Despite so many players putting in potential Man of the Match performance in Saturday’s win over promotion rivals Derby, there was one player who stood out above everyone else. Tom Cairney was superb on Saturday, so much so that in the first half Derby resorted to trying to kick the Scottish midfielder in order to stop him. Pretty much every Fulham based poll that I have seen on twitter over the past few days has had Cairney as the man of the match. In our own MOTM poll, it was the captain who received 54% of the 321 votes, ahead of Ream in second with 20%.

People had a lot to say about why they voted for Cairney, as you can see from the tweets below-

I was torn between Ream and Cairney myself. Ream’s defensive qualities were essential on Saturday and the improvement that he has made over the past couple of seasons is impressive. We went too long without a commanding centre half, but Ream has now made that position his own. He improves both Tomas Kalas and the occasional stand in Denis Odoi when he plays alongside them, showing that he has the leadership skills required to thrive in that position.

Cairney on the other hand seems to be on another level. That performance on Saturday was the Cairney that we saw last season; the play-maker, the game changer, the midfield maestro. His balance on Saturday was what impressed me the most as there were so many occasions when he had Derby midfielders down his throat but he was able to avoid the challenges and keep the ball. It was wonderful to watch. He seems to be back to his best at just the right time of the season as we press on towards our promotion target.

I think that there has been a slight change in the role that Slavisa Jokanovic wants from Cairney this year. Last season Cairney had 13 goals and 10 assists to his name, while so far this season he has just the 1 goal and 3 assists. Part of this is to do with the fact that he has been injured for a time, but I have noticed that he has been more involved in the earlier phases of goals, rather than the later phases. Jokanovic has preferred to play in a way that utilises the wide positions of the pitch rather than through the middle, so Cairney is now used more as a pivot player than he was last season. He still has the freedom to roam, but we don’t see him driving forward and shooting quite as much. He is the playmaker who allows the likes of Johansen, Sessegnon and Piazon (or whoever is used at right wing) to attack. This low lying role certainly worked on Saturday, and he was targeted exactly because of this. The risk of being a playmaker is that often the only way to deal with your threat is to hit you with a strong tackle, so that is something that Jokanovic will have to be aware of, especially considering how long it has taken for Cairney to get back up to full fitness after his knee injury. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Norwood was to start ahead of him in tonight’s game against Sheffield United to give him a rest. For now though, we can we happy that we have Cairney back to his best. A few more performances like Saturday’s and we could be playing Premier League football next season.