Fulham have been handed a trip to neighbours Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup third round, after the draw was made earlier this evening.
Scott Parker’s side will travel to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium to take on Mark Warburton’s side, who are currently fifteenth in the Championship, in a fixture provisionally scheduled for the weekend commencing on January 9th 2021. Fulham won both meetings between the sides 2-1 last season with a brace from Aboubakar Kamara settling the Craven Cottage before strikes from Harry Arter and Cyrus Christie secured a win in Shepherd’s Bush after lockdown.
Fulham have been handed a trip to neighbours Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup third round, after the draw was made earlier this evening.
Scott Parker praised his players’ courage after Fulham produced a flawless away display to stun Leicester City this evening and move out of the Premier League relegation zone.
The Whites’ goals came from two players who have had their share of setbacks this season. Both Ademola Lookman and Ivan Cavaleiro have missed crucial penalties for Fulham in recent weeks but Parker has kept faith with the pair – and the duo found the net in quick succession to give the Londoners’ an unassailable 2-0 lead before half-time at the King Power. Lookman struck first with a fine finish after Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s excellent run whilst Cavaleiro showed great height to score from the penalty spot after his miss from twelve yards against Everton a week ago.
Parker praised the bravery of his two forwards, who both put in their fair share of defensive work as the visitors largely nullified Brendan Rodgers’ side during an impressive away win. He told his post-match press conference:
Ade came under a lot of stick when he did the penalty (a chip against West Ham) and he needed to take his medicine. Cav slipped last week and I’m not on Twitter or Instagram but I can only imagine what was being said, the jokes at his expense and Cav would have seen that. I said to him: ‘Are you ready to take one if we get it?’ He looked at me dead in the eye and said: ‘I’m ready’. The courage, the bravery after a slip – to step up there. Those are the things we need. Those are the things that will determine what those players will become, how good they’ll become, and as a team what we’ll become.
Ade earned the right to score his goal and Cav put himself up to be scrutinised. There’s no denying there’s relief. We’re in a world where it’s win or lose for all of us and that’s the big picture. I’ve spoken to them about not letting defeats cripple us.
Parker also spoke about a touching tribute to the late Papa Bouba Diop, with Lookman lifting aloft one of the former Fulham midfielder’s Senegalese international shirts after scoring. Diop, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, died yesterday aged just 42:
The kitmen brought the shirt to the changing room and the players were shown it before the game. That was a decision we as a club made and the players were happy to do it. For someone to lose their life at a young age is tragic.
Fulham produced a sublime display of counter-attacking football allied with defensive diligence to shock Leicester City and move out of the relegation zone whilst paying the perfect debut to the late Papa Bouba Diop at the King Power stadium last night. The Londoners, without a top flight away win since an already-relegated side triumphed at Bournemouth in April 2019, went in front through a superbly taken breakaway goal from Ademola Lookman made brilliantly by Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and even cured their penalty curse when Ivan Cavaleiro rifled home a second from the spot before half time. Such was their composure that Fulham weren’t significantly troubled until substitute Harvey Barnes gave Leicester a life line with five minutes left, but the Whites weathered a mad spell of stoppage time to secure a precious victory.
Parker’s selections once again raised eyebrows with talismanic striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and captain Tom Cairney left out of his starting line-up, but the young coach’s clever line-up ultimately outfoxed Brendan Rodgers. Anguissa and Harrison Reed’s dynamic partnership in front of the Fulham defence totally nullified Leicester’s midfield, whilst a composed display from stand-in skipper Joachim Andersen and Toisin Adarabioyo left Jamie Vardy feeding on scraps in attack. Bobby Decordova-Reid, fresh from scoring a fine equaliser against Everton, got through mountains of defensive work down the right but his most significant contribution came when he sprinted the length of the field and won a penalty when Christian Fuchs halted his dangerous run with a foul just inside the area.
