs to write off “COVID-19 costs” as per appendix five. This has been adjusted and defines COVID-9 costs as “lost revenues and/or exceptional costs incurred by a Club that are directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and that are identified and calculated in accordance with such guidance as issued by the Board“. However, the amount that Fulham could write off is unclear. UEFA have also considered tearing up their FFP regulations, although there are no concrete plans or proposals as of yet.

Therefore, to help balance the books, we may see the board shift a hoard of players. Here are some deals we may see:

  • Most, if not all of the loanees would leave, shifting hundreds of thousands per week off Fulham’s balance sheet.
  • Bettinelli, Ream, McDonald, Christie, Fabricio and S. Sessgenon all have contracts expiring at the end of 2020/21, although some may yet be extended.
  • Odoi and Kebano both enter the final year of their deals, as do Hector and Mawson, who could be sold for £2 million and £4 million to make an accounting profit.
  • Johansen, who QPR have outlined their intention of signing, also enters his final year, as do Le Marchand and Seri – who the club may look to shift for as little as a combined £8 million to cover the remaining amortised cost.
  • If sold for more than £10 million, the club would make an accounting profit on Mitrovic, who is reportedly unlikely to stay with Parker at the helm.
  • If the £25 million to Everton rumour is true, the club would make an accounting profit of over £16 million on Anguissa.
  • Other players, such as Tete and Reed have also been linked with moves away after cutting their teeth in the Premier League, although.
  • Any profits made would crucially claw back some of Fulham’s FFP deficit, helping the club avoid punishment.

Whilst it is not certain what will happen this summer – with Parker’s “This squad won’t be the squad next year” comment resonating through fans’ heads – many expect those such as Anguissa to leave. Some are also calling for the club to sell Mitrovic, to start afresh and bring in a player more malleable to different systems and that can adapt to the speed of Premier League football. However, this is a big risk that could leave the club without a recognised goalscorer – and one that scored 26 goals in 2019/20. Selling Johansen could also be costly as he has proved on multiple occasions that he is more than capable at Championship level, especially as he could be a ready-made in-house replacement for Lemina and Anguissa.

But, this would leave big gaps within the ageing playing squad that would need to be filled with talented players at low cost. Fulham should look towards building a solid base for a long-term project – Parker hinted to the need for a recruitment overhaul, hitting the hard reset button to allow Fulham to progress. The ex-Tottenham man may be better placed than other managers for this, as his attachment to the club should offer more sway with the board. However, with Parker linked to both the Tottenham and England U21 vacancies, there is an opportunity for a fresh start – Howe Lennon or Wagner perhaps?

Whether Scott stays or not, the board should look to promote young starlets who are impressing in the various youth squads, such as Fabio Carvalho and Mika Biereth, whilst keeping ahold of the young talent the club already possesses, such as Steven Sessegnon. This is something that Peter Rutzler of the Athletic has echoed, saying “academy talents Sylvester Jasper, Tyrese Francois, Fabio Carvalho, George Wickens, Luca Ashby-Hammond and Jerome Opoku are all likely to be involved during pre-season. It is expected that breakthrough talent Carvalho will sign a long-term contract.

These should be complemented by players in their peak years who are impressing in the English Football League, keeping costs low and building a sense of morale and togetherness – think Tottenham’s policy under Pochettinho. Otherwise, the other technique is to search Europe for their more affordable talent, with the club often shopping in Belgium and France. Whilst this can bring some hidden gems, it is also more likely to turf up some who aren’t quite up to scratch, such as the controversial Le Marchand and Seri deal.

