December Woes

My Uncle asked me recently what life was like as a Fulham fan right now and the only word that came to mind was, “Grim.” I’m pretty sure that I thought the Premier League would be much more fun than it has turned out so far. If the increase in prices wasn’t bad enough, we have had to deal with some abject performances from a team that promised so much. We find ourselves in danger of being bottom at Christmas, something that teams rarely survive from. It’s going to take one momentous effort from the squad to get us out of this mess, and we as a fan base need to keep up the support.

I do believe that the team has looked much more organised under Ranieri, and 4points from four games isn’t bad considering we have been away to Chelsea and Manchester United in that time. The games between now and the end of December could either give us the hope that we need, or could essentially relegate us. There are no easy games in this league, but being at home to West Ham, Huddersfield and Wolves alongside a trip to St James Park to face Newcastle is a run of games that could take us off the bottom of the table. It’s an opportunity that has to be taken if we are to stay in the Promised Land next season.

Unfortunately for us West Ham have come in to a little run of form of late and have found there scoring boots. They have already scored 12 goals in the month of December with three in each of their wins over Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace, so we can expect our defence to be tested. It doesn’t bode well for a side still yet to keep a clean sheet this season. Another concern is that those 12 goals have been scored by five different players, none of which are Marko Arnautovi?, who has for so long been West Ham’s main threat. They have quality throughout their squad so there is no room for the silly mistakes that keep hampering our progress.

Ranieri made five changes last time out but I’m not sure that anyone would say that it worked. Denis Odoi was poor at right back while Tim Ream just doesn’t look Premier League ready. Hopefully Chambers will have gotten over whatever kept him out last weekend because he has been one of the positive things about Fulham over the past few weeks. Anguissa will be suspended but his performance wasn’t anything to shout home about so I’d imagine he wouldn’t have been in Ranieri’s plans any way. The next four games need to give us a spring board to something that Ranieri can work with over the January transfer window. It will be easier to attract players if we can show that we have a bit of fight about us. I think little Freddie here has the right idea…

All in all we need some Christmas joy around the Cottage, and soon. Grim times can turn very quickly into joyous times in football. Saturday night is huge.

#COYW

Match Preview – Fulham v Leicester City

Fulham’s home form for the remainder of the season will no doubt decide whether the Whites are able to stay up this season. Tonight’s match against Leicester will provide a good test for the squad who have shown signs of improvement and competitiveness in both of the matches under new manager Claudio Ranieri.

The Italian has just a single injury concern after second half substitute Floyd Ayite picked up an injury in the SW6 derby on Sunday. Tonight’s game will be the first time Ranieri has been able to pick from a virtually fully fit first-team squad since he took over and it will be interesting to see who starts in midfield. The drafting in of Stefan Johansen to midfield after Andre Schurrle pulled out on the eve of the Chelsea game didn’t really work and you would expect the German World Cup winner to regain his place in the starting line-up. Who fills one of the deep-lying holding midfield slot is a fascinating question. Kevin McDonald hasn’t had much of a look in or late, whilst Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa marked his return to training with a long-range screamer.

The revelation in recent weeks has been the form of Calum Chambers. So abject just a few weeks ago at right back in the devastating defeat to Cardiff, the Arsenal loanee has returned as an all-conquering defensive midfielder. Slavisa Jokanovic played him there at Anfield where Chambers added a bit of much-needed bite to a previously rather feeble Fulham midfield and he has gone on since then. His performance at Stamford Bridge was by far his best in a Fulham shirt – it was just unfortunate that the clearest chances fell his way on a day when the Whites were in the derby for long periods but couldn’t find a goal.

Tonight’s visitors Leicester have a few injury concerns of their own. England World Cup hero Harry Maguire and Rachid Ghezzal will reportedly not be travelling down to London for the game, whilst star striker Jamie Vardy could be facing a late fitness test. The Foxes will be looking for their second victory in the space of four days at the expense of Ranieri, who guided them to that shock league title win in the 2015-16 season. With Leicester proving hard to beat as of late and us trying to adapt to Ranieri’s way of football, I full expect a tough game tonight. I do however expect to see goals and I am hoping Aleksander Mitrovic can be the difference between the two sides.

Prediction: Fulham 2-1 Leicester City

Feisty Fulham fall short

Looking at the scoreline, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this SW6 derby proved to be a Sunday lunchtime stroll for Chelsea. It looked like it could have been when Pedro capitalised on a shocking defensive error to give the home side an early lead, but you could tell from the regularity of Maurizio Sarri’s second half prowling that their slender advantage was far from comfortable. Claudio Ranieri couldn’t claim a point on his return to Stamford Bridge, but the hosts needed the cushion of a late Reuben Loftus-Cheek strike to be certain of all three points.

