In his short spell at Craven Cottage, Sone Aluko has conjured up conflicting emotions. He’s such an intelligent mover, runner and willing worker than on occasions you are left wondering how Fulham were able to pilfer him from Hull City on a free transfer following their promotion to the Premier League. And then comes that baffling decision in the final third or hurried shot that brings a promising move to an end. There was no greater manifestation of such frustration that seeing Aluko himself face down on the turf by the Hammersmith End penalty spot having struck the post with that penalty against QPR. For such an enthusiastic and engaging character, you wanted that horrible moment not to encapsulate his Fulham career, but worried it might take some special to shift the memory.
And then came yesterday. Huddersfield, high-flying and under the trendy tutelage of David Wagner, bowled into south west London with the intention of trying to out-football Fulham – and, despite the half-time scoreline, had the chances to have put themselves in a strong position. But my abiding memory of the afternoon will be of Aluko’s incredible engine being allied to some scintillating attacking football and the telling nature of his contributions in the final third. His eagnerness to roam from the ‘number ten’ role that he had been so looking forward to filling at Fulham and wreak merry havoc down the wings posed both full-backs serious problems and produced moments of majestic quality.
Sitting in the Hammersmith End and squinting a little, it was possible to make out the scurrying figure bursting away from would be tacklers down the left wing as if a combination of both rage and desire was propelling him towards the byline. The pace was bewildering and the perfect cross left an almost apologetic Lucas Piazon with the simplest of tasks to head in at the back post. Aluko was most definitely the man making the merest openings on the halfway line into a clear-cut goalscoring opportunity but such was the devastation of his running it could have been the Luis Boa Morte of more than a decade ago. When it comes to mercurial Fulham wide man, they can’t be more of a higher compliment than that.
The way Tom Cairney, the increasingly impressive Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald dovetailed so effectively to overwhelm the Huddersfield midfield, there was little need for Aluko to be stationed directly behind Chris Martin to offer a central striker further support. Aluko’s tricks and flicks have often cleverly linked the play but here he tormented both full backs until such a time that Wagner had to put the helpless Tommy Smith and Chris Lowe out of their misery. Those substitutions came after the Nigerian, who must be nudging national team manager Daniel Amokachi with displays like this, had put more convincing gloss on the scoreline in the second half.
At times it looked like his silky running could part the Terriers’ back four on its own. One such occasion was when he faced up Smith and worked a clever one-two with Johansen on the edge of the box, rampaging onto the return ball, only to be felled by the desperate intervention of Christopher Schlinder at the cost of a penalty. He was just as effective for the fifth goal, as his dazzling feet induced an ill-advised sliding tackle and allowed Aluko to progress towards the by-line from where he slid the ball back to an unmarked McDonald with peerless precision.
The only thing that was missing from Aluko’s all-conquering display was a goal – the consistent knock against this lively forward throughout his career from his time in Scotland with Aberdeen and Rangers onwards – but being the archetypal team man, he wouldn’t have been unduly bothered. For him, like Fulham this season, consistency is the key. But an unleashed Aluko offers Jokanovic’s side so many options that the prospect of him terrorising many more Championship defences is perfectly plausible.