I’d be surprised if even Cyrus Christie expected to feature at Ashton Gate last night given Ryan Fredericks’ fabulous form at right back, but the Irish international took less than fifteen minutes to see why Fulham were so keen to bring him to Craven Cottage once he had been discarded by Tony Pulis at Middlesbrough. The former Derby full-back has had to wait a while for a taste of the action since his £3m deadline day move, but his astonishing assist for Aleksandar Mitrovic’s first Fulham goal shows that he can be just as dangeorus in the final third as the man he replaced.
We needed no reminding of Christie’s predatory instincts in the opposition’s box as his late equaliser when Boro grabbed a point at the Cottage under Garry Monk back in September extended Fulham’s indifferent start to the campaign, but the majestic nature of his ball to offer Mitrovic a tap in was still something of a revelation. That it came with the outside of the foot after the sort of rampaging run down the right that Fredericks has made his own instantly highlighted the strength in depth Slavisa Jokanovic suddenly has at his disposal.
Christie’s credentials at this level are unquestionable after making more than 100 league appearances for his hometown club Coventry City, followed by another century of his displays after he left the Sky Blues in the summer of 2014. He has deputised for the outstanding Seamus Coleman impressively for the Republic of Ireland at right back, being one of the few bright spots amongst the soporific football preferred by Martin O’Neill – and, on the evidence of this encouraging debut, can certainly add quality during Fulham’s push for the Premier League in the closing months of the season.
I’d assumed Christie would prove more of a defensive option at right back then Fredericks, who most have been begging to be let off the lease at his former club, but he breezed past Hordur Magnesson at will in the first half. The full back carried the ball forward at pace, genuinely worrying the Bristol City back line on several occasions in the first half, as well as showing real composure to take a couple of risky passes from Denis Odoi in his stride when the Whites came under sustained pressure towards the end of the game.
His physical attributes could come in very handy when faced with the route one approaches of some Championship clubs during the run-in. I hadn’t expected Lee Johnson’s Bristol City to be quite as direct as they were last night, but Christie’s height and assertiveness in the air was exactly what Fulham needed to withstand the home side’s aerial assault and he came through his first test with flying colours. Christie showed a real appetite for the fight, which was necessary during the sort of contest that would have slipped away from the Cottagers in previous contests.
He won’t be the only one to struggle against the inventiveness of Bobby Reid or the Ryan Kent’s wing wizardry this season, but it was still an assured display defensively – especially when you consider that he more than made up for one of the rare off-colour evenings that Lucas Piazon has had in a Fulham shirt. Christie clearly holds himself to high standards – he was as frustrated as the travelling fans with the wasted cross he sent out of play late in added time – and that desire to deliver his best will surely go down well with Jokanovic.
All in all, this was an excellent first introduction to the Fulham first time for an experienced Championship operator, who already looks like a bit of a deadline day bargain. With more game time, the powerful defender could wage a real battle with Fredericks for the right back spot – which underlines the competition for places that might present Jokanovic with a tricky selection dilemma in the weeks ahead. The 25 year-old certainly has the potential to prove a favourite at Fulham – and let’s hope his Craven Cottage career goes from strength to strength.