Being disappointed that Fulham failed to keep a clean sheet marks significant progress during what has been an underwhelming start to the Premier League campaign. The concession of a late penalty that denied the Whites a first league success might have taken the shine off Tosin Adarabioyo’s top flight debut somewhat, but the former Manchester City defender shouldn’t allow it to detract from a commanding display at the heart of a rejigged back four that belied his tender years. Calm on the ball, confident in his decision making and a commanding presence in the centre of a defence that suddenly appeared much more secure, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Adarabioyo had been a regular fixture in the Fulham backline.

Adarabioyo’s potential has been discussed in hushed tones around Manchester for many years. A natural leader from a young age, he captain City’s youth side to the FA Youth Cup final in 2018 and was fast-tracked into the senior squad the following year, making his first-team debut against Chelsea in the FA Cup. City fought hard to prevent him from leaving for pastures new when the likes of Celtic and Spurs showed interest, but after honing his promise with Championship loans at West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers, the lure of regular top flight football proved too rich to resist. Seasoned observers were surprised that Fulham were able to snare Adarabioyