After the disappointment of defeat at Burton and the concession of another late equaliser against Middlesbrough on Saturday, Fulham will hope to get their Championship campaign back on track at Nottingham Forest this evening. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side will face an inconsistent Forest outfit and don’t exactly have history on their side. The Whites haven’t won on the banks of the Trent since an extra-time League Cup success back in 2004 and haven’t taken three points back to London from Forest since 2000, when second half strikes from Louis Saha, Fabrice Fernandes and Barry Hayles sealed Fulham’s best start to a season with their seventh successive league win under Jean Tigana.
Repeating that feat would be a real boost as Fulham’s season has been something of a paradox so far. It was understandable that crushing disappointment was the overriding emotion after Cyrus Christie’s emphatic strike saw the Whites drop two points on Saturday, but Fulham’s display against a side now unbeaten in seven games was their most complete home performance of the new campaign. Jokanovic would also have been pleased with the way that Aboubakar Kamara and Rui Fonte linked him after he threw on the French striker in search of goal – as well as the former Amiens’ forward’s perseverance that saw him score a superb header after spurning a glorious chance – that hints at more to come in the penalty area.
The Serbian was at points to point out after the Boro draw that this side is still a work in progress with a number of new players. Even the team that finished last season so strongly took several months to hit their stride – Fulham went seven games without a win between September and mid-October – and learning the adventurous, possession-based football that Jokanovic wants his side to play. There were signs on Saturday that Neeskens Kebano, Sheyi Ojo and Fonte were beginning to develop an understanding; especially in the final quarter of that contest, although Floyd Ayite’s absence with an injured hamstring will be a blow.
Jokanovic’s main choice will be whether to offer Kebano, who was outstanding in Fulham’s first win of the season at Ipswich, a starting opportunity or turn to the likes of Yohan Mollo, who has been impressive in his fleeting appearances since his free transfer arrival from Russia, or Jordan Graham. There could also be a move to partner Fonte with Kamara, but Saturday’s goalscoring hero will probably remain on the bench for a while. Whether Fulham can concentrate at the other end of pitch – and avoid the sloppy mistakes that have dogged a disappointing start to the campaign – will also be key.
Mark Warburton, once a serious candidate to take over at the Cottage after his surprise departure from Brentford, appears to under a little bit of pressure after four defeats from Forest’s last five games. Forest have had six different managers in their last six meetings with the Whites – England legend Stuart Pearce, Dougie Freedman, Paul Williams, Frenchman Philippe Montanier, former Fulham midfielder Gary Brazil and now Warburton – and you would hope that new owner Evangelos Marinakis, with a whole of host of football experience from his time at Olympiakos, has learnt from the mistakes of Fawaz Al-Hasawi.
Warburton is expected to make changes tonight following Saturday’s reverse at Aston Villa but. like Jokanovic, has urged his players that this is no time to panic and asked them to believe in the ethos he is trying to establish throughout the club. He will be without the Welsh midfielder David Vaughan, who is sidelined by a groin injury, Ben Osborn, who made a strong impression at Villa Park at the weekend, may well start alongside Liam Bridcutt in the centre of midfield, which means that Fulham’s midfield three will have their work cut out.
Forest possess plenty of quality in a squad that Warburton should, given the time, have challenging the play-off places at the very least. Kieran Dowell, the highly-rated England youth midfielder, had an excellent start to his loan spell from Everton and nobody needs reminding of the quality young Ben Brereton, who scored at Craven Cottage last season and won the European Under 19 Championships alongside Ryan Sessegnon in the summer. Add to that the Championship pedigree of Daryl Murphy, who has arrived from Newcastle, and Andreas Bouchalakis’ goal-getting ability from midfield and Fulham’s defence will have to be disciplined and resolute. Tonight’s test will represent another yardstick of where Jokanovic’s troops are in what is a ruthlessly unforgiving division.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Johansen; Ojo, Kebano, Fonte. Subs: Bettinelli, Madl, Odoi, Cisse, Mollo, Graham, Kamara.