We entertain Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth tomorrow at Craven Cottage and the Cherries pose a serious threat to Slavisa Jokanovic’s plans to turn Fulham’s faltering season around. Bournemouth now find themselves in sixth after enduring their own sticky start to the campaign and will head to the capital full of confidence. They have one of the game’s finest young managers in Eddie Howe, whose achievements since taking over at Dean Court have been nothing short of sensational. It is no surprise that he has been considered as a potential future successor to Gareth Southgate in the England job. Howe likes to set his teams up to be tough to beat, but not without sacrificing an easy-on-the eye style.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for tomorrow’s game. Fulham are in the bottom three following that lamentable display at Cardiff last weekend and badly need the points to gain some momentum. Club captain Tom Cairney has returned to training this week and is in line for a return to the starting line-up. If the Scottish international does start tomorrow, I would like to see Jean-Michael Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa alongside him as I think that is our strongest midfield three and we need to get some consistency in a crucial area of the pitch.
I do expect changes after the nightmare in south Wales, especially given how poor we have been defensively. Despite signing a new contract this week, it could be time for Marcus Bettinelli to be replaced in goal. He was slow getting down to Cardiff’s crucial third goal on Saturday and in Sergio Rico, we have one of the most consistent goalkeepers in Spain and a two-time Europa League winner on the bench. Tomorrow, could be Rico’s opportunity to show what he can do in the Premier League.
We have conceded 25 goals this season – and you simply won’t stay afloat in the top flight whilst being that vulnerable at the back. Ryan O’Donovan’s analysis earlier in the week suggested that 80% of those goals were down to individual errors, which is just unsustainable. Jokanovic has had to juggle his resources due to injuries and suspensions and I think now is the time to put a back four together for the next three or four games – regardless of the outcome tomorrow. You’d expect Timothy Fosu-Mensah to come back into the defence. I’ve been very impressed with his start at right back and we’ve missed his pace at both ends of the field since that untimely shoulder injury at Everton.
I am in complete agreement with the majority that the substitutions have been questionable over the past couple of games and only Slavisa can answer why certain changes were made. I am a big Slav fan and I would hate to see him sacked so early on in the season. Our previous stay in the Premier League ended with three different managers in the space of six months and I hope we don’t get the same turnover of managers this time around. Stuart Gray’s departure has clearly affected things – and now is the time for some consistency and a bit of faith.
In his programme notes ahead of tomorrow’s game, chairman Shahid Khan has stated he firmly believes Slav is the right man for the job and expects things to change given Jokanovic’s record. It is a stance I share. Fulham’s past couple of seasons started disappointingly, but gradually the performances and results began to improve. It is based on that history that I am confident we will start winning again before long under Jokanovic. The fans frustration over the past few weeks is totally understandable, but Jokanovic has been operating without our playmaker and has been trying to integrate twelve summer signings at a level most of them haven’t experienced before.
Let’s hope our second win of the season is against Bournemouth and gets us out of the bottom three, thus bringing some optimism back to the Cottage. There’s no question that tomorrow is our biggest game of the season and it won’t be easy. When the fixtures were released, Fulham would have been targeting this as a fixture they could get three points from, although it is a measure of how low confidence is right now that I’d take a draw were it offered to me. Let’s hope that Jokanovic can get our football flowing again and have us back to winning ways.