Therefore, whilst we don’t know for certain who Tony Khan and the recruitment department is lining up, as their policy can appear somewhat scattergun at times, here are some players that the Whites have been linked to recently:

  • Lyndon Dykes has scored 12 goals in 42 Championship games after transferring to QPR from Livingston for £2 million last summer. West Bromwich Albion and Burnley have also been recently linked to the Scottish striker, who is in contention for a Euros spot.
  • Siriki Dembele handed Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony, with whom Tony Khan had an argument on Twitter over the details of the Ivan Toney negotiations, a transfer request in January. The 24-year-old Ivorian has scored 12 goals in 44 matches and could be available on the cheap as he enters his final year of contract. However, Celtic, who have his younger brother Karamoko Dembele on their books, have also been linked to the versatile forward.
  • Chelsea Academy graduate, Ike Ugbo, has spent the season on loan at Cercle Brugge, scoring 16 goals in 33 games in the process. The 22-year-old striker, who is of Nigerian descent, is linked to a whole host of other clubs too, including Monaco and Claudio Ranieri’s Sampdoria, for a deal in the region of £5 million.
  • Josh Windass is an attacking midfielder, who can also play as a striker, that has scored 10 goals in 43 games for Sheffield Wednesday this season. The 27-year-old, who has also assisted 10 goals, maybe affordable given the Owl’s recent relegation. He also possesses an element of versatility that is sought after by Fulham’s recruitment department, so could fill in for Cairney at number 9 when injured as well as starting upfront.
  • Sheffield United centre back Kean Bryan has also been linked to the Whites. The 24-year-old defender, a graduate of Manchester City’s academy, has made 15 appearances for the blades so far this season, scoring one goal. Therefore, Khan could be eyeing the defender as a replacement for loanee Joachim Andersen.

Who would you like to see be brought into the squad? And, what do you think of the manager situation?

Burnley put Fulham out of their misery

In the end, Fulham went with a whimper. For all Scott Parker’s fighting talk, the writing has been on the wall at Craven Cottage for a while. You could argue that one of the division’s youngest managers had done very well to leave the Whites with a fighting chance of survival after Fulham’s horrendous start to the season, but a team that had scrapped impressively to give themselves a glimmer of a great escape collapsed alarmingly when presented with opportunities to pile pressure on relegation rivals.

Against a streetwise Burnley side, tonight’s defeat was a microcosm of a mediocre season. There was – as usual – plenty of possession and patient probing but precious little in the way of penetration or decent service for Aleskandar Mitrovic to attack. The Serbian has been badly under utilised during this campaign – with fitness, confidence and Covid all having a part to play in that – but Parker’s reversion to a safety-first approach in order to stay in games rather than win them has left Fulham facing groundhog day repeatedly in the final weeks of this campaign.

The last rites were painful but administered efficiently. Sean Dyche’s gameplan was expertly executed and such was the gulf in class in the final third – that you couldn’t quibble with the Clarets holding a two-goal lead by half time courtesy of strikes from Ashley Westwood and New Zealand striker Chris Wood. Fulham began reasonably brightly, with an alert piece of defending from James Tarkowski preventing Ademola Lookman from stealing an early goal, and Ivan Cavaleiro bringing Nick Pope into action at his near post – but the Clarets quickly imposed themselves on proceedings.

Fulham’s margin for error had evaporated in recent weeks and you could sense the nerves amongst their backline as Burnley gradually got numbers forward. There was a lucky escape when a Wood diving header rebounded wide off Tosin Adarabioyo, who couldn’t have known much about his inadvertent clearance. Anxiety levels grew higher as the lively Matej Vydra skated away from Joachim Andersen, reached the byline and pulled back a cross for Westwood, who rolled home the opener from close range.

That devastating blow caused Fulham’s fragile confidence to crater. It was nearly two almost immediately when the home side casually donated possession back to Burnley and Vydra almost fired in from the left angle of the box. But Dyche’s charges didn’t have to wait long to double their lead. Fulham were once again far too charitable inside their own half, affording Josh Brownhill plenty of time and space to pick out Wood, who lashed home from just outside the box. There was never likely to be any way back from that.

The routine victory solidifies Burnley’s only safety, which had never been serious doubt after Dyche arrested an alarming start with his usual brand of organisation and desire. Fulham went for broke after the interval as Parker threw on Josh Maja to join Mitrovic in attack, but there was no way through a stubborn Clarets back line. The Serbian striker probably had Fulham’s best chances – heading a corner straight at England goalkeeper Nick Pope and flicking another one into the side netting before Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa thumped the woodwork – but it was the visitors who looked more likely to round off the scoring. Only an excellent Alphonse Areola save prevented Jay Rodriguez from adding a third late on.