Fulham began with an intensity to their pressing and a regimented shape that suggested they had spent the week since being far too open against Everton hard at work on the training ground. Leicester, eyeing a move towards the top of the Premier League, created precious little in a tight first period but should have gone in front in the eighteenth minute. After Lookman had blazed a free-kick wastefully over, the Foxes had a similar opportunity at the other end. James Maddison’s free-kick came back off the wall, Youri Tielemans rattled the post with a fine volley from 20 yards and, as Fulham’s shell-shocked defence tried to recover, Wesley Fofana hit the crossbar with the follow-up. Vardy’s only serious attempt of note arrived five minutes later – an improvised flick at the near post that Alphonse Areola thwarted – but by then Fulham were showing signs of being effective on the break.
Their sense of adventure was typified by a move that began with Ola Aina rampaging down the right and concluded with Antonee Robinson, Fulham’s other full back, shooting straight at Kasper Schmeichel from fifteen yards after being found by Cavaleiro. Some of their approach play contained lovely touches and they more than merited the shock lead they seized when Tielemans’ terrible pass was cut out by Reed and fed on to Anguissa. The Cameroonian international drove forward with purpose, carrying the ball fully forty yards, and then choosing both the perfect moment and weight of pass to release Lookman clear down the left. The winger’s coolness as he went through on Schmeichel, sliding a finish clinically into the corner, was commendable – especially after all the talk about his fluffed Paneka penalty at West Ham.
There was a lovely touch in the joyous celebrations that followed the goal. Lookman made his way to the touchline, sharing a warm embrace with his manager, before holding aloft one of Diop’s old Senegalese shirts – emblazoned with the number nineteen on the back – in a moving tribute to the fallen former Fulham midfielder, whose tragic death at the age of 42 was announced yesterday.
Fulham’s evening got even better eight minutes later. Decordova-Reid, a constant source of cover for Aina on a night of ceaseless running, scurried down the right flank in search of a hopeful ball forward. The Jamaican forward got there first and was brainlessly brought down by Fuchs, although Simon Hooper had to head to the video monitor before awarding the spot-kick. Cavaleiro spooned his previous penalty horribly into the Hammersmith End after an untimely slip against Everton, but this one couldn’t have been more different – hit with power and conviction in the bottom corner, giving Schmeichel no chance even though the goalkeeper dived the right way.
Rodgers made two substitutions and a tactical switch at half-time as he sought to stir his side from their stupour. Barnes and Cengiz Under came on for Praet and Luke Thomas as the hosts switched to a back four, but the alterations actually made very little difference. Leicester huffed and puffed, definitely having more of the ball and the play, but Parker’s men stood firm and actually had the better chances to extend their lead. They pressed Leicester into submission creating a half-chance for Ruben Loftus-Cheek before putting together the move of the match as Robinson, Cavaleiro and Lookman combined down the left with the latter eluding James Justin before forcing a fine save from Schmeichel.
Leicester sent on Kelechi Iheanacho and went to two up front as they searched for a spark but a route back into the contest only appeared with six minutes left. Vardy found a pocket of space in the area for the first time, heading Tielemans’ deep cross down for Barnes, who lashed home a rising half-volley to gave the hosts’ hope. Both Under and Iheanacho had chances to equalise in five frantic minutes of added time, whilst Andersen produced a fine saving challenge to deny Barnes a second. In a crazy finale, Schmeichel stayed forward from a corner as Leicester searched for salvation, allowing Mitrovic to carry the ball over the halfway line. The Serbian surprisingly opted not to go for goal and Aina’s belated effort was deflected behind, but it proved academic in the end.
A battling away victory – and arguably Fulham’s most complete display since arriving back in the top flight – meant an awful lot to Parker and his players. The young manager and his coaching staff showed they are not to be underestimated at the start of what was almost universally acknowledged as a thankless run of fixtures, suggesting that the Whites might not be the division’s whipping boys after all. These sorts of wins are essential for survival – and Fulham have now proven their mettle against one of the country’s best.
