Slavisa Jokanovic – Simply a Fulham hero

Even if you didn’t want to, it was easy enough to construct a case for Slavisa Jokanovic to go. Fulham were bottom of the Premier League after twelve games and the early sparkle of their performances had long since dwindled out. It appeared as though his bold possession-based game and attacking philosophy had brutally met its match in the unforgiving world of the top flight. He couldn’t decide on his best back line, never mind his bad eleven, and there was an alarming lack of fight from a side that used to put their bodies on the line. And yet, when the news came on Tuesday morning that he’d be replaced by Claudio Ranieri, there was a sense of shock and profound sadness.

The bond between Jokanovic and the Fulham fans was forged firstly in a moment of genuine turmoil for the football club. Fulham’s senior officials had badly bungled the follow-up to sacking Kit Symons and the Serbian arrived in south west London with the Whites in serious danger of plummeting into League One. Jokanovic couldn’t even strengthen a badly unbalanced and threadbare squad with a transfer embargo to navigate through in his first few weeks. His response told us a lot about the character of the man – he grinned and bore it and gradually hauled his team away from the relegation zone, not through the scintillating football that we came to know and love, but at times seemingly through the sheer force of his well.

The serious surgery undertaken on his squad in the summer of 2016 troubled some, with the departure of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele leaving his side looking light in the forward areas, as a host of new faces arrived in double quick time. Scott Malone soon established himself as a world-beating, offensive full back whilst Sone Aluko began to dazzle on the wing. The assured first steps of Ryan Sessegnon into senior football at the tender age of sixteen were encouraged by Jokanovic, who – following a promising League Cup debut at Leyton Orient – handed the teenager a first league start at Elland Road. Just as he would going forward, the steely Sessegnon hardly let anyone down.

Jokanovic’s forward-thinking style took a while to transmit itself to the team, with unsteady starts to the campaign in both of Fulham’s last two Championship seasons. But his boldness was eventually rewarded with some of the most spellbinding football ever produced by a Fulham side, including the one that decimated the First Division under Jean Tigana all those years ago. You might point to the aftermath of that desperate December afternoon in Sunderland as the moment when Fulham’s fortunes definitively turned – but, for me, the fearlessness with which Fulham poured forward to beat Sheffield United by the odd goal in nine, showed just how bold Jokanovic’s charges could be.

There were so many magnificent moments during the 23-match unbeaten run that almost carried the Whites to automatic promotion that it is impossible to pinpoint just one. The impacts of Aleksandar Mitrovic, who terrorised Championship defences almost instantly after his arrival on a pivotal January loan from Newcastle United, and Matt Targett, who seemed to have had years of experience of playing behind Sessegnon, were crucial in reviving Fulham’s fortunes. Some of those away days were legendary – the euphoria of Mitrovic’s late winner at Preston North End was something to be held, whilst the majesty of Kevin McDonald’s long-range effort at Millwall will live long in the memory.

Nobody wanted to be in the play-offs, of course, and it seemed like Fulham’s history would repeat itself when the side subsided rather meekly in the first-leg at Derby. But, then came the second half revival on one of the great nights at Craven Cottage, with Sessegnon’s predatory instincts and an iconic header from Denis Odoi swinging a tight tie Fulham’s way. I don’t need to recount the wonder of Wembley to any Fulham follower: the ecstasy of Tom Cairney’s gorgeously crafted goal, and then the bloody-mindedness of a spirited rearguard that resisted Aston Villa’s search for an equaliser after Odoi’s dismissal – typified by Oliver Norwood’s superb challenge shortly after stepping off the bench.

Jokanovic is his own harshest critic. He will be smarting at just how easily his side was prized open by English football’s elite and how frail Fulham looked against Cardiff and Huddersfield, two of their rivals in what now looks like a battle royale to escape relegation. The decision to replace the Serb with Claudio Ranieri may yet prove to be a masterstroke. But my sense is that Jokanovic had earned a little more faith through the glorious football his team had played over the past three years. The fact that Shahid Khan had spent more than £100m in supplementing the squad this summer ultimately counted against Jokanovic, but the coach who imbued Fulham with a distinctive identity and a sense of adventure will always be remembered fondly as a Fulham hero. He deserves nothing less.

No Room for Sentiment

I don’t think that I have ever seen a response to a managerial change quite like the one in the aftermath of Fulham’s announcement yesterday. While things were looking ominous on the pitch, Jokanovic seemingly had the support of those in high places at Craven Cottage. The reaction to the sacking hasn’t been one of relief that we sometimes see with these things, but was one of sadness. What Slavisa Jokanovic did for Fulham was incredible. From being in danger of slipping down to League One, to getting promoted to the Premier League through the play-offs was an epic turnaround. Some of the football we have played over the past few years has had us nearly drooling but for some reason it just hasn’t worked in the top tier of English football. I’ll get to where things maybe went wrong further down the piece, but for now I want to try and sum up why my overwhelming emotion about the news of Jokanovic’s sacking is sadness.

The loss of our project manager- I’ve said before that I love the idea of a manager taking on a job with the view to a long term project. Football has become a place where job security doesn’t exist. Look at our new manager for example; he led Leicester to the Premier League in what was possibly the greatest football underdog story of all time, but was sacked within a year! Clubs are so scared of getting relegated that often logic doesn’t come into decisions regarding managerial jobs and so often managers are hired as a short term solution to a long term problem. This is where Fulham have gone against the status quo a bit with Jokanovic’s reign. He very easily could have been sacked last year after our miserable start, but the Khan’s chose to stick with their man and we were rewarded with promotion. For this reason, I am gutted that our project manager is gone. He fixed things about our club and that resulted in the best day of my footballing life at Wembley back in May but it was only after he had made mistakes along the way.

Recruitment, recruitment, recruitment- When I try and think about what has went wrong this year, I keep coming back to the same answer-recruitment. People will harp on about 100million this and 100million that but ultimately we ended up with a very unbalanced squad. I have no doubt that we have extremely talented players at our club, but the team as a whole in how it plays is poor. One of the problems was that we have relied on loans over the past few years so when these came to an end we were left with just 12 first team players at the club. And it wasn’t like we got rid of the fringe players- no, these were players who had a huge impact on our promotion journey. Players like Tomas Kalas and Ollie Norwood have been huge losses given our rocky back four and the injury to Cairney. These might not be world class players, but I believe that the consistency might have helped this season. Jokanovic found himself in a position were he not only had to acclimatise to the huge step up in class, he also had to incorporate a staggering eleven new players into the club. Looking back, I don’t think it was ever going to end well.

Acceptance- While I am really sad about Jokanovic’s sacking, I can understand it. There are only so many times that you can recover from a slow start, and this is Jokanovic’s third season in a row were there have been question marks over him. I backed him to the hilt last year but, admittedly, I have found it harder and harder to back him 100% this time around. I wanted more than anything for him to do well, but his stubbornness and his sometimes baffling line-ups made me begin to think that he had lost his way a bit. While I didn’t want to read that he had been sacked (not yet anyway) I do understand the decision. The problem was that he gave the Khan’s a decision to make, and if you do that you are in  dodgy territory. I think that I would find this much harder to take if we ended up with Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew leading the club, but Claudio Ranieri is undoubtably a great manager. You don’t win the Premier League by accident and while I know that’s certainly not our target, we can be relieved that it’s him and not someone else. The key now for us is to continue to support the team.

Memories- I could write a book about all the memories I have over the past three years alone supporting Fulham. We have had heartbreak, but we have also had the most surreal day back in May. We have watched our team playing some beautiful football but have also seen some calamitous decisions. Instead of going through a lot of things, I think I’ll focus on just one match that I think summed us up in a nutshell. When we went to St James Park in the 2016-17 season, we all knew that it would be an incredibly tough game. We were, after all, going to take on the league leaders in front of 50,00 odd passionate Geordies with Rafa Benetiz in charge. We were on a good run of form, but nobody there that day expected us to go 3nil in front, with 16 year-old Ryan Sessegnon silencing everybody apart from the 1000 Fulham fans in the clouds up on the top tier. We absolutely tore the league leaders apart and it was probably the best performance that I had witnessed from Fulham in some years. To make it fulhamish, however, we conceded a stupid goal before missing an injury time penalty. Yes, we won the game 3-1, but we managed to make an impressive victory a bit difficult for ourselves. While we all went home happy, I feel that it sums us up under Jokanovic really well. We played some sizzling hot football, yet defended slightly naively and then made the crazy decision to get centre back Tim Ream to take a penalty and miss, instead of letting a 16 year-old kid have the chance to score his first professional hattrick. It was a wonderful day, but done very much in the style of Jokanovic’s Fulham.