Attention will swiftly turn to whether Fulham can bounce back from the disappointment of a third relegation in seven seasons and be challenging in the Championship again in August. There will have to be questions about the club’s hierarchy, with the position of director of football Tony Khan sure to be in the spotlight, as well as Fulham’s long-term plan. Whether the future also includes Parker, linked to the Tottenham job in recent weeks, will be one of the first matters to be resolved as a significant summer rebuild approaches. This feels like another missed opportunity for the Whites to establish themselves again at English football’s top table – but, in truth, the damage was done months ago.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete (Maja 54), Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo (Loftus-Cheek 74); Lemina, Anguissa; Cavaleiro, Decordova-Reid (Onomah 66), Lookman; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Ream, Bryan, Aina, Carvalho.

BOOKED: Anguissa, Lemina.

BURNLEY (4-4-2): Pope; Lowton, Taylor, Mee, Tarkowski; Brownhill, Westwood, Cork, McNeill; Vydra (Rodriguez 67), Wood (Barnes 86). Subs (not used): Peacock-Farrell, Pieters, Bardsley, Dunne, Norris, Stephens, Gudmundsson.

GOALS: Westwood (35), Wood (44).

REFEREE: David Coote.

Match Preview: Fulham vs Burnley

Tonight’s meeting with Burnley could spell the end. If Fulham lose, Scott Parker will have to let go of the crumbs of hope he has clung to as the Whites’ results have slowly dropped off at the most pivotal point of the season. Relegation will be confirmed. How can the Cottagers prolong their fight to remain the top flight?

Burnley are a side well known for their 4-4-2 formation, with Dyche employing a very classical British style of football which has brought the Lancashire some of their most successful years in modern times. However, despite reaching the Europa League just a few short seasons ago, the Clarets have found themselves pulled into this year’s relegation battle as they currently sit in 17th place, one spot ahead of ourselves. However, tonight they have been afforded the opportunity to end this battle and send London’s original football team into the second division.

This game will likely be a tightly contested affair, with both sides having conceded relatively few goals so far this season. In fact, on this front, Fulham has the advantage, having conceded just 45 goals in 34 Premier League games, whereas the Clarets have conceded 47. However, Dyche’s side has also scored 6 more goals than Parker’s, with 31 goals for this season, boasting Chris Wood with 11 goals as one half of their strike partnership. On the other hand, Fulham have failed to score in five of their last seven home games, as it feels that the team has given up the ghost.

Dyche heads to the Cottage with a relatively free treatment table, with only Brady and Long unavailable through injury. Unfortunately for Fulham, the Clarets will be able to welcome back star striker Wood after an injury scare. Parker also has two players, Cairney and Kongolo, who will miss the match, whilst Reed is doubtful due to an ankle injury. Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns to the fold after being ineligible for last weekend’s fixture against his parent club, Chelsea.

For Fulham, this is a must-win match with a loss confirming their relegation. Only if the Whites win all of their last four games do they have a chance at survival. Therefore, expect to see Parker’s men playing cautious football, almost to avoid a loss, but with the continuation in the use of the 4-2-3-1 formation, here is my predicted line-up:

My proposed line-up against Burnley

We can expect to see Mitrovic pressuring Burnley’s back line, attempting to distract and out-muscle them, creating chances for the faster wingers either side of him. However, the utilisation of the Serbian’s heading ability and goalscoring nouse from within the box will also prove key to any successful game plan.

The midfield will be an incredibly important battleground for both teams as Burnley will attempt to stop any ball progression through it. Therefore, it is vital that the ball is brought through the middle of the pitch quickly then distributed to a quick winger or into Mitrovic, who is able to hold-up play – something very similar to how the Clarets themselves like to attack.