LEICESTER CITY (3-4-2-1): Schmeichel; Fofana, Evans, Fuchs; Justin, Thomas (Under 45), Tielemans, Mendy (Ihenacho 70); Praet (Barnes 45), Maddison; Vardy. Subs (not used): Ward, Morgan, Choudhury, Albrighton.
GOAL: Barnes (86).
FULHAM (4-2-4-1): Areola; Decordova-Reid, Robinson, Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Anguissa, Lookman (Bryan 90), Loftus-Cheek (Lemina 77); Cavaleiro (Mitrovic 87). Subs (not used): Rodak, Ream, Cairney, Kamara.
BOOKED: Reed, Adarabioyo.
GOALS: Lookman (30), Cavaleiro (pen 38).
REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).
Grief is a terrible and yet necessary thing. It has become much more common over the last few months as we’ve all lost friends, family members and pillars of the community and must still navigate some sort of daily routine in the strangest of the times. The news that Papa Bouba Diop had passed away aged just 42 hit particularly hard this afternoon: footballers have ridiculously short careers and, in totality, they should be just a fraction of a well-lived life. Diop, who packed so much into his own footballing story, deserved to have much more time to enjoy.
I remember being astonished – and extremely excited – that Fulham had won the race to sign Diop in the summer of 2004. The rumoured £6m fee seemed like a snip, especially since he had exploded into the consciousness of the footballing world with that special goal as Senegal shocked France in the World Cup and followed that up with some fine performances for Lens. He added a much-needed physical presence in midfield for a Fulham side that were sometimes far too easily brushed aside and a little passive in their play, but there was plenty of finesse to go with his fortitude as well.
Diop’s first season at Craven Cottage was spectacular. He was an automatic pick in Chris Coleman’s side and seemed to save his most eye-catching performances for the big games. There was a stunning first goal for the club, a ridiculous volley against Chelsea that briefly levelled the scores in a wondrously open local derby against Jose Mourinho’s men, and – of course – the outrageous strike that rescued a point against Manchester United three minutes from the time. Fulham had more than matched Sir Alex Ferguson’s side that night in a display full of spirit and verve but nobody looked capable of beating Roy Carroll until Diop delivered a thunderbolt from Mark Pembridge’s innocuous looking pass and set off on that memorable run towards the Cottage. It holds a special place in my heart, having come as an especially well-timed birthday present.
It was obvious after such an immediate impact that Diop would become of the Cottage’s cult heroes. Famously, the cry of ‘shoot’ would ring out for years afterwards – even if he had barely crossed the halfway line. His goals were rather more prosaic after that, but he popped up with vital ones throughout his Fulham career. There was a header at Birmingham City and a gorgeous whipped free-kick against Norwich City on the final day of the season – he scored seven in total in his first year with the Whites and was easily the club’s player of the year. Those celebratory dances will live long in the memory too.
Diop was a pivotal figure on the field, breaking up play and providing protection for a defence that was sometimes brittle against the league’s larger lights, but he was just as important off the pitch too. His persona when not playing was very different to the one you saw on the television: he was warm, happy and a gentle soul. He took very seriously the idea of looking after the young players coming through the club’s academy, as you can see from the messages on social media this evening. The idea that someone as imposing as Diop wasn’t a fan of flying – and would frequently be holding hands with a club employee to settle his nerves as a plane took off or landed – seems prepostorous, but I’m told it is absolutely true.
There was a sense that Diop’s Fulham career never fully flourished. He struggled for both form and fitness towards the tail end of his time at Craven Cottage and was allowed to leave for Portsmouth by Lawrie Sanchez on transfer deadline day in 2007. The man himself certainly subscribed to that view, saying subsequently that he hadn’t felt ready to leave Fulham and was sad that he couldn’t say goodbye to the Cottage faithful. His subsequent career still saw plenty of highs, winning the FA Cup with Pompey and the Greek Cup with AEK Athens, as well as earning promotion back to the top flight with West Ham.
