Pace seems to be a pre-requisite for Slavisa Jokanovic’s signings this summer. The sea change between the ponderous manner of Fulham’s breaks last season and the rapidity with which this side takes on the opposition is quite something and the latest member of the forward quartet to make an impact is the new arrival Neeskens Kebano. It was a bit of a surprise to see the Congolese man on the teamsheet just a day after completing his move to London – especially when you consider he had played for Genk in the Europa League on Thursday night – but the new man showed no signs of fatigue during an impressive debut at Ewood Park.
Kebano’s speed and trickery made him a perfect replacement for the injured Floyd Ayite and rather reduced the concerns over the untimely nature of the Togolese wide player’s hamstring strain picked up against Cardiff. His willingness to run at defenders marked Kebano out as a promising forward outlet from the early stages and the way he was supported by the overlapping Ryan Sessegnon allowed Fulham to take advantage of the vulnerability of makeshift Rovers’ full-back Jason Lowe. Comfortable on either foot, Kebano raided inside as well – and his versatility means that he could interchange with his fellow midfielders with ease and possibly fill either of the other two advanced midfield positions behind the lone striker.
On a day when Fulham tended to be a little too intricate in the final third, Kebano’s willingness to take a shot from range was a welcome change. He came the closest to rewarding the visitors’ first half dominance with a 25-yard drive that startled Jason Steele and the goalkeeper did well to first it away for a corner. Moments afterwards, Kebano did well to sneak in almost unnoticed at the back post to reach a Tom Cairney free-kick but unfortunately guided his header off target. He was a lively presence on the left flank and looked the most likely source of a breakthrough for much of the contest.
It isn’t just the pace that looks as though it could befuddle Championship defenders. Kebano has plenty of trickery as well. There was a moment at the start of the second half where he checked to go inside a defender and went the over way in the blink of an eye. He had no shortage of confidence – probably coming off an excellent season in the Jupiler League last term – and was already linking up well with his team-mates, something that can only improve with a few more sessions down at Motspur Park. Only in the final stages did he fade significantly and, the fact that he turned immediately to salute the travelling supporters when he was replaced by Lasse Vigen Christensen, hinted that the winger could become a favourite with the fans.
Kebano’s arrival also heralds the increased number of options that Jokanovic has at his disposal. He now has a couple of genuinely pacey wingers in the first team and you wonder whether the Fulham head coach might use Kebano, who has a strong right foot, as an inverted winger in the same manner as Roy Hodgson deployed Damien Duff so effectively. The 24 year-old’s pace and penchant for running at full-backs actually brings to mind a previous cult zero in Luis Boa Morte and if Kebano can have the same impact as the Portuguese forward in his first season at Craven Cottage then we could be in for something very special indeed.