Havertz double finishes off Fulham

In the end it was rather tame. Kai Havertz scored either side of half-time to settle the south west London derby and leave Fulham staring at an immediate return to the Championship. Defeat at the hands of Thomas Tuchel’s well-drilled and accomplished outfit leaves Scott Parker’s side nine points adrift of safety with four games left.

Fulham had started brightly hoping to catch their neighbours cold after their European exploits in midweek. The only signs were promising with only a well-timed tackle from Andreas Christensen preventing Ademola Lookman from a sight of goal and a couple of shaky clearances suggesting that the visitors might profit from their persistent pressing. Antonee Robinson offered more evidence of Fulham’s sense of adventure when he stripped Havertz of possession and surged up the left flank. Only an alert bit of goalkeeping from Edouard Mendy prevented the strugglers from taking the lead.

Chelsea responded quickly. Mason Mount was afforded far too much time and space on the edge of the Fulham box and conjured up a cross that was inches away from the sliding Timo Werner. The German might have been fractionally offside, but it was a timely reminder of the threat posed by Chelsea’s player of the season. Fulham didn’t heed the warning – as Mount played a pivotal part in the opening goal that arrived two minutes later.

Tuchel’s side went a bit more direct from a short goal kick as Thiago Silva lifted a high ball over the Fulham midfield. Mount ran off Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa to move into a threatening position, controlled the ball magnificently and then produced a wonderful weight of pass to release Havertz. The German playmaker didn’t even have to break stride as he held off Ola Aina and finished coolly past Alphonse Areola. He was denied a second almost immediately by a correct offside flag – and despite a shaky spell – Fulham didn’t cave in.

Robinson recycled a half cleared corner ten yards inside the Chelsea half with a lovely floated ball into the inside right channel. Lookman’s low curler carried plenty of power but Mendy’s reactions were enough to prevent an equaliser. Parker’s charges continued to probe, dominating possession, but they lacked an outlet in the area when the ball reached the final third with Josh Maja outnumbered by three centre backs.

Chelsea should have settled the contest before half time. First, Werner unselfishly pulled the ball across goal having run clear down the right but an instinctive save from Areola denied Hakim Ziyech. The French goalkeeper – so often Fulham’s saviour this season – was then on hand to foil Werner, who couldn’t get the necessary power behind his shot from the left angle of the box.

While the deficit was just one, Fulham remained in with a chance of the victory they craved to put some life into their bid to beat the drop. Belief would have been enhanced by the way they ended the first half. Former Chelsea defender Aina caught one beautifully on the edge of the area and, a deflection off Reece James, almost wrongfooted Mendy. The Chelsea goalkeeper managed to get a hand to it – and the rebound spun agonisingly out of Bobby Decordova-Reid’s reach.

Any hopes of a Fulham revival were dashed just two minutes into the second half. A delightful Chelsea move saw the advanced Ben Chilwell feed Havertz, who spotted that Werner had dropped into space in front of the Fulham defence. Werner threaded a gorgeous return ball through the visitors’ rearguard and Havertz rolled in his second goal of the afternoon to hammer another nail in Fulham’s coffin.

Parker’s side had given plenty in what was a very watchable derby but the second goal knocked the stuffing out of Fulham. There was a first Premier League appearance for eighteen year-old attacking midfielder Fabio Carvalho, who almost came close to a consolation goal in stoppage time after linking up with Aleksandar Mitrovic but ended up connecting with Mendy’s head rather than the ball as the Chelsea goalkeeper hared off his line.

The game is almost mathematically up for Fulham and, as Parker conceded in his midweek press conference, the club faces a massive rebuild to prepare for life in the second tier.

CHELSEA (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Christensen, Silva, Zouma; James, Chilwell (Alonso 81), Gilmour, Mount (Abraham 76); Ziyech (Kante 66), Werner; Havertz. Subs (not used): Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Anjorin, Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi.

BOOKED: Zouma.

GOALS: Havertz (10, 49).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Andersen; Lemina (Carvalho 78), Anguissa; Cavaleiro (Onomah 78), Decordova-Reid, Lookman; Maja (Mitrovic 81). Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Tete, Bryan.