Fulham began with an early demonstration of their ambition with Cyrus Christie, who had an excellent game in shackling Eden Hazard, galloping into space down the right flank and firing a speculative shot towards the far corner. It lacked power and Kepa Arrizabalaga was able to easily get down and gather it in. The Whites, roared on by a raucous travelling support, soon shot themselves in the foot, however, with Denis Odoi and Jean-Michael Seri getting in a terrible mess in central midfield. Seri failed to release a pass from the Belgian defender swiftly enough, allowing N’Golo Kante to swoop in, sweep up field and play the perfect pass for Pedro, who ghosted inside Alfie Mawson and measured a perfect finish inside the far post.

The visitors could have been overwhelmed by the grievous nature of the goal they had conceded with just four minutes on the clock, but they continued to patiently probe in front of the Chelsea defence. Tom Cairney created an opening for Calum Chambers, who was superb throughout in the holding midfield role again, but the Arsenal loanee’s drive from distance was straight at Kepa. At the other end, Sergio Rico had another fine game in the Fulham goal – making two splendid reaction saves from Oliver Giroud as the first half drew to a close to keep his side in the contest.

Ranieri was decisive at half time and withdrew Stefan Johansen and Ryan Sessegnon in favour of Floyd Ayite and Aboubakar Kamara. Although an early opening came the way of Pedro, Fulham’s switch of both personnel and system enlivened them as an attacking force. Antonio Rudiger almost sent Christie’s cross into his own goal as he tried to keep it away from Aleksandar Mitrovic, before Kepa somehow kept out Chambers’ near post header from the ensuing corner. It was clearly not going to be Chambers day, when after a beautiful drag back on the edge of the box, he thumped an effort towards the far corner that was superbly pawed away by the Chelsea goalkeeper.

Rico did brilliantly to keep out an effort from Hazard that had taken a wicked deflection but he had no chance with the clinching goal, scored by substitute Loftus-Cheek, that settled the contest eight minutes from time. It owed much to Hazard ghosting away from a clutch of Fulham defenders after some excellent approach play on the edge of the box. The Belgian picked the perfect time to release Loftus-Cheek, who had escaped the attentions of Maxime Le Marchand, and the England international drove home at the near post.

Fulham continued to push forward in added time, but couldn’t find a route back into the contest despite efforts from Mawson, Christie and Kamara going close. Ranieri declared himself pleased with his side’s fight as well as their reaction to his half-time changes, but he will know that Fulham’s fate is highly unlikely to be settled by these sort of results and more in the fixtures like Wednesday’s, at home against another of his former clubs, Leicester City.

CHELSEA (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Alonso (Zappacosta 78), Rüdiger, David Luiz; Kanté, Jorginho, Kovacic (Loftus-Cheek 67); Pedro, Hazard, Giroud (Morata 70). Subs (not used): Caballero, Christensen, Fàbregas, Willian.

BOOKED: Azpilicueta, Morata.

GOALS: Pedro (4), Loftus-Cheek (82).

FULHAM (4-1-2-1-2): Rico; Christie, Le Marchand, Odoi, Mawson; Seri; Chambers, Johansen (Ayite 45); Cairney (Kebano 76); Mitrovic, R. Sessegnon (Kamara 45). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Bryan, Cisse.

BOOKED: Odoi.

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 40,551

Derby Day

The Claudio Ranieri Era got off to a great start last weekend beating fellow strugglers Southampton at the Cottage to ease the tensions at the football club. While we couldn’t say that it was a comfortable victory, we saw fight for the first time in months and that alone has brought fresh optimism to the banks of the Thames. We know that we have a squad filled with quality, and while it is really sad that Jokanovic just wasn’t able to make it click, Ranieri already looks to have invigorated the squad. It’s early days, but the signs so far are good.

Just 1.4 miles separates Craven Cottage and Stamford Bridge making Fulham’s trip to Chelsea on Sunday one of the shortest in the Premier League. Given that Cardiff, Southampton, Palace all picked up points on Saturday’s round of matches, it’s important that we are not blown away in this one. It’s not a must win game, but there is no question of it being an important game. Playing against your neighbours is always important and I won’t be the only Fulham fan who had this one marked out early when the fixtures were announced in the summer.

Chelsea are on a weird run at the minute. They flew out of the blocks under Sarri, but have now hit a bit of a road block with a 0-0 draw with Everton before being destroyed by Spurs last weekend at Wembley. They have already taken the first step in redeeming themselves with a comfortable victory midweek in the Europa League, but as it was essentially a meaningless game as they had already qualified for the next round, most of their fans will have been looking ahead to the next game in the league. We might be facing a Hazard-less Chelsea tomorrow with the midfielder still struggling with an ankle knock, plus we may see more of the fallout from the Kante saga, but all in all we face a very tough test tomorrow.

