Scott Malone might have enjoyed an outstanding first season at Craven Cottage – but the modest left back insists Slavisa Jokanovic deserves much of the credit.
Malone says that the head coach’s record of taking Watford up from the Championship and his desire to implement an attack-focused, possession based style were key in persuading the full-back to move back to London from Cardiff in the summer, in a revealing interview with Sky Sports. The former Wolves and Millwall defender believes his excellent campaign has been a few years in the making but owes much to way his new boss has given Fulham’s full backs real licence to fly forward.
I’ve been working towards it for two to three seasons. About three or four years ago I was getting little niggles and injuries which hindered me a little bit. But two summers ago, when I was at Cardiff, I only had a week and a half off before going back into the gym to do leg strength work.
Since then, I haven’t had a lower limb injury. The work I did that off-season has really helped me in the past two seasons. But so has the type of football we play at Fulham. That was one of the reasons why I decided to come here last summer. I saw the work the boss did at Watford, when they were one of the best sides to get out of the Championship in the last four or five years.
The likable defender, now serenaded by an infuriatingly catchy song dreamed up by Fulham’s travelling supporters, says it is only individual defensive mistakes – for which he openly admits responsibility – that has prevented the Whites from breaking into the play-off places. But, with eight games to go, Malone still insists the Cottagers are in a great position to mount a serious promotion push.
If you look at our stats this season, they show we should be near the top of the league. If we could cut out some of the individual mistakes we could easily be third or fourth, but if someone at the start of the season had offered us seventh with eight to play, we’d have taken that.
We work hard at it. We do a lot of possession-based training, a lot of shape work with the ball going forward, patterns of play. The pre-season was quite tough, too. I arrived at the club half way through pre-season but the two weeks before, the lads said it was the toughest they’d had. So the base fitness that the boss puts down before we even touch a ball has a positive effect.
But if you look at the players in the team, the club have recruited really well. Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald have done really well, while the four full-backs help the style, too. We have to defend first and foremost but the boss likes his wide men to tuck in and for us full-backs to go round the outside. It’s worked well.
Barring Bristol City at home, I don’t think any team has beaten us playing football this year. We’ve beaten ourselves mainly, giving away sloppy goals. I gave away two penalties at home to Norwich, and it has been individual errors which have cost us points this season. But we’d have taken this situation and it gives us a great platform to work off now. We’ve gelled pretty quickly.
Malone reserves his highest praise for the rapid emergence of his closest competitor for a first team spot – sixteen year-old academy graduate, Ryan Sessegnon, who hasn’t looked back since making his senior debut at Leyton Orient in the EFL Cup back at the start of the season.
Sess is a great kid. He didn’t say a lot at the start of the season, but he’s starting to come out of his shell now and get involved more. He’s a great athlete for 16. What an athlete. On the training pitch, the running tests we do in pre-season and through the season, he’s pretty much top of all of them.
He’s quite calm, as well. He plays the game like he’s been playing for six or seven years in the Championship. It’s quite frightening to think how good he’ll be even at 18, 19. If he keeps working hard like he is doing, keeps getting minutes on the pitch then I don’t think it will be too long before he’s in the Premier League, to be honest.