BOOKED: Aina.

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Darren England (Doncaster).

Fulham U18s hit Foxes for eight

A brilliant hat-trick from Mika Biereth fired Fulham’s under 18s to an astonishing 8-0 win at Leicester City and kept the youngsters’ hopes of defending their Premier League title alive.

Steve Wigley’s side had the chance to go ahead inside the very first minute for the second week running. Where Kieron Bowie converted after just sixteen seconds against Reading, the Scottish forward was foiled by an excellent reaction save by Leicester goalkeeper Chituru Odunze after an incisive through ball from Mika Biereth.

The visitors made the breakthrough in the twelve minute thanks to a fine solo striker from skipper Ollie O’Neill. The Irish youth international slalomed away from several Foxes defenders before sliding a measured under Odunze from an acute angle. It was almost two shortly afterwards when Biereth rounded the goalkeeper and saw his shot scrambled off the goalline, with the referee waving away Fulham appeals for handball.

Luke Harris went close to doubling the lead when he headed Luciano D’Auria-Henry’s cross against the woodwork, but any frustration was shortlived. Wigley’s charges earned some further breathing space when Adrion Pajziti picked out Biereth and the eighteen year-old fired his tenth league goal of the campaign into the bottom corner. Biereth turned provider for Fulham’s third nine minutes before the break – supplying an inch-perfect cross that left Bowie with the simplest of finishes from close range.

It might have been worse for Leicester but for a couple of outstanding saves from Odunze, who punched away a drive from Biereth and tipping away another Bowie effort before half-time. Biereth doubled his tally after skipping away from the goalkeeper five minutes after the interval before laying another one for Bowie shortly afterwards.

Harris got himself on the scoresheet, poaching the Fulham’s sixth from a yard out after Odunze had kept out Bowie’s initial attempt. Substitute Olly Sandersen added a seventh shortly after being introduced from the bench forcing home after Biereth had headed a ball back across the face of goal. Fittingly, Biereth finished off the scoring by completing his hat-trick, rounding the goalkeeper and beating a covering defender to score after being released by a brilliant through pass from Matt Dibley-Dias.

Crystal Palace remain top of the table after recording their own emphatic win on the south coast – beating Brighton 5-1. But Fulham are three points behind the Eagles with a game in hand, and a far superior goal difference. The young Whites finish their season with two away games – at Norwich next Saturday afternoon and then against Chelsea on May 15th.

FULHAM U18s: Borto; D’Auria-Henry, Parkes, Bowat (Williams 66), Odutayo; Dibley-Dias, Harris, O’Neill; Bowie (Sanderson 71), Pajaziti (Okkas 77), Biereth. Subs (not used): Roberts, Lanquedoc.

Fulham’s Last Chance?

Fulham’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday night presents possibly their last chance at mounting an improbable escape from the drop zone. Relegation isn’t mathematically confirmed, but survival from this position feels as though it would be miraculous. Any scenario that sees Scott Parker’s side vaulting out of the bottom three almost has to include a surprise win in the blue half of SW6. So, how can Fulham defeat Chelsea – something that has only happened eleven times in 86 meetings since 1910 – to extend their survival hopes?

You have to go back to 2006 for the last time a Fulham were victorious in the local derby. Chris Coleman’s tactical masterclass, which saw Steed Malbranque memorably nullifying Claude Makele, and Luis Boa Morte grabbing the iconic winner in the first half was all the more notable for the fact that it was just one of only five defeats Chelsea suffered on their way to lifting the Premier League title at a canter. Coleman’s side ended an eighteen game, 27 year barren run in the local derby to joyous and chaotic scenes on the pitch after the final whistle – creating memories that are still fondly recalled by all of the Fulham faithful.

A win at the weekend feels imperative as Parker’s side have lost form at precisely the wrong time of the season, sitting seven points behind Brighton and Hove Albion with five games to go. Eddie Nketiah’s last-gasp – and controversial – equaliser for Arsenal was a real kick in the teeth and Parker must now plot another surprise victory to go with the ones at Leicester, Everton and Liverpool. Doing so against a Chelsea side reenergised by the arrival of Thomas Tuchel is a serious task.