To close I just want to say this; I’m devastated that it hasn’t worked out for Jokanovic this season, but unfortunately there is no room for sentiment in football any more. He will always be welcome back to the Cottage by me, but for now we have to say “Best wishes, Slav and welcome, Claudio.”

#COYW

Fulham replace Jokanovic with Ranieri

Fulham have sacked Slavisa Jokanovic and replaced him with Claudio Ranieri as they attempt to arrest their alarming start to the Premier League season.

Jokanovic, who led the Whites to promotion via the Championship play-offs last season, was dismissed following Sunday’s defeat at Liverpool with Fulham bottom of the Premier League. The Cottagers had taken just five points from their first 12 games of the new campaign.

Ranieri, who led Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016, will take charge of his first match after the international break when Southampton visit Craven Cottage on Saturday 24 November. The Italian has signed ‘a multi-year contract’ to take over the London club.

Fulham chairman Shahid Khan said: ‘Claudio is risk-free and ready-made for the Premier League, and particularly so for what we need at this moment at Fulham. His recent body of work with Leicester City is literally legendary and then you look at Claudio’s experience with Chelsea and big clubs throughout Europe, and it’s pretty evident we are welcoming an extraordinary football man to Fulham Football Club’.

Liverpool deepen Fulham’s gloom

This turned out to be the routine Liverpool victory that almost everybody expected, but a tight and cagey contest turned on fourteen pivotal seconds just before half-time. Slavisa Jokanovic’s rejigged defensive unit had battled bravely before the interval, spurning a couple of chances on the counter-attack, and looked to have taken the lead when Aleksandar Mitrovic powered home Tom Cairney’s cross. As the visitors celebrated what they thought was the opening goal, Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson reacted to the offside flag and sent a quick free-kick out to Trent Alexander-Arnold. The full back’s forward ball released Mohamed Salah, and with Denis Odoi attempting to play offside on the half-way line, the Egytian sauntered in to slot the ball beyond Sergio Rico. Television replays suggested assistant referee Adrian Holmes might have been wrong to rule out Mitrovic’s goal and that Alisson’s quick bit of thinking had seen him strike a moving ball. When your luck is out, it’s well and truly out.

Fulham’s formation might have been conservative, designed to try and remove some of the truly awful defensive mistakes that have characterised their calamitous start to life back in the top flight, but they did pose Liverpool a few problems in a low-key first half. Teenage winger Ryan Sessegnon will feel he should have done much better than merely shoot wide of the far post when a clever flick from Mitrovic sent him clear through the middle of the Liverpool defence, whilst Alisson was almost embarrassed when he nearly parried a Schurrle shot straight back to the Serbian striker.

In between times, Fulham were indebted to Rico for keeping them in the contest. The Spaniard produced a smothering save to keep out Salah as he sought to link up with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on the edge of the Fulham box and spread himself well to prevent the Egyptian from opening the scoring. The recalled Xherdan Shaqiri proved the most likely source of Liverpool inspiration for much of the first period, twice firing wide from promising positions, whilst also sending a steady supply of chances to Jurgen Klopp’s three forwards. Alexander-Arnold might have done better than waste good positions when he pushed forward on the right – but the turning point on the cusp of half-time put an entirely different complexion on proceedings.

Calum Chambers had enjoyed an encouraging outing as an additional holding midfielder alongside Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, who still looks to be getting to grips with the demands of Premier League football. But the concession of that goal to Salah necessitated more urgency in Fulham’s play after the break, especially with Mitrovic horribly isolated up front for much of a fruitless afternoon. The visitors were penned back almost from the start of the second half and were grateful to another splendid save from Rico, who somehow turned Mane’s shot, that looked destined for the top corner, over the bar.