I’ve always had this West London derby on my bucket list so I can’t wait for the game tomorrow, and I can’t help but dreaming about getting something from it. It’s been almost five years since we last played Chelsea, and our last win was 12 years ago when Luis Boa Morte scored the winner at the Cottage 2006. You never know, we could have another hero tomorrow!

#COYW

Ranieri delighted with Fulham’s fighting spirit

Claudio Ranieri was delighted with Fulham’s fighting spirit after the Whites shrugged off the setback of conceding an early goal to beat Southampton and move off the bottom of the Premier League table.

The Italian admitted that his first game in charge of his new side was an emotional moment, but professed himself pleased with the focus and desire of his players. Ranieri felt that his team had made ‘little steps’ in terms of improving some of the problems that have dogged their faltering start to life back in the top flight, but recognised that Fulham’s first victory for more than three months will lift morale around the club.

He told his post-match press conference:

For me to come back to the Premier League is emotional. For me to come to Fulham is emotional. Emotions were high. It was an important match, and everybody is pleased, but it’s a little step – it’s not an easy job. I was waiting for this kind of match and it was very difficult. Southampton are a good team, and we’re in a bad position. We suffered a lot, but I’m very pleased with my players because they never gave up and fought.

We wanted to win, we showed very good fighting spirit, and our energy levels were high. I asked the players to fight until the end. After the first goal, I wanted to see our reaction and it was amazing. I’m very pleased with our fans too, they supported us until the end.

Ranieri was disappointed with the amount of scoring opportunities the Whites offered Southampton and lavished praise on Spanish goalkeeper Sergio Rico who pulled off a number of outstanding saves.

We played a good match but gave too many chances to our opponents. Of course, I want a clean sheet and want to improve our defensive work. The whole team has to maintain the right position. I always want more. Rico had to make too many saves and I don’t like it when our goalkeeper has to work too much.

He also had high praise for Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose double eventually proved decisive, and scotched any suggestions that the former Newcastle forward wouldn’t fit into his long-term plans.

For me, Mitrovi? is one of the best strikers in Europe. He’s only 24 and I think he can improve more and more. At the end of the season, you’ll see how many goals he’ll score.

Mitrovic brace gives Ranieri a dream start

A timely double from Aleksandar Mitrovic handed Claudio Ranieri a dream start to life at Craven Cottage as Fulham sneaked past Southampton in a five-goal thriller this afternoon.

Ranieri promised a more pragmatic style of football after replacing Slavisa Jokanovic with the aim of keeping Fulham in the Premier League and, whilst his new side looked defensively secure, their first victory in three months owed plenty to the attacking philosophy that the Serbian imbued in SW6. Their equaliser, after Stuart Armstrong had punished some slack defending, came from a flowing seven pass move down the left flank and Fulham’s third arrived after Cyrus Christie had surged deep into Southampton territory.

In such an open contest, it was likely that both sides’ defensive frailties would be severely examined. Fulham were indebted to another outstanding display of goalkeeping from Sergio Rico, who produced a splendid double save to deny Armstrong and Manolo Gabbiadini in quick succession, and continued to repel wave after wave of Southampton attacks. He could do little about their opening goal, when both Tom Cairney and Jean-Michael Seri switched off, allowing Nathan Redmond to reach Matt Targett’s throw. The winger was the visitors’ most potent threat all afternoon and, although Maxime Le Marchand got a touch to his cross, Armstrong tucked away a clinical finish.

Too often this season Fulham heads had dropped decisively after they had gone behind. It was the youngest member of the side, Ryan Sessegnon, who provided a spark with a determined run from midfield and a powerful shot that flew just over the bar. The teenager was heavily involved in the equaliser just after the half hour. Southampton stood off Sessegnon and he found Cairney, whose clever pass released Le Marchand, who has often appeared a reluctant left back. This time the Frenchman galloped right to the byline and produced a splendid cross which Mitrovic stooped to guide into the far corner.

Young Sessegnon was far from finished. He produced a tremendous run down the left, bamboozling Cedric Soares in the process. and delivered the perfect low cross for Andre Schurrle to tap Fulham in front at the back post. The ten minute turn around represented the first time that the Whites had led since going 2-0 up at Brighton on September 1st – and we all know how that ended.

The home side were penned back in the early stages of the second half as Southampton pushed forward. Ranieri’s men almost grabbed a third on the break when Mitrovic’s powerful low drive was expertly saved by McCarthy and the Saints went straight up the other end to equalise. A poor defensive header from Sessegnon allowed Soares to flick the ball into the path of Armstrong just outside the box and the Scot drove a thumping finish beyond even Rico’s grasp.