Since Tuchel took charge in late January, Chelsea have seen an upturn in form, drawing 1-1 in the Champions League semi-finals with fellow Super League villains Real Madrid on Wednesday night. The German likes to line his men up in variations of the 3-4-3 formation, with Rudiger, Thiago Silva and Christensen forming a solid base at the back. This trio, which swaps Zouma for Silva if the ageing Brazillian is unfit, has conceded just 9 games in 22 games under Tuchel, in all competitions. This is even more impressive when considering that five of these goals came in a bizarre 5-2 loss against fellow strugglers West Brom, in what can only be described as a surreal Sam Allardyce special.

Therefore, to understand how to break down and beat Chelsea’s high defensive line, we must use the loss against the Baggies as a case study. From re-watching the goals, and other significant moments, from the highlights, it is clear what Allardyce sent his side out to do. West Bromwich Albion didn’t give the centre backs any space, latching onto their mistakes as they utilised short passing. Their wingers, Pereira and Phillips, pressed high into the space left behind Tuchel’s flying wing backs, allowing the midlands men to outnumber the defenders when on the attack whilst simultaneously helping to silence Chelsea’s attack as Alonso and James were pinned back. Big Sam also exploited the Blue’s high defensive line, which left them incredibly exposed to long balls over the top – an astonishing oversight as this and set pieces are the Bionic Man’s signature moves.

Despite the early red card for Silva, which forced Tuchel to substitute Ziyech for Christensen to maintain the three at the back system, it is clear what Parker must do to exploit the opposition’s systematic frailties. Therefore, I propose that Parker once again deploys the 5-2-3 formation, to which we have now become accustomed. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek unavailable against his parent club, to which many will breath a sigh of relief, and Tom Cairney still recovering from injury, it seems as though there is little option but to drop the number 10 role anyway. Therefore, here is my proposed line-up:

Perhaps controversially, I would suggest dropping Mitrovic. Many have criticised Parker for the Serb’s lack of involvement this season, something which I partly agree with, however, he is very much a player whose performance is dependant on his opposition. His lack of pace may hinder Fulham’s counterattacking ways against such a solid defence, therefore I propose that he should be introduced in the second half, once the front three has worked the opposition’s tired legs.

However, without Mitrovic, who brings some creativity to the line-up, Anguissa should once again be selected after his Arsenal comeback. This may be a risk as Chelsea’s pressing could catch the Cameroonian international off guard – especially should he expose his trait of taking too many touches – but, as stated in my previous article, he adds a creativity from deep (when the system is suitable) which is unrivalled from the players which are currently available. This may be especially important if Parker does look to utilise a counterattacking system. Although, if Anguissa shows that he is more of a liability than an asset, he too should be swapped, with Lemina and Reed offering a robust midfield, if lacking a spark.

The wing backs may prove to be the most crucial component of this system, with West Brom’s own confidently disrupting Chelsea’s system. Therefore, Tete and Robinson would look to remain high up the pitch to limit Chelsea’s numbers going forward. Robinson’s pace also offers an outlet down the left hand side through which Fulham can burst up the pitch, even if his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. Lookman’s crossing, however, is impressive and should be exploited to try and score from set pieces – a long time weakness of Fulham’s – although Andersen, Tosin and Anguissa offer an aerial threat, as does Mitrovic.

Little can be said about Fulham’s defence, other than hopefully Tosin can regain his form, which has been uncharacteristically dodgy as of klate. However, Chelsea pose a large attacking threat, even with Werner not in the rich goal scoring form that he showed at Leipzig. Werner, like Bamford, appears to be a volume striker, taking multiple opportunities to score. Therefore, Scott should look to deploy a low block, stifling the pace advantage that the German possesses and limiting through balls, cutting his threat. This would also force Chelsea to attempt long shots, something that their other attacking talents possess the ability to do but is still much more unlikely to yield rewards from – especially with Anguissa and Reed hunting them down.