The relief was merely, temporary, however. Fulham seemed to have survived the danger when Alexander-Arnold’s corner was overhit but as the ball broke to Robertson in a crossing position down the left, Tom Cairney made the critical decision to leave Shaqiri unattended at the back post, and the Swiss international handsomely volleyed home his second league goal of the season from eight yards out. From the point on, the result was an inevitably – it was a surprise that Liverpool couldn’t plunder further goals as the belief drained from their opponents.

Fulham were limited, but spirited. There was far more fight soon here than in the spineless surrender at Huddersfield last Monday night. A seventh consecutive defeat could spell the end for Jokanovic, but on this performance that would be particularly harsh. The Serbian should get the international break and the opportunity to prepare his side for another crucial six-pointer at Craven Cottage against Southampton at the very least.

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, Gomez, van Dijk; Fabinho (Keita 90+2), Wijnaldum (Henderson 69), Shaqiri (Milner 82); Mane, Salah, Firminio. Subs (not used): Mignolet, Lovren, Moreno, Sturridge.

BOOKED: Gomez.

GOALS: Salah (41), Shaqiri (53).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Christie, Le Marchand, Mawson, Odoi; Chambers, Anguissa (Johansen 84); Schurrle (Vietto 78), R. Sessegnon, Cairney (Seri 63). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Fosu-Mensah, Kebano.

BOOKED: Chambers.

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Wigan).

ATTENDANCE: 53,128

Relegation Candidates – How do we compare?

I think it’s time for me to come to terms with the fact that we are in one hell of a relegation battle this year. While the first few games of the season were encouraging, the last five or so games have been diabolical. I thought that losing 4-2 at Cardiff was going to be our rock bottom this season, but Monday night’s horrendous display away to Huddersfield was possibly the most gutless performance I have witnessed of the Slavisa Jokanovic era. It was worse than Sunderland last year and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt winded by it. I’ve said this to a lot of people, that it wasn’t the defeat but the manner of the defeat. Apart from a few bright sparks, the majority of that team can’t possibly have walked off that pitch satisfied with their performance. We need things to turn fast, something that will be very difficult given our games between now and Christmas include Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United away. Those games should be ones that we cherish, but right now I am just in fear of what the combined scoreline will be.

If you have read my work before you will know that I love a stat, and often can find something to be positive about amongst the overwhelming negatives right now, so here is a comparison of some key statistics between Fulham and some of our fellow relegation candidates. Should be fun, eh?

Goals conceded

I’ll start with the worst to get it out of the way. We top this one, and not just in the Premier League but in England. Not helped by constant defensive changes and injuries, our record at the back is the single biggest worry many Fulham fans have. The picture isn’t particularly pretty for Burnley or Cardiff either though.

Tackle Success

Remarkably we have a defensive area where Fulham aren’t the worst! We do have players who can stick the boot in and win the ball back, but my worry is that when we win the ball back we tend to give it straight back again. It’s another alarming stat for Burnley defensively, while Southampton fans also won’t find this easy reading.

Goals scored

This makes better viewing for Fulham fans. While at the back things are bad, we do have more goals in our team than most of our rivals. While we haven’t scored in three games running in the league, we do have players who should be capable of sticking the ball in the net so we have to hope that this will be enough to keep us up.

Big chances created

Goals win you games, so the more chances you create, the more you will score. We are quite a bit better than others in our precarious position for ‘big chances created’, so again we can take a bit of confidence in this.

Pass Accuracy

What’s impressive about Fulham’s high pass accuracy is that we also have about 900 attempted passes more than the next best on the list. To have an 81% pass success rate when we have attempted 5,534 is very positive and shows that if we could get our style to click then good things could come for this team. Not only do Cardiff have the lowest successful pass percentage, they have also only attempted 2,900. Not great.

What does this teach us?

While the most important stat is the amount of points accumulated at the end of the season, we can take from these stats that we have strengths in our game where others don’t. I’d like to think that as games go on, we will pick up points because of our attacking game. We need to tighten up defensively, but over time our strengths should show.

The average position (based on best to worst, so for goals conceded we are 7th, not 1st as it has in the table) for each of the teams paints another interesting picture. I’ve tried to include stats that cover all areas of the pitch so our weaknesses are covered as well as our strengths so hopefully it gives a balanced view.