You’ll have your own memories of Diop in a Fulham shirt. Mine comes from a trip to Motspur Park when I was much younger. I was there to meet someone else but he noticed me in the car park. We’d never met before but he strode over with purpose, perhaps noticing that I had cerebral palsy and was struggling to walk that day. He offered his hand, flashed that wonderful smile and said, ‘Keep smiling, young man’. I told him I would and, even if it will be tough after today, I’ll be true to my word. After all, that small exchange – mundane as it may be – rather sums up the man.
An afternoon in the glorious Craven Cottage sunshine had all the ingredients of Fulham’s fabulously unorthodox Premier League campaign. There was plenty of disastrous defending, another comically missed penalty and a stirring fightback that saw Scott Parker’s side claw their way back towards salvation but fall frustratingly short. Everton, who looked ominously in control at half-time, were left hanging on to the narrowest of leads but escaped the capital having arrested their own alarming run of reverses.
Parker’s decision to omit Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa from his starting line-up raised a few eyebrows. Without the Serbian up front, Fulham lack a natural goalscorer whilst Anguissa’s tenacity in midfield was sorely missed in a first half that saw Carlo Ancelotti’s men stroll into a comfortable advantage. The hosts were the architects of their own downfall inside the first minute when Toison Adarabioyo attempted an ill-advised switch of play from the edge of his own box. Ola Aina’s header was seized upon by Lucas Digne and Richarlison, restored to the starting line-up after suspension, sped to the by-line before his cut back allowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin the simplest of finishes after a couple of deflections.
Everton’s enterprise – and a switch to a back three – simply overwhelmed Fulham, who were slow to settle and could have gone further behind as Richarlison and Alex Iwobi, who enjoyed an excellent outing as an adventurous right wing-back, roamed with intent. When the Whites did recover some of their poise they exploited space chiefly down their left flank with ex-Everton academy graduate Antonee Robinson to the fore. The American international made a chance that Bobby Decordova-Reid should have done better than to snatch at, but the Jamaican forward took his next opportunity far more impressively, shooting clinically past Jordan Pickford after a lovely one-two with Tom Cairney saw him glide past Yerry Mina.
The visitors still looked ropey at the back, but there were irrepressible going forward. Calvert-Lewin was denied a second by an offside flag but that merely postponed the inevitable. Iwobi injected pace and purpose into the Everton attack, surging past two challengers down the right, and making the space for his opposite wing-back Digne to dart dangerously down the left again. The French defender produced a fabulous first-time cross and Calvert-Lewin gobbled up his tenth league goal of the campaign.
Alphone Areola did his best to keep Fulham in the contest – making a couple of excellent saves from Calvert-Lewin and then pulling off a magnificent stop to keep out Richarlison after the Brazilian had robbed Maria Lemina in midfield and strode into the penalty area – but the game looked beyond the home side after Rodriguez’s gorgeous pass freed Digne down the left again. Another excellent delivery found Abdoulaye Doucoure, criminally unmarked in the middle of the penalty area, who restored Everton’s two-goal cushion with a clinical header.
Parker kept faith with his starting eleven after the break but there was little sign of a revival. Cairney looked the most likely to unlock the Everton defence, having a shot blocked by Godfrey, so it was something of surprise to see him sacrificed as a part of a double change that introduced Mitrovic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The switch had an almost immediate effect when the Chelsea loanee was clumsily felled in the box by Godfrey, only for Cavaleiro to spoon the spot-kick over the bar – slipping as he stepped up to strike it.
