Dan Burn’s had longer than most of us to reflect on the enormity of the May thumping at Stoke that cost Fulham their Premier League status. Played out of position at right back, the 6ft 7 in left-footed centre back had a torrid afternoon up against the rampaging Oussama Aissaidi and became one of the main exhibits in the case against Felix Magath. Despite a couple of first-team run outs in early season, the tall and eminently capable centre back watched Fulham’s first four Championship fixtures from the sidelines, before making his return against Brentford at Griffin Park.
A lack of match sharpness can often show in terms of physicality, pace and positioning, particularly at centre back, where one poor decision is often quickly punished. But, remarkably, it looked like Burn had never been away. He was predictability dominant in the air, repelling Brentford’s regular aerial assaults with effortless ease, but what caught the eye was his alertness to danger on the floor, making a couple of timely interventions as well as saving tackles, and the manner with which he commanded a new-look defence.
His vocal nature and decisiveness befitted a man who has had experience of this league. Lee Clark took Burn, previously a promotion winner from League One with Yeovil Town, to Birmingham City last season and his Championship experience was one of the reasons why many expected the youngster, who had a few promising showings towards the tail end of last term in the Premier League, to become a key part of a Fulham side that looked light on know-how at this level. If this was Burn’s opportunity to remind Magath of his qualities, he couldn’t have scripted a better audition for a place in the side against Cardiff City on Saturday.
At a time when Fulham’s frailty at the back has been cruelly exposed, Burn looked assured and confident. He made swift decisions – only making one error when diving into a tackle on the half-way line late in the contest – and kept Nick Proschwitz so quiet that Mark Warburton was forced into an earlier than expected tactical change. There was nothing too fancy about his football, even if he looked a little more composed in possession than we’d seen on previous occasions, and he certainly wasn’t shy about reminding those stationed in front of him about their screening responsibilities. Where Cameron Burgess has looked a little green and nervy, Burn looked like a battle-hardened veteran.
Burn’s display also had a hefty dose of desire about it. Perhaps fired up by his exclusion to this point or by the opportunity to stake a claim in a local derby, he looked motivated from the first whistle. There was defiance in those powerful headed clearances, an almost thou-shalt-not-pass belligerence about the couple of crucial blocks in the early stages and whole-hearted challenges. His will to win couldn’t be challenged. About the only thing he got wrong was the exuberant slide on his knees in front of the away fans after he sprinted the length of the pitch to celebrate Ross McCormack’s winner. Even then, his excitement – like the glee of a small child – was endearing.
The success of his partnership with his fellow centre back from the north east, Shaun Hutchinson, might have made Magath think. The pair were rarely separated, holding a higher line than in previous games, and compliment each other well, playing on their natural sides. Nikolay Bodurov, who incidentally appeared as a makeshift holding midfielder as the clock ticked down, hasn’t done too much wrong at this early point in his exposure to English football but they’d be a strong argument for retaining this combination at the heart of the defence for the visit of Cardiff to Craven Cottage. At the very least, such an accomplished return was timely and reassuring given the gravity of Fulham’s defensive collapse at Derby.