As football fans, the idea that playing the game for a living can be frustrating strikes us as somewhat perverse. But footballers who find themselves regularly on the bench – or worse, out of the squad altogether – must find kicking their heels on a Saturday afternoon pretty tough. Consider the case this season of Cauley Woodrow. Lauded as a real prospect almost as soon as Fulham parted with a six-figure sum of money to Hitake him from Luton Town to our academy as a sixteen year-old in 2011, impressive when handed a surprise chance in the first-team as Fulham fought against relegation in 2014 and showing signs of pedigree last season, he suddenly found himself behind Moussa Dembele in the pecking order having signed a new contract in the summer.
Woodrow, who turned 21 earlier this month, has a touch of Teddy Sheringham about him. Someone who is eager to get on the ball – and has a keen eye for a pass – might appear worryingly similar to the talismanic Ross McCormack, who he partnered to great effect up front last night, but Woodrow’s lack of height in relative comparison to Matt Smith counts against him in such a physical league. He has been criticised for a lack of composure in front of goal – something he put to rest with two fine poacher’s finishes against Rotherham – and his history of crucial goals in a short Fulham career rather belies that impression.
The quality of Woodrow’s display last night leaves Slavisa Jokanovic with a potentially tricky selection dilemma when he picks his first side for the clash with Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday if Dembele manages to recover from the slight hamstring twinge that kept him out of contention last night. Woodrow’s first league appearance of the season was electrifying. From the first minute, he was chasing last causes and hassling the Rotherham defence – and his desire was typified by in which he pounced on a half chance, when McCormack dummied a Scott Parker header and rounded the goalkeeper to put the Whites ahead after six minutes.
His second goal was even better – arriving at a crucial time just a minute before the break after Rotherham had hauled themselves back into the contest and threatened to expose Fulham’s defensive vulnerabilities. Sharp movement saw him steal a yard on Kirk Broadfoot and a clever guided finish converted a delicious McCormack cross. Nor was there any sign of him easing off into the second half. He run the channels with eagerness, exemplified by the way he surged onto a McCormack pass to burst down the right and send over a dangerous cross that found Alex Kacaniklic for the vital third goal. He might have a hat-trick – but the beaming manner in which Woodrow conducted his post-match interviews showed just what a fine night he’d enjoyed.
A popular man amongst the squad, Woodrow has buckled down and trained hard during his spell out of the side – something stressed by a few Fulham players on social media after last night’s performance – and seized his opportunity. Some questioned the logic behind offering him such a long-term deal in the summer, but writing off a talented performer at the age of 21 is senseless and Woodrow has offered a timely reminder of what he can do at this level.