That setback would have finished off plenty of struggling sides but Parker’s charges weren’t about it to give it up just yet. A minute later Ademola Lookman burst into the box and fed Loftus-Cheek, whose shot looped into the net off Mina to spark hopes of a Fulham revival. Ancelotti sent on Tom Davies and Gylfi Sigurdsson to try and secure Everton’s slender lead and, even though they retreated deep into their own half for much of the remaining twenty minutes, Fulham failed to fashion a clear-cut chance in a futile search for an equaliser.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola, Aina, Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Lemina (Anguissa 69); Cavaleiro, Lookman, Cairney (Mitrovic 58); Decordova-Reid (Loftus-Cheek 58). Subs (not used): Rodak, Ream, Odoi, Bryan.
BOOKED: Decordova-Reid, Robinson.
GOALS: Decordova-Reid (15), Loftus-Cheek (70).
EVERTON (3-4-3): Pickford; Godfrey, Mina, Keane; Digne, Iwobi, Allan, Doucoure; Rodriguez (Davies 74), Richarlison (Sigurdsson 76), Calvert-Lewin. Subs (not used): Olsen, Holgate, Bernard, Gomes, Tosun.
GOALS: Calvert-Lewin (1, 29), Doucoure (35).
REFEREE: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).
Fulham’s faltering start to the Premier League season had garnered some momentum following their first win on Monday, but it all ebbed away in a ridiculous end to their London derby at West Ham this evening. Having defended resolutely for ninety minutes, a lack of communication between Joachim Andersen and Ola Aina allowed Thomas Soucek to fire the hosts in front in injury time. When all hope appeared lost, salvation came in the form of a penalty, awarded for Said Benrahma’s felling of Tom Cairney as every Fulham player crowded the box in search of an unlikely equaliser. Aleksandar Mitrovic was demoted from spot-kick duty, having missed one at Sheffield United last month, but Ademola Lookman’s bright start to his Fulham career could be a mere footnote after his pitiful Paneka attempt barely reached the goalline, allowing Lukasz Fabianki the simplest of saves.
As ever, with Fulham, it is the hope that kills you. Lookman looked crestfallen after his ill-judged attempt to outwit the West Ham goalkeeper that meant Scott Parker’s side lost a game they were very much in until the very end. In a season where scrapping for your lives is the order of the day, coughing up three points through two failures from twelve yards is unforgiveable. Mitrovic might have skied his Bramall Lane effort, but the Serbian was surely a better option to take such a high pressure kick?
On such moments can campaigns turn. A furious Parker was already upset that West Ham’s goal had been allowed to stand, arguing that Sebastian Haller was in an offside position when Vladimir Coufal crossed into the box. Andersen, otherwise excellent at the heart of a much more durable Fulham defence, made a hash of a header he might have left, allowing Benrahma to square for Soucek, who had strolled into the box criminally untracked, to drive a low finish past Alphonse Areola.
The visitors had steadied themselves after West Ham had made a fast start and were good value to take something from an even, and intriguing contest. Areola made a smart pair of saves in quick succession to deny Arthur Musuaka from close range and Aaron Creswell from further out after Jarrod Bowen had dispossessed Antonee Robinson. The Fulham goalkeeper made an even better reaction save to tip over a Bowen volley that had deflected off Mitrovic, before Haller headed a presentable opportunity from one of a host of early corners against the crossbar.
Fulham gradually found their poise and pretty passing patterns, but Mitrovic wasn’t quite sharp enough to exploit a pair of probing balls from Tom Cairney and Robinson, who combined effectively with Lookman down the left. He steered a header wide with Fulham’s best chance before the break and berated himself for not doing better after pulling away from Creswell to reach a looping Cairney cross.
The Whites had to endure another early spell of prolonged West Ham pressure after the restart. Areola got the feintest of touches to a venomous Creswell free-kick, even if the referee gave a goalkick. There was another fortunate escape when Bowen pulled the trigger from the edge of the box – this time a wicked deflection left the Fulham keeper stranded but the ball dropped wide of goal.
