What a glorious night on the banks of the Thames. There has always been something special about the opening day of the season but for the past few years it has generally resulted in a feeling of disappointment amongst Fulham fans. However, last night was different. Despite the odds stacked very much against the Cottagers, it turned out to be a night to remember. The majority of pre-match build up was spent building up the Newcastle squad so it makes the victory so much sweeter. To be honest, I prefer it when the media and pundits alike take the focus off Fulham because it adds to the pressure of the opposing team. That certainly happened last night and I reckon the attitudes of the Newcastle supporters and, perhaps, the players were similar to that of Fulham two seasons ago when the vast majority of us thought that we would walk the league.
Enough about Newcastle, though. Here are a number of observations that I made about the game last night.
- Defensively sound- other than a couple of mistakes made by Odoi (I will come to that later) our new look defence barely put a foot wrong last night. Kalas and Madl look confident and commanding as our new centre back pairing. Madl reads the game exceptionally well and prevented a number of promising Newcastle attacks within seconds. Kalas looks like the ideal partner as, while he doesn’t read the game as well, he reacts very well to what Madl does on the pitch. When Madl moved forward to make a tackle, Kalas dropped deeper in order to cover. It worked very well against a very talented Newcastle forward line in Gayle and Perez so it looks to be a very promising partnership. I was also very pleasantly surprised with Scott Malone. He was up against speedy Newcastle forwards yet his positioning was good and he didn’t dive in. His attacking play was very positive and I particularly liked his overlapping runs. His crossing could be improved but in general I was quite content with his performance. Dennis Odoi made a number of errors in the first half but after the break he was like a different player. He could have seen red early on for bringing down last man Perez. It would have been harsh, but I have seen them given! The worse bit is that he made the problem for himself by not being on the right side of his man. That he something that he needs to be aware of. It is clear that he has some excellent ability going forward but, as a defender, he mustn’t forget his primary aim! On the other hand, he gave us arguably the moment of the match when he momentarily thought that he was actually Ronaldo and took the ball around Dummet using his back. If you haven’t already re-watched it for the thousandth time, then you have wasted your whole morning!
- McDonalds passing of the ball- Kevin McDonald was another standout performer last night. His distribution was Murphy-like and he played a key role in front of the back four. He isn’t particularly quick, but he is another player who has excellent awareness so is rarely caught out by this. We may need more cover here but it was a sound competitive debut for the former Wolves man.
- Aluko’s spark- Now here is a man who will add some excitement to the squad. Brought in on a free transfer in the summer, Aluko got the crowd on their feet every time he got the ball. His footwork to turn players was superb and the speed in which he pulled away from players was a joy to watch. I preferred him in the number 10 role than when he went up top when Smith went off, but all in all it was a super performance from him. He may not score 20 goals a season but that wasn’t why he was brought in. He was brought in to collect the ball from the midfield and to quickly get us on the attack. The past few seasons I think we have been far too static and slow when it comes to turning defence into attack but Aluko, along with Ayite, should change this. He also seems to be a bit of a legend of twitter!
- Classy Cairney- The statistics don’t lie and they showed that Cairney had a 95% pass success rate. I prefer him playing in the middle but he did a good job last night on the right hand side. He didn’t stay out there, rather he moved from left to right throughout the whole game to collect the ball. Sometimes he didn’t make a pass quickly enough which prevented a speedy attack but it is clear that he wants the team to be patient and not to give the ball away cheaply. It was a smart move promoting him to captain and I think he could be our most important player this season.
- Smart Substitutes- Magath and Symons were both criticised often for their decision making when it came to substitutes but last night Jokanovic got it spot on. Bringing on Parker for Tunnicliffe to settle things down late on and the introduction of LVC for Smith worked wonders. LVC is a ball carrier so his introduction saw Fulham keep the ball and gain plenty of yards whenever we were under pressure. He had an excellent opportunity to put us 2-0 up but just didn’t get over the ball enough. I would have liked to have seen Woodrow come on but it is clear that Jokanovic played to his game plan and it came off. Hopefully we will see Woodrow in the cup mid-week instead.
It was a positive performance but we shouldn’t get to ahead of ourselves. We still need about four more signing as the squad is thin and any injury to a key player could be disastrous at the minute. We also didn’t take enough of our chances so the massive gap left by McCormack and Dembele will need addressed but I’m confident that Jokanovic will get that sorted. But for now, let’s just enjoy the moment. Taking 3 points off the title favourites on the opening day of the season is sweet and, for at least another few hours, we are top of the league.