You would have got very long odds on Fulham taking the Championship’s automatic promotion race to the season’s final weekend after their meek surrender at Molineux in November? Had you suggested the Whites might be capable of catching Cardiff following their capitulation at Sunderland before Christmas, the men in white coats might have fetched you from the Stadium of Light. But after seeing Chris Coleman’s men at Craven Cottage last night, there can be little doubt that the momentum is with Slavisa Jokanovic’s men as the battle to join Wolves back in the top flight comes down to the wire.
Bar the first few weeks of the season, there has been so much to admire about Fulham’s majestic football. It took a while for Jokanovic to drill his possession based philosophy into some of his new signings and, as Tim Ream suggested a few weeks ago, there could well have been a subconscious hangover from the pain of losing to Reading in last year’s play-off semi-finals. Much has been written about Fulham’s sublime football and the splendour of their all-conquering midfield trio as well as the continued development of the awe-inspiring Ryan Sessegnon, but perhaps Jokanovic’s biggest success has been instilling a never-say-attitude into his troops.
His side have clawed back an eighteen point deficit to sit above Cardiff this afternoon, although Neil Warnock’s men have an absolutely pivotal trip to Hull City ahead of them later today. Fulham’s belief in their ability and the quality of their football has been absolute and, even if they haven’t always touched the very high standards that the Serbian head coach sets for his players, the Whites have put together an incredible 23-match unbeaten run that has seen them dispatch the division’s best sides and display the crucial characteristic that the very best sides possess – an uncanny ability to win ugly.
Fulham didn’t play well against a stubborn and spirited Sunderland side last night, but they did just enough to get over the line. They needed the resistance typified by Kevin McDonald’s tenacious bite in the tackle, the desire demonstrated by Ryan Fredericks’ repeated bursts deep into enemy territory down the right flank and the desire demonstrated by Aboubakar Kamara. The French forward, derided as a figure of fun by many during his first few appearances in a Fulham shirt, has been waiting a while for his opportunity since Aleksandar Mitrovic’s arrival in SW6 but he turned the game on its head with a barnstorming display down the right flank.
Kamara must be an absolute nightmare for defenders to mark because I’m not entirely convinced he knows what he is going to do next. When he’s on song he is irresistible and it is another indication of his improvement since August that he delivered such a virtuoso performance as a marauding winger last night. Gone is the hesitancy when he gets into a threatening position, as shown he galloped down the wing and slipped in Fredericks for the vital equaliser. There are still all the signature touches of a young man enjoying the joy of football, with a couple of arty back flicks thrown in for good measure, and it was fitting that Jokanovic’s gamble of sending Kamara on for the injured Matt Targett rescued what could have been a desperate situation for Fulham.
Jokanovic insisted afterwards that all the pressure is on Cardiff as the Bluebirds contemplate their final two games of the season. He’s right. Warnock’s men have been up there for most of the year and have shown a few signs of spluttering with the finishing line in sight. You can see from the way that the Fulham boys have been going about their football over the past few weeks that there is a burgeoning belief amongst this squad – a feeling that they are on the cusp of something special. If Cardiff do stumble against Hull or Reading, the Whites are primed to take advantage.