A friend of mine said at the start of the season that Cardiff, Huddersfield and Burnley were his teams to go down. Maybe he’ll be right. Hopefully over time Fulham’s strengths will show and points will be gained.

#COYW

Spineless Fulham fold at Huddersfield

The pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic grew last night after a lackadaisical Fulham side slumped to the bottom of the Premier League table following an abject defeat at Huddersfield Town. The Terriers recorded their first home goal for 659 minutes as well as their first Premier League win of the campaign and fully deserved the three points for their desire and putting together the only real quality on display. Jokanovic delivered a scathing assessment of his side’s lack of fight after the final whistle and questions will be asked about his future with his side now rock bottom of the table.

David Wagner celebrated the best possible anniversary present after Huddersfield marked his third year in charge with a vital win. From the outset, the home side looked the more likely winners: more determined in the challenge, more progressive with the ball and more threatening in the final third. They set the tempo early, with a high-octane pressing game that Fulham struggled to deal with, disrupting the visitors’ time on the ball and their possession-based approach. Town almost grabbed the lead from a move that encapsulated their strong start to the contest, with the energetic Jonathan Hogg snapping in to steal the ball from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Philip Billing smashing the crossbar with a venomous strike from distance.

It became clear that a low on confidence Fulham side were fragile and there for the taking. Jean-Michael Seri barely moved out of first gear in the heart of the midfield, whilst the battling qualities of powerful midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa were entirely absent. There was even an absence of endeavour about the manner in which Fulham conceded. Anguissa afforded Alex Pritchard all the time in the world to turn on the edge of the box and fire a deflected shot that Sergio Rico did well to claw behind. Then, Chris Lowe’s corner was headed out of the penalty area by a combination of Mitrovic and Tom Cairney at the near post. The Fulham captain stayed down nursing a head injury whilst Lowe whipped a teasing ball into the far post where Christopher Schlinder and Timothy Fosu-Mensah contested the aerial challenge, with the ball looping in last off the Manchester United loanee.

It might have been worse before the break but for Rico’s alert reactions when a deft header from Hogg almost crept into the corner. Jokanovic took immediate action at half-time – sending on Cyrus Christie and Kevin McDonald for Fosu-Mensah and Luciano Vietto, but the lack of an attacking substitute to make the difference in the final third was to prove costly. Mooy lashed over as Fulham struggled to deal with a long throw from Billing before Christie at least gave Fulham some attacking intent down the right flank. The Londoners looked laboured going forward for much of the contest – typically their only shot on target, a fine finish from Schurrle, was ruled out for an offside against Mitrovic in the build up.

The Serbian sent their clearest chance – a free header at the far post from a corner – wide, but Huddersfield looked the more likely to add to their lead as time ticked by. Denis Odoi was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he handled just inside the box under pressure from Huddersfield substitute Laurent Depoitre. It was another Town substitute, Isaac Mbenza who had the chance to put the game to bed but he snatched horribly at his shot when he seemed clean through on goal and the ball flew harmlessly wide.

Fulham pushed on in the final ten minutes but only created one real opening. Cairney carved open the Huddersfield defence with a beautifully weighted through ball that sent Schurrle away down the left wing. The German zigged and zagged his way into the penalty area but placed his finish wide of Jurgen Lossl and the far post. Added time came and went with a whimper – and the sight of Ryan Sessegnon, possibly Fulham’s best performer on a forgettable evening, lying face down on the turf in the centre circle for fully five minutes after the final whistle will live long in the memory.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (3-4-1-2): Lossl; Zanka, Schlinder, Kongolo (Bacuna 90); Hadergjonaj, Lowe, Billing, Hogg; Mooy, Mounie (Depoitre 56), Pritchard (Mbenza 82). Subs (not used): Hamer, Smith, Sobhi, van la Parra.

BOOKED: Billing, Mbenza.

GOAL: Fosu-Mensah (o.g. 29).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rico; Fosu-Mensah (Christie 45), R. Sessegnon, Odoi, Le Marchand; Anguissa, Seri, Cairney; Vietto (McDonald 45; Johansen 65), Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Chambers, Mawson.