Once again, the desire of the league’s bottom side could have been called into question. Instead, Fulham stepped up the intensity and fought for every ball. Their determination was typified by Schurrle chasing a lost cause to the corner flag and forcing a frenzied clearance from Wesley Hoedt, which fell kindly for Christie. The Republic of Ireland international then deftly beat his man and swung over a high cross that was smartly flicked on by Sessegnon for Mitrovic at the back post. The Serbian swiftly readjusted his feet and volleyed splendidly into the bottom corner, leaving McCarthy rooted to the spot.

There was still nearly half an hour for Fulham to hang on – and the finale was terrifying and gripping in equal measure. Southampton rallied and probably should have claimed a point. Rico made two further excellent reaction stops, beating out a volley from Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and then somehow foiled substitute Michael Obafemi, when he looked certain to score. In between, Obafemi somehow scooped a shot over the bar into the Putney End having beaten Le Marchand to a through ball. Five minutes of stoppage time seemed like a lifetime before Rico clung onto another Højbjerg effort and Michael Oliver finally called time on proceedings.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rico; Christie, Le Marchand, Odoi, Mawson; Chambers, Seri (Johansen 68); Schurrle (Kamara 74), R. Sessegnon, Cairney; Mitrovic (Ayite 86). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Ream, Bryan, Kebano.

BOOKED: Mawson, Johansen.

GOALS: Mitrovic (32, 63), Schurrle (42).

SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): McCarthy; Soares, Targett, Yoshida, Hoedt; Lemina, Højbjerg; Gabbiadini, Redmond, Armstrong (Obafemi 81); Austin (Elyounoussi 68). Subs (not used): Gunn, Vestergaard, Stephens, Davis, Ward-Prowse.

BOOKED: Hoedt, Højbjerg, Obafemi.

GOALS: Armstrong (18, 53).

REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

ATTENDANCE: 24,603.

How Fulham can get back on track

After a summer splurge of big money signings, many respected pundits tipped Fulham as dark horses to finish in the top half of the Premier League come May. But, as with any promoted side, remaining in the top division was the primary objective. Having collected just five points from their first twelve games, safety seems far from assured and it was clear that something had to change. The sacking of Slavisa Jokanovic and his immediate replacement by Claudio Ranieri was a decisive move from the Fulham board – and a decision that should provide some hope heading into a critical pre-Christmas period.

Fulham’s defence has been the cause of their faltering start, with fundamental mistakes costing the Whites dearly as they conceded 31 goals in a harrowing first three months back in the Premier League. This is something that the new manager and his coaching staff will be looking to rectify, as Ranieri indicated in his first press conference.  The imminent returns of Alfie Mawson and Joe Bryan should give the Italian options at the back that Jokanovic simply didn’t have for much of this season. Mawson was brought in from Swansea in the summer for around £20 million and has not quite had the start he and the fans were hoping for. Approaching match sharpness again, Mawson could be the anchor at the heart of the back four that Fulham have badly missed – and the Whites would dearly love him to replicate some of his assured displays for Swansea.

Joe Bryan looked bright at the beginning of his season, with an impressive display at Wembley against Tottenham in August, where he created an equaliser with a fabulous cross. His attack-minded nature meant he was ideally suited to Jokanovic’s sense of adventure, but there is no reason why he can’t adapt to a more disciplined Ranieri approach. Fulham have sorely missed a natural left back since his hamstring injury at Everton and Bryan’s reintroduction into the side should allow Sessegnon the freedom to take up a more advanced role and torment defences as he did when claiming the Championship player of the year award last term.

Looking back, Fulham were unfortunate at Anfield in what proved to be Jokanovic’s final game in charge. They were unlucky not to lead through Aleksandar Mitrovic’s excellent header – a misery compounded by the injustice of Mo Salah’s strike seconds later being allowed to stand. The Whites showed fight – typified by the feisty performance of Calum Chambers in a holding midfield role – in a game few expected them to win, but they need to pick up points before they are cut adrift at the foot of the table. Ranieri will need to establish some consistency and it is already clear that Jokanovic’s expansive playing style will be one of the first things sacrificed.

A win against Southampton would be the dream start, with the Fulham fans hoping they can build on that dogged showing on Merseyside. Home form is very important to any team fighting relegation and it looked like Fulham were ready to continue the impressive run in SW6 from last season when they put Burnley to the sword at Craven Cottage and fought back to claim a point against high-flying Watford. Since then, defeats by Arsenal – who were ruthless in front of goal – and a sharp Bournemouth side have punctured any lingering optimism and left the side looking more than a little bedraggled.

In his first press conference as Fulham head coach last week, Ranieri emphasised the importance of defensive strength -something that should be welcomed with open arms after Jokanovic’s exciting style proved unsustainable at this level. The international break should have given Ranieri some extra time to impart his methods and philosophy on to the majority of his squad and there will be a few players looking to prove a point or two against the Saints this weekend. We’ll always remember Slav for his pretty football and that remarkable day at Wembley, but Ranieri’s realism could be just what the doctor ordered.

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’.