If there’s anyone who deserves the personal plaudits for Fulham’s transition into the form team in the Championship, then it has to be Tim Ream. Slavisa Jokanovic’s side’s revival over the past three months has mirrored the American defender’s understated renaissance at the heart of the Fulham back four. Where the St. Louis native was once written off as yesterday’s man – much like the way Whites were labelled relegation candidates following November’s shambolic reverse at Molineux – Ream is now arguably the most important part of a miserly back four upon which the team’s promotion bid has been built.
If Ream’s personal change in fortunes can be traced back to when he took an opportunity to replace Michael Madl as Tomas Kalas’ regular partner during the second half of last season, the former Bolton centre back has only enhanced his level of performance this year. Where you once might have been worried about his lack of pace or the odd errant pass, Ream has become reliably personified and has helped spread confidence through the side. Last night’s magnificent display against a team who are head and shoulders above the rest in the division only enhanced his standing amongst the Fulham faithful.
On paper it looked a tricky assignment. Leo Bonatini, the tall forward who had bullied Fulham in the air in the reverse fixture before Christmas, joined pacey wingers in Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro up front, but the trio who have terrorised Championship defences for fun this term held no fears for Ream. He was a commanding presence throughout, winning the ball in the air and looking as if he had all the time in the world on the floor – stepping out of defence with the ball without any pressure at all.
You can pay the American international no finer compliment than to say that this display was reminiscent of Aaron Hughes in his pomp. The Northern Ireland defender never got the praise that his performances alongside Brede Hangeland deserved, largely because of his unflappable nature – but you sensed he didn’t care one jot. Ream would likely feel the same, but his positional sense and in timing in the challenge were first class last night.
That composure almost radiated itself to the fans during the periods were Wolves looked as though they were threatening to add a finish to some of their pretty approach play. He played his way out of trouble in the manner of Franz Beckenbauer in the first half – coming across as coolness personified when threading the perfect pass through to the midfield when they seemed to be be barely half a yard to work in – and when Fulham needed him, Ream came up big. His wonderfully judged intervention with Benik Afobe bearing down on Marcus Bettinelli with five minutes to play saved a certain goal, even if the moment will be remembered for Diogo Jota’s eye-opening miss.
The manner in which Ream has blossomed under Jokanovic brings to mind how Jean Tigana nurtured three fine seasons at the highest level out of Rufus Brevett and Andy Melville when their Fulham careers seemed to be coming to a close. At thirty, the modern central defender could have three or four years of his prime left – and there’s plenty of time for Ream to write himself into Fulham folklore. If this team do manage to return to the Premier League, you wouldn’t beat against the former New York Red Bulls defender becoming a stalwart at the highest level. One thing’s for certain – if Jokanovic’s men do go up this year, Ream’s relentless consistency will be one of the biggest reasons why.