BOOKED: Fosu-Mensah, Mitrovic.

REFEREE: Anthony Taylor (Manchester).

ATTENDANCE: 21,855.

Bournemouth Thoughts

I’ve waited a few days to try and articulate my post-Bournemouth thoughts in an attempt to come at things from a more balanced stand point. When the final whistle went on Saturday I just sat in the quickly emptying stadium for about 20 minutes trying to understand what is going wrong at the minute at the club. We looked to be in the game at 1-0 down, with Bournemouth rarely threatening, but when they scored the second it was obvious that we weren’t coming back from that. A sending off and another goal conceded later and we were left with another result that pushes our relegation credentials upwards. There’s nothing positive we can take from 28 goals conceded in 10 league games. It’s diabolical.

On Saturday the only real issue I had going into the match was Aboubakar Kamara on instead of Luciano Vietto, but I can see what Slav was going for. He wanted pace in the forward line, and in AK we have that. However, at half time we could all tell that it wasn’t working, so I can’t understand why he wasn’t withdrawn to allow for the system to be changed. It was also a shame that Cairney wasn’t brought on earlier than he was, although this may have been injury related. We looked a better team with him on the pitch and he was trying passes that either others couldn’t spot, or were too cautious to try and from that a few opportunities to get the ball into the box were created. I wholeheartedly believe that when we have Cairney back as a starter things will start to change for us.

I’ve already had a fair few non-Fulham fans asking me if Slav will be the next manager who gets sacked from a Premier League club and it’s easy to see why people from outside the club reckon his P45 is on its way with the current run of results. The football ‘hire and fire’ culture is a dangerous one, with managers often not given the time to remedy mistakes, or to build a project. While I believe that Jokanovic has made some serious errors in selection so far this season, I still don’t believe that sacking him would be productive. Yes, he needs to stop the constant chopping and changing, but I think removing him and bringing in someone new would just unsettle things even more. We also have to be aware of what a successful season should look like this year. We were never going to canter through easily, we were always going to have bumps along the way. While I think that it’s critical to address our defensive frailties, we are still strong in attack. Our target this season is survival, and I still believe that when the defence is settled that Jokanovic will be able to achieve this. If we are still shipping goals left, right and centre by New Year then that’s a different story, but sacking someone ten games into a season would be a mistake.

Stick with him for now.

#COYW

Wilson brace leaves Fulham reeling

After Callum Wilson had fired home his second of the afternoon, putting an imperious Bournemouth 3-0 up at Craven Cottage, it was left to Aleksandar Mitrovic to sum up the mood of the Fulham followers. The Serbian smashed the ball high into the air as it headed back towards the centre circle for the kick off, perhaps the sweetest a Fulham player had connected with it all day, aptly encapsulating the air of depression that has swiftly enveloped the Whites. That glorious May afternoon at Wembley seems a lot longer than six months ago.

The hero of that afternoon, Slavisa Jokanovic, is coming under increasing pressure – and not just because Shahid Khan had parted with more than £100m to make his newly-promoted charges competitive at the highest level. Jokanovic selected his tenth consecutive defence of the campaign and a third goalkeeper, although Sergio Rico was largely blameless on his Premier League debut. The defensive errors appear endemic no matter who lines up at the back for Fulham at the moment and Bournemouth’s easy-on-the eye passing style, with pace in the forward areas, was almost tailor-made to take full advantage of their hosts’ frailty.

Fulham began impishly but were fighting an uphill battle from the moment that Timothy Fosu-Mensah brainlessly bought down Wilson inside the box when there appeared little danger. The Bournemouth forward confidently dispatched the spot-kick and Eddie Howe’s side never seriously seemed like they were about to give up that advantage at any point afterwards. They seemed to have time on the ball and, in the graceful midfielder David Brooks, they had the afternoon’s outstanding performer. It was fitting that the Welsh international, who had starred for Sheffield United in the Championship last season, grabbed the crucial second goal – such was his influence on steering the contest gradually away from Fulham.

