Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Fulham’s consummate performance at Griffin Park on Friday night meant the Whites were able to pinch the bragging rights from Brentford for the first time since August 2014 and, although it doesn’t quite expunge the trauma of that unbelievable defeat at home to QPR last month, the victory has put Slavisa Jokanovic’s side in a far more healthy position from which to contemplate a pre-Christmas push for the play-offs. The tightness of the Championship means that a pair of wins, such as the convincing victories over Huddersfield and the Bees, can propel teams from mid-table towards promotion contention – and, also, that there’s no predicting what can happen next.
The last thing Jokanovic and his backroom staff would have wanted after the euphoria of a job well done on Friday was the disruption of an international break. These wasteful weeks have stalled Fulham’s momentum already this season. The Whites were unbeaten and playing some pleasant football in August before international duty intervened – and Jokanovic’s side seemed to find their swagger vanished somewhere during the globetrotting. Fulham then embarked on eight games without a win leaving the memories of that swashbuckling start to the season looking like the cruellest of false dawns.
In the mixed up world of modern day football, even Championship sides have plenty of performers jetting off to far-flung places to represent their country. Professionalism usually dictates that international call-ups can only boost a player’s morale – and the prospect of national service can encourage high levels of performance from someone hoping to catch their national coach’s eye – and no club manager would be craven enough to publicly dissuade their stars from pulling on a national jersey. In their private moments, much like Sir Alex Ferguson famously did with his heralded England stars, many a manager must wonder though about the likelihood of injuries or what the travelling and extra games could do to players who are already facing the most strenuous of workloads.
That’s why nobody connected with Fulham will be losing too much sleep over Tom Cairney, for example, being overlooked again by Gordon Strachan. The Scotland manager has form for this – having excluded Ross McCormack whilst the prolific forward was scoring goals for fun at Fulham – but Cairney’s excellent run of form, seemingly extenuated by Jokanovic’s decision to play him in a deeper central midfield role, makes his omission a puzzling one particularly when the Scots are struggling to make their World Cup qualification campaign extend beyond the autumn. The most hilarious moment of the weekend came when ‘the Moose,’ a Talksport ‘reporter’ for the uninitiated, whose analysis of the Brentford game had already been stridently critiqued by former Fulham midfielder Rob Wilson, included Cairney in a list of players he considered unlucky to not have been called up by Gareth Southgate – seemingly unaware that the midfielder had already declared for Scotland and represented their under-21s. Near enough is good enough again, I suppose.
Once Fulham’s foreign legion return to Motspur Park, Jokanovic – always a stickler for focus – will be working hard to keep their feet on the ground. He has been guarded in his public acknowledgement of his side’s progress so far, knowing that there are still 90 points to play for – and that another month like September might prove fatal to any promotion prospects. Consideration of the fixtures to come should concentrate the minds – Fulham’s next three games are against Sheffield Wednesday at home (tenth), Brighton away (second), Reading at home (fourth) and should prove a reasonable barometer of whether the optimism that followed the win at Griffin Park is justified in the long-term.
The search for consistency might not be helped by this interlude. Fulham had began to rediscover some of their early-season verve in recent weeks – the spellbinding football that swept aside high-flying Huddersfield was some of the best seen at Craven Cottage in several years – and the manner with which the Whites seemed able to open up Brentford with ease at times on Friday suggested that Jokanovic was beginning to fit together the pieces of the jigsaw he has been assembling since the summer successfully. It is only in the fullness of time that we will be able to assess which west London encapsulated this season’s Fulham – but there will definitely be a buzz around Motspur Park when the full squad unites again later this week.