The temptation as reflect on the Fulham year that has gone past would be to linger too long on how close 2017 was to be a truly great twelve months for the Whites. But, despite the gut-wrenching defeat at Reading that ruined our dreams of a Premier League return and the indifferent start to the season that followed, the last twelve years served up some great moments and there’s no doubt – in my mind at least – that Slavisa Jokanovic is the right man at the helm.
Here are my selections in various categories as I reviewed Fulham’s 2017. Feel free to tell me what I’ve got wrong or who I’ve overlooked in the comments.
Player of the Year
It was nice to have to consider this for some period of time as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side had plenty of players who were worthy of the title. Tom Cairney’s talismanic displays as the Whites roared into the top six were sensational, Stefan Johansen made a huge difference when he joined from Celtic and the excellent displays of Tim Ream when he returned to the heart of defence should certainly be mentioned, but – for his consistent commanding performances in a previous problem position – the award goes to Kevin McDonald. Describing him as purely a defensive midfielder actually understates his importance to the side and without him as a ballast in front of the box, the likes of Cairney and Johansen wouldn’t have had the platform upon which to shine.
Young Player of the Year
The meteoric rise of Ryan Sessegnon from promising member of the Fulham next generation to one of the first names on the senior side’s team sheet still takes some getting used to. Such was the quality of his performances around the turn of the year as the Whites began to sweep some of the best sides in the division aside that Jokanovic couldn’t leave him out of the side. Sessegnon’s ability to make the right decisions in the final third added an extra dimension to Fulham’s attacks and his versatility made Scott Malone’s summer departure much easier to bear. The teenager’s commitment to the club, underlined by his decision to rebuff countless suitors and sign a three-year deal in the summer, only makes his magnificent progress even more special. There were plenty of contenders here as well and we shouldn’t overlook the development of England youth internationals Tayo Edun, Steven Sessegnon, Matt O’Riley as well as the emergence of American playmaker Luca de la Torre and Estonian midfielder Mattias Käit.
Most improved player
Several players have really taken strides forward under Slavisa Jokanovic’s watchful eye. The most recent example of that has been Aboubakar Kamara, whose brilliant brace at Hull yesterday, rather made a mockery of those who have suggested he just isn’t suitable for this level. But, as I mentioned earlier, Tim Ream’s emergence as a dependable centre half has to be commended. The American had a tricky start to his career at Fulham and looked as if he would be on his way out when Michael Madl formed a strong understanding with Tomas Kalas at the start of last season. Ream went to see the head coach, learned what would be needed from a centre back in Jokanovic’s system and worked hard on the training ground. He took his opportunity when it came and his confidence on the ball completely compliments the way in which Fulham like to play possession football and work the ball forward from the back. Ream’s resurgence has been one of the stories of the year – and he’s even added goals to his game too!
Goal of the Year
Plenty of contenders in this category. Ryan Sessegnon’s couple of strikes at Newcastle followed by at least two of his finishes this season at Sheffield United, Tom Cairney’s thunderbolt also at St. James’ Park, any one of Stefan Johansen’s fine free-kicks or even Kamara’s composed finish at Hull could have taken the prize. But, both for the quality of strike and what it went on to mean, Cairney’s curler at Craven Cottage in the last few seconds against Leeds, has to be the winner. The strike was superb – arcing into the top corner – and was the least Fulham deserved after pummelling their play-off rivals throughout. The celebrations, with the skipper and Ryan Fredericks fist pumping wildly in the first few rows of the Hammersmith End, will live long in the memory and Leeds’ legendary collapse that followed showed just how important Cairney’s moment of magic was.
Game of the Year
Fulham have been involved in several absolute thrillers over the course of the past twelve months. The performances that saw the Whites absolutely dominate the two promoted sides on their own grounds were very special and some of the home displays during the run-in were superb as well. The Boxing Day demolition of Cardiff in South Wales is worthy of a mention, too, but the winner has to be the breathless nine-goal encounter at Sheffield United in November. It included a superb hat-trick from Ryan Sessegnon that seemed to come from nowhere as well as a late Fulham collapse that introduced the traditional note of panic in what could have been a far more comfortable victory. Beating one of the Championship pacesetters at a time when Fulham had hardly hit their stride was vital to the belief and confidence of the everyone involved with the club.
Moment of the Year
Probably the seconds after Floyd Ayite’s smartly taken third goal at Carrow Road when Fulham’s ten man recorded a vital win over Norwich City. That victory showed new depths of character amongst Slavisa Jokanovic’s squad, weathering the seismic blow of seeing Chris Martin being dismissed just before half-time. Fulham showed real ambition in not wanting to merely hold on their slender lead after the break with Tom Cairney displaying plenty of mettle to step forward a penalty after his own woes from the spot and, after Cameron Jerome had halved the Canaries’ arrears, a cool finish from Ayite sent the travelling fans into ecstasy. From a personal point of view, it was the moment I was convinced the Whites could make the top six.