The home side struggled for fluency in possession and more than a fleeting side of the Bournemouth goal. Such was their desperation for a route back into the contest, Aboubakar Kamara flung himself to the ground under a challenge from Asmir Begovic and was rightly booked for simulation. Andre Schurrle sent their only shot on the target straight at the former Chelsea goalkeeper from just outside the box, whilst Denis Odoi perhaps should have done better with a free header at the near post when Fulham whipped up a rare head of steam.

The hosts’ did up the ante briefly in the second period, when Tom Cairney added a little more craft to their play when he was introduced from the bench, but typically Fulham the crucial second goal at a point when they were beginning to look a little more threatening. Adam Smith nipped in to steal possession from Jean-Michael Seri and the nippy Ryan Fraser carried the ball deep into Fulham territory before feeding Brooks, who slipped the ball between the legs of a stranded Rico to put the game beyond Jokanovic’s men.

The gravity of their situation only increased a minute later when the unfortunate Kevin McDonald was shown a second yellow card for hauling back Brooks, who looked set to double his tally, after he had capitalised on another mistake from Odoi. Bournemouth did make it three with four minutes to go when Wilson finished clinically after being released by a fine ball from Fraser and claimed his fifth goal in his last four matches. Jokanovic cut a diminished figure in lengthy conversation with his assistant Javier Perreira just before the final whistle – and he will need to work hard to lift his troops ahead of what already looks like a six-pointer with fellow strugglers Huddersfield.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Fosu-Mensah, Le Marchand (Cairney 60), Odoi, Ream; McDonald, Seri (Anguissa 80); Kamara, R. Sessegnon, Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Christie, Mawson, Johansen, Vietto.

BOOKED: Kamara, McDonald, Mitrovic.

SENT OFF: McDonald.

AFC BOURNEMOUTH (3-4-3): Begovic; Francis, Ake, S. Cook; Smith, Daniels, Lerma, L. Cook (Gosling 80); Brooks (Stanislas 86), Fraser (Defoe 89), Wilson. Subs (not used): Boruc, D. Rico, Surman, Ibe.

BOOKED: S. Cook.

GOALS: Wilson (pen 14, 85), Brooks (72).

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands).

ATTENDANCE: 25,071.

Fulham v Bournemouth – Time for a change

We entertain Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth tomorrow at Craven Cottage and the Cherries pose a serious threat to Slavisa Jokanovic’s plans to turn Fulham’s faltering season around. Bournemouth now find themselves in sixth after enduring their own sticky start to the campaign and will head to the capital full of confidence. They have one of the game’s finest young managers in Eddie Howe, whose achievements since taking over at Dean Court have been nothing short of sensational. It is no surprise that he has been considered as a potential future successor to Gareth Southgate in the England job. Howe likes to set his teams up to be tough to beat, but not without sacrificing an easy-on-the eye style.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for tomorrow’s game. Fulham are in the bottom three following that lamentable display at Cardiff last weekend and badly need the points to gain some momentum. Club captain Tom Cairney has returned to training this week and is in line for a return to the starting line-up. If the Scottish international does start tomorrow, I would like to see Jean-Michael Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa alongside him as I think that is our strongest midfield three and we need to get some consistency in a crucial area of the pitch.

I do expect changes after the nightmare in south Wales, especially given how poor we have been defensively. Despite signing a new contract this week, it could be time for Marcus Bettinelli to be replaced in goal. He was slow getting down to Cardiff’s crucial third goal on Saturday and in Sergio Rico, we have one of the most consistent goalkeepers in Spain and a two-time Europa League winner on the bench. Tomorrow, could be Rico’s opportunity to show what he can do in the Premier League.

We have conceded 25 goals this season – and you simply won’t stay afloat in the top flight whilst being that vulnerable at the back. Ryan O’Donovan’s analysis earlier in the week suggested that 80% of those goals were down to individual errors, which is just unsustainable. Jokanovic has had to juggle his resources due to injuries and suspensions and I think now is the time to put a back four together for the next three or four games – regardless of the outcome tomorrow. You’d expect Timothy Fosu-Mensah to come back into the defence. I’ve been very impressed with his start at right back and we’ve missed his pace at both ends of the field since that untimely shoulder injury at Everton.

