The football traditionalist in me still gets a little queasy when we talk about modern full backs as supplementing the attack. Maybe that’s because I see their first duty as a defensive one – tracking wingers, stopping crosses and ensuring that the defence they are part of has the best chance to keep a clean sheet. But the game has moved on even since the days when Roy Hodgson’s well-drilled defensive unit frustrated some of England’s and Europe’s best chances at home and away from Craven Cottage – and the modern full back has to be just as effective approaching the opposition’s box as they are in their own territory.
Which brings me to the difference that Matt Targett has made to the Fulham side. It is no coincidence that his first few weeks at the Cottage have coincided with the Whites’ most successful sequence of the season – and his partnership with Ryan Sessegnon down the left looks as though has years of understanding behind rather than less than a month. Targett, an impressive youth team player for Southampton and England, has clearly benefited from coming through the Saints academy – you can see that from his excellent technical level, but you also has the energy and desire to win that you expect from a young player. In short, he’s got plenty of Premier League quality.
His arrival freed Sessegnon, who had previously spent much of the season stationed at left back, to frighten Championship defenders from the left wing. But Targett has been just as effective in the final third since he moved to London as his teenage colleague – making many an overlapping run and whipping in plenty of dangerous balls from the left. Even though he is often found high up the pitch, it was still something of a surprise to see him be the first to react when Lucas Piazon sent Sessegnon’s deep cross back across goal at Bolton on Saturday. Targett climbs exceptionally well in the air – he won two aerial duels against taller opponents – and buried his own header beautifully to score his first senior goal.
It wasn’t just the goal that marked Targett out as Fulham’s most consistent performer on what turned into a frustrating day at the Macron Stadium. He showed real character to get up and back into the swing of things after being crudely taken out on the touchline by Mark Little midway through the first half. Nothing stopped him bombing up and down the flank and his boundless energy, allied with Sessegnon’s youthful enthusiasm, are two of the reasons why the Whites are carrying such a threat down that revamped left flank.
Targett’s distribution is also worthy of a mention. Like so many modern full backs, he passes the ball efficiently and accurately – which is one of the reasons he has fitted so seamlessly into Slavisa Jokanovic’s possession-based system. He had 109 touches on Saturday and almost 85% of his passes reached their intended target, which is a completion rate that a top midfielder would be proud of. Thirty of those passes went forwards, which is mark of he wanted the Whites to play the game in Bolton’s half. He played two key passes – which led to good chances for his team-mates – sending in four crosses as well as eleven balls into the Wanderers’ final third.
Perhaps the best thing about Targett’s loan spell so far has been just how exciting he has been to watch, Off the field, he’s an articulate analyst of his own performances and the young man looks as though he’s loving every minute of his time at Fulham. Long may that continue.