But, as in the first period, Fulham roused themselves and fashioned a pair of chances to grab a late winner. Lookman lashed an indirect free-kick from the edge of the box straight at Fabianski before a smart break saw Bobby Decordova-Reid’s angled drive test the ex-Arsenal goalkeeper again. Benrahma and Lanzini were given just under twenty minutes to find a winner, with the Algerian international twice denied by Areola at his near post when a cut-back looked a more profitable option. Fulham fluffed a great chance to find a winner themselves when a lightning counter-attack offered Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa the chance to steal in at the back post, but the Cameroon midfielder opted against taking on the first team shot.
At that point, the game looked set to peter out into a tame draw that would have represented a creditable return to one of his former clubs for Parker, but the stoppage time drama means the Fulham boss has another big job on his hands to lift his charges ahead of a tricky fun of fixtures following the international break.
WEST HAM UNITED (3-4-3): Fabianski; Balbuena, Ogbonna (Diop 63), Cresswell; Coufal, Masuaku, Soucek, Rice; Bowen (Lanzini 72), Fornals (Benrahma 72), Haller. Subs (not used): Randolph, Fredericks, Snodgrass, Yarmolenko.
BOOKED: Ogbonna, Diop.
GOAL: Soucek (90+1).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Anguissa (Cavaleiro 90+4); Cairney, Decordova-Reid (Loftus-Cheek 82), Lookman; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Ream, Bryan, Hector, Kebano, Cavaleiro.
BOOKED: Mitrovic, Loftus-Cheek.
REFEREE: Rob Jones (Cheshire).
How good did it feel this morning waking up after our first Premier League win of the campaign? Sport is special like that. It can be a complete mood changer, both for the good and the bad. Unfortunately this season hasn’t brought us much joy so far, so boy did we need that last night! The first win of a campaign can arguably be the most important. It gets us off the mark and, in this case, takes us above the relegation zone for the first time all season. Some of the joy is back at the Cottage.
Now we can’t be getting ahead of ourselves. West Brom were the poorest side that we have played against this season. Bar a couple of opportunities that we pretty much handed them on a plate, they made nothing going forward and they didn’t really test our defence at all. Always the optimist though, I tend to say one of the reasons that they were so poor is because we didn’t let them get into their flow. Remember that this was a side that scored three goals against Chelsea earlier in the season so they do have some threat! As for Fulham though, I thought that to a man we were brilliant. While our defence wasn’t tested too much, I thought that when called into action our new centre back pairing of Tosin Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen were solid while Aina and Robinson both had a part to play in the goals. It was Robinson’s deep cross to Mitrovic that allowed our front man to set up BDR for the opener and just minutes later it was Aina who nearly burst the net with his pile driver with his weaker foot.
There were lots of brilliant performances last night. The already mentioned Robinson had his best game in the Fulham shirt, while Mitrovic may not have found the back of the net himself, he did set up both goals. He was a handful for the Baggies defence and they just couldn’t contain him. Andersen came in for his debut and while he wasn’t hugely tested, he looked extremely calm in there. Just what we needed, but there will be bigger challenges ahead. For me though, the standout man was Tom Cairney. I don’t think I’m overexaggerating by saying that Cairney’s performance last night was the best I have seen from him in a few seasons. While he has been decent so far this campaign, last night he was like a man possessed! From the first minute every time he was on the ball he was looking forward either to pass or to drive himself. Recently we have had to watch as one of our most talented midfielder has frustrated us a bit with some unadventurous play. Playing in a deeper role hasn’t suited him and he had been caught out defensively a bit. This hasn’t necessarily been his fault as that isn’t at all his favoured position and I’m so glad that Parker has seen the light and played him in that number 10 role last night. And oh how he repaid his managers faith! He was involved in everything good last night and the Baggies had to resort to cynical fouls to stop him. His decision making was spot on and it was so refreshing to see him drive forward instead of passing backwards. When he is on form he is so hard to get the ball off. This was like watching prime Cairney from our first promotion year and if we are to stay up, we need more performances like that from him. It’s imperative that Parker keeps him in that number 10 role. He just isn’t as effective in the deeper role, but when played behind the striker in the hole he can hugely impact our results.
