This evening at Craven Cottage marks the start of Fulham’s sprint to the Championship finishing line. It might be trite to call Fulham’s remaining five fixtures Cup finals, but it feels like that there is what they are. If last weekend was as close to perfect as possible – with Cardiff losing at home to Wolves on Friday night and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side claiming an important three points at Sheffield Wednesday, then tonight offers a massive opportunity to ramp up the pressure on Neil Warnock’s men.
There is, of course, a chance that the Whites could end the night in second having beaten Reading. That scenario depends on Cardiff slipping up again – this time at Aston Villa, whose own automatic promotion hopes might have been extinguished by their defeat at Norwich City on Saturday lunchtime. While Jokanovic has so far succeeded in keeping the focus solely on Fulham’s next fixture, some of the players did admit to feeling a little more pressure last weekend – and considering the implications of thee crunch games is only natural, after all.
For Fulham to obtain an automatic place in the Premier League in May, they will probably need to extend that phenomenal nineteen game unbeaten run by another five matches. Reading might be struggling – a shadow of the side that beat us in the play-off semi-final last year – but they won’t be a soft touch tonight. Sone Aluko, who was so pivotal to Fulham’s success last season, will be eager to prove a point on his first return to Craven Cottage and his team-mates will be wanting to impress new manager Paul Clement, who has taken over from Jaap Stam at the Madjeski Stadium.
At their best, Jokanovic’s side have looked mesmerising this season. During that outstanding unbeaten run since mid-December, Fulham have brushed aside the likes of Cardiff, Wolves and Aston Villa. There is an even a school of thought that the Whites’ dominance in some of these matches has not been reflected in the scoreline – for instance, Fulham could certainly have scored far more than just Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal that edged them past Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend. In a tight run in where goal difference could become crucial, the Whites need to be ruthless in front of goal.
What was most pleasing about the win over the Owls was the patience Jokanovic’s side showed once it became clear that they weren’t about to blow Wednesday away. The composure of the likes of Kevin McDonald, Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen, who kept the midfield ticking over when the temptation must have been to go for broke at times in the second half, was ultimately rewarded. It could well be another tense evening under the lights at the Cottage tonight – and the home fans will need to play their part. This Fulham side is full of confidence and have complete belief in their style of football and they should relish the opportunity to go out and prove their Premier League credentials.
Nothing is won yet. There could be twists and turns ahead in the next few weeks, especially with two tricky London derbies against Brentford and Millwall, who have their own promotion ambitions to further, looming on the horizon. As Jokanovic has said, all his team can do is win their games and keep up the pressure. Let’s hope that the Whites can clinch another valuable three points tonight.