How do you feel about the match and this line-up? Can the Whites break the Chelsea curse at the Bridge and prove that there is only one team in Fulham?

Bowie brace fires five-star Fulham U18s back to summit

In-form Kieron Bowie grabbed another brace as Fulham’s under 18s thrashed Reading 5-1 yesterday at the LSE to return to the top of the table.

The Scottish striker took his tally to thirteen goals in the last ten games as Steve Wigley’s side eventually brushed aside a spirit challenge from the Royals to move above Crystal Palace on goal difference. Fulham didn’t have to wait long for Bowie to break the deadlock as the former Raith Rovers forward powered into shooting range and fired his finish under Matthew Rowley with just sixteen seconds gone.

Bowie saw an instinctive strike well blocked by Jay Senga after excellent approach play down the left from Idris Odutayo. Reading then were unfortunate not to draw level when, first, Harvey Maudner’s free-kick clipped the top of the crossbar and then Alex Borto produced an outstanding save to prevent Hamid Abdel-Salam scoring from a tight angle.

Irish youth international Ollie O’Neill doubled Fulham’s lead just after the half hour when he latched onto a fine flick from Bowie and poked home. The visitors got a deserved lifeline six minutes before the break when Jahmari Clarke emphatically converted David Nyarko’s pull back. But Fulham restored their two-goal cushion right on half time. O’Neill sent over a devilish free-kick, Ibane Bowat climbed well to meet it and the ball fell invitingly for his compatriot Bowie, who needed no second invitation to sweep it home.

The open nature of the contest continued after the interval. Highly-rated winger Michael Olakigbe was denied by Rowley at one end before Louie Holzman header over after a bout of pinball in the Fulham box. The only blot on Bowie’s copybook during another accomplished performance was when he spurned a glorious opportunity to register a hat-trick, skying his penalty over the bar after O’Neill had been felled in the box.

The miss would not prove too costly as, after Rowley had athletically denied Luke Harris, Wigley’s charges wrapped up the contest. Matt Dibley-Dias’ powerful strike took a deflection that left Rowley helpless before Odutayo rounded Fulham’s sixth straight win with a thumping finish, although there was more than a suspicion of handball in the warm-up. The Whites are top of the table with three games remaining – a tricky trip to Leicester City is up next.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Borto; Parkes, Bowat, Williams, Odutayo; Dibley-Dias, Harris (Sanderson 85’), O’Neill; Olakigbe (Lanquedoc 66), Stansfield, Bowie. Subs (not used): Antonsson, Okkas, Caton.

Borto pens professional deal

Fulham have handed American goalkeeper Alex Borto his first professional contract after an impressive first season in London.

The seventeen year old stopper signed for the Whites from the Cedar Stars Academy last summer, having reportedly been tracked by the likes of Manchester United and Leicester City. Borto had to endure the difficulties of a coronavirus-enforced travel ban and quarantining in the United Kingdom before being able to train with his new team-mates and made his debut in the under 18s’ 4-1 win at West Bromwich Albion in October.

The New Jersey native has quickly established himself as Steve Wigley’s first choice goalkeeper, keeping six clean sheets in eleven appearances as the under 18s have moved to the top of the Premier League south table. Borto was delighted to have been rewarded with a professional deal, telling Fulham’s official website:

“I was really happy because it was always a dream of mine to go pro. For me to hear that news, I was just so blessed. All the hard work that I’ve been putting in has paid off. My parents sacrificed so much for me. They’d drive me an hour, maybe two to practice and to games and to see it pay off is just amazing.

This is a great academy and my aim is to play with the under-23s next year and hopefully train with the first team eventually. The goal of course, is to get to a point where I’m training with the First Team everyday.”

Fulham’s academy director, Huw Jennings, added:

“Alex is a goalkeeper who hails from the US. He had to overcome a range of challenges during the pandemic, such as leaving home and settling into a brand new environment. He has managed very well and has become the 18s number one, performing at a high level. Alex qualifies to play for Poland as well as USA and both nations are monitoring his progress closely.”