It looked like the shackles were off for Cairney, and therefore the whole team, last night. It was wonderful to watch us not only win, but to look so comfortable. Yes, there were a couple of mistakes that might be punished against better teams, but all in all we controlled the game from start to finish. We move onto West Ham now with confidence. Play like we did last night and we give ourselves every chance of coming away with another three points.
Fulham defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson have been named in the United States international squad for their upcoming friendlies against Wales and Austria.
Ream, who has made five league appearances this year for Fulham, is in line to win his 41st senior international cap if he is included in the starting line-up for either of the fixtures. The experienced centre back has featured prominently in the American set-up since a recall a couple of years ago, although he is likely to find regular game time at club level more difficult to come by after being replaced in the starting line-up by new arrivals Tosin Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen.
Left back Robinson has won seven senior caps for the States and caught the eye with an energetic display in Fulham’s first league win of the season last night against West Bromwich Albion. The 23 year-old recently displaced play-off hero Joe Bryan in Scott Parker’s side and had a hand in the first goal last night, producing a beautiful cross for Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Goalscoring hero Ola Aina has called on his Fulham team-mates to ‘kick on’ from what he described as a ‘massive’ win over West Brom last night and move up the Premier League table.
The on-loan Torino full back struck his first top flight goal, a sensational strike from 20 yards, to double Fulham’s lead against the Baggies and secure a first league victory of the season for Scott Parker’s side. The win saw the Whites leapfrog their fellow strugglers into seventeenth in the table and Aina told the Evening Standard afterwards just how precious those three points felt:
“It was massive. Everyone knows it has been a tough start to the season and to get the three points and the clean sheet, those things are very important. We dug in and really showed some resilience, it is an amazing feeling. It is a long season, the team and myself have to take every game as it comes. You have to work hard at that, keep training and putting in the effort. What we did last night, that needs to be the minimum. Hopefully, we can kick on from here and keep improving.”
The versatile defender heaped praise on manager Scott Parker for keeping his side focused during a tough few weeks at the start of their Premier League return.
He has been great, keeping the belief within the camp and he always tells us that he believes in each and everyone of us, believes in our ability and what we can achieve. He has been very positive with us — where we lack, he lets us know, and where we do well, he lets us know. He is a very truthful guy and he has been great.
Aina was delighted to get on a scoresheet and hopes to be able to establish himself in the top flight, having moved to Italy after failing to make the breakthrough with Chelsea.
It is always special getting your first Premier League goal. It has been a long time since I made my league debut. I am just glad that the goal came and I was able to help the team with it. It is a dream to play in the Premier League and score, and get games in the Premier League. When I left Chelsea, it was kick-starting a career for myself. I always wanted to come back and play in the Premier League. I am just happy that I am making it a reality.
Doesn’t the table look much sweeter after a victory? Scott Parker might insist that he will learn little from Fulham’s elevation to seventeenth place, but in terms of the fans’ morale those three points and a sniff of safety – even at this early stage – makes a real difference. Beating the other strugglers is the bread and butter of a relegation fight (something the Whites haven’t consistently mustered in the past) and, however poor West Brom were last night, Fulham dispatched them with a real ruthlessness that bodes well for the weeks ahead.
Parker deserves huge credit for engineering a victory when both goals and points looked tough to come by. His key alterations from the defeat by Crystal Palace, where the same sort of problems dogged a ponderous side, were hugely vindicated. Ruben Loftus-Cheek comes to Craven Cottage with real pedigree, but a lack of form and fitness has undermined his undoubted talent in recent years. He might have been ill-served by being shoved out on the right against Palace, but there was a listlessness about his play that Fulham couldn’t afford. Compare and contrast with Bobby Decordova-Reid, who approached the right wing role with hunger, bagging the opening goal as his reward – and the Jamaican forward could easily had another late on.