I am in complete agreement with the majority that the substitutions have been questionable over the past couple of games and only Slavisa can answer why certain changes were made. I am a big Slav fan and I would hate to see him sacked so early on in the season. Our previous stay in the Premier League ended with three different managers in the space of six months and I hope we don’t get the same turnover of managers this time around. Stuart Gray’s departure has clearly affected things – and now is the time for some consistency and a bit of faith.

In his programme notes ahead of tomorrow’s game, chairman Shahid Khan has stated he firmly believes Slav is the right man for the job and expects things to change given Jokanovic’s record. It is a stance I share. Fulham’s past couple of seasons started disappointingly, but gradually the performances and results began to improve. It is based on that history that I am confident we will start winning again before long under Jokanovic. The fans frustration over the past few weeks is totally understandable, but Jokanovic has been operating without our playmaker and has been trying to integrate twelve summer signings at a level most of them haven’t experienced before.

Let’s hope our second win of the season is against Bournemouth and gets us out of the bottom three, thus bringing some optimism back to the Cottage. There’s no question that tomorrow is our biggest game of the season and it won’t be easy. When the fixtures were released, Fulham would have been targeting this as a fixture they could get three points from, although it is a measure of how low confidence is right now that I’d take a draw were it offered to me. Let’s hope that Jokanovic can get our football flowing again and have us back to winning ways.

Things are bad, but sacking Jokanovic is too risky

There is a really interesting aspect to the Media Policy in the NFL that allows the media complete access the changing rooms from about 10-12minutes (known as the ‘cooling off period) after a game has finished. Journalists and cameramen flood into a room were all players and coaches are getting changed after a game, no matter what the result or mood is in the camp. To us, from the other side of the world, it seems strange and invasive of a place that over here is nearly sacred but it’s seen as an important part of sport in America. The reason I mention it is because after the Jacksonville Jaguars defeat on Sunday against the Houston Texans, their third defeat in a row to bring them to 3-4 this season, the doors were opened to the changing room in the middle of a brawl between Jags players. The frustration at how they were playing had boiled over and a few of the players were in the process of being separated by fellow team mates. I have played a lot of sport and I know that at times changing rooms can be the place where arguments can happen and where every emotion can be laid out on the table, so I really struggle to understand how it’s allowed to be opened up to the media, but after hearing about what happened on Sunday between the Jags players, it made me wonder what we would have seen had we been given access 10 minutes after Fulham’s appalling defeat on Saturday in Wales.

Would we have witnessed players brawling and pointing fingers at each other in a blame game or a red-faced Slavisa Jokanovic yelling at his players? Or would we have been greeted to an eerie silence as the team tried to comprehend just how badly the last few games have gone for us? Last year Tim Ream and Kevin McDonald were model professionals for us, being leaders both on and off the pitch. We also had Tom Cairney stamping his authority on the squad as one of the league’s best players. Contrast that to this season where we have had any combination of eleven players on the pitch all running about like strangers and the vast majority of goals conceded have been results of our own silly mistakes. It’s hard to see where the leaders are on the pitch, and that’s very worrying.

Our manager clearly doesn’t know who his best eleven are and the constant shopping and changing, particularly in defence, is causing bedlam when we take to the field. We have also gotten ourselves into a habit of letting the heads drop pretty much straight after we concede a goal. The pressure is heating up for Slavisa Jokanovic, and while reports that he has two league games to save his job are nonsense, he will need to find a way to get the team playing a heck of a lot better to fend off the flames. I don’t believe that he should be sacked at this moment in time as I think that will just make matters worse, but I’m not blind to the problems we have at the minute.

Swansea, West Brom and Stoke all changed managers last season and the risk didn’t pay off. The year we went down we had not one, not two, but three different managers throughout the season which was a complete disaster. We can’t point directly at Slav considering so many of the goals conceded have been individual errors, but we can question his squad selection. However, I do honestly believe that when players like Cairney and Fosu-Mensah are back and fit we will have a team with much more stability.

We can also take heart from the fact that Jokanovic has been a slow-starter with us throughout the two previous season but has found the ‘solution’, as he likes to say, each time resulting in a very strong finises. Yes, our fortunes in this respect will run out eventually but I think he deserves another chance to turn it around. Loyalty often pays off in football, and I believe that it will, once again, this time around.

Keep the faith.

#COYW