The boon was the introduction of Joachim Andersen – significantly ahead of schedule after his ankle injury – at centre back. You sense our survival hopes are intertwined with the Danish defender’s fitness and fortunes. He was composed, comfortable in possession and regularly in the right position, something you couldn’t say about some of his predecessors in our back line, reading danger reassuringly. There will be far stiffer tests to come but this was encouraging start at tackling the team’s Achilles heel. Building a partnership with Toisin Adarabioyo, who put together another strong display, will help build confidence as well as a back four that can avoid basic mistakes.
There was clearly a change in approach from the early weeks of the season. We’ve speculated before about whether Parker’s approach will be better suited to the top flight than the Jokanovic method and perhaps this was the first time the manager’s pragmatism bore fruit. Fulham had just 46% of possession, having dominated the ball against all opponents bar Arsenal this season, but they used it far more effectively in the final third. A more direct approach didn’t dovetail with an abundance of caution, as seen from the thrust provided by the frequent forward forays of our full backs, but it did play to the strengths of Aleksandar Mitrovic, as evidenced by the Serbian’s pair of assists – a first for him in English league football.
Mitrovic, who has come in for his critics at times this season, thrives on the sort of service that Antonee Robinson delivered for the first goal. The thrust came from Andre-Frank Anguissa, dynamic from a deep lying midfield position, and Robinson’s deep cross was perfect for Mitrovic to attack at the back post. That he aimed across goal after soaring high showed both his own awareness and the value of flooding the box with numbers, which Fulham have failed to do enough this season, and Decordova-Reid could hardly miss with his own header from close range.
Robinson was a potent threat all night, utterly justifying his selection ahead of Joe Bryan, but also showed commendable defensive skills when necessary. His pace provides a real outlet down the left flank and, as Ademola Lookman and he develop a greater understanding, there could be real joy down that side. Ola Aina probably won’t ever strike a ball better than he did for that stunning second, demonstrating that he was genuinely two-footed, but the precise passing and movement that created the space for the strike shouldn’t go unnoticed. Moving the ball with purpose and at pace creates opportunities – and that has to be the lesson to take from this success rather than returning to the ponderous possession-based stuff that is easy to defend against for disciplined sides at this level.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Fulham’s success last night are the options that Parker has at his disposal in midfield. Mario Lemina offered both energy and significant cover in front of the back four, delivering the kind of display that explained why the Whites were keen to recruit him. In his own understated way, Harrison Reed showed just how important an acquisition he was with another excellent second half cameo – and the competition for places is exceedingly healthy. Anguissa, one sloppy mistake aside when he gifted Karlan Grant an opportunity to bring the Baggies back in the game, strode through the centre of the park like a colossus. We didn’t see enough of his creative side two seasons ago, but they was plenty to like about his direct running into the heart of Albion territory, often allied with a forward pass. Tom Cairney dictated proceedings with that air of arrogance that has sometimes been missing from his displays at this level, but his imprint was all over this performer. The captain attracted some silly internet carping for featuring both his goal and a place in the Premier League team of the week on his Instagram after the Palace reverse but he answered those critics in the best way possible, with a first-class performance that deserved to be capped by a delightful chip that so nearly brought a third goal.
Nobody should be under illusions that this fixes all the problems that have surfaced in the first couple of months of the step up to the Premier League. West Brom were woeful, a fact that Slaven Bilic bluntly acknowledged afterwards, and Fulham’s fixture list throws up some significant tests in the next few weeks: West Ham away, Everton at home, Leceister City away, followed by a trip to Manchester City and the hosting of Liverpool in December. Parker struck the right tone afterwards, emphasising the importance of continuing the learning on the training pitches and building on this success, but momentum is vital in this league and, after weeks of woe, this result will do wonders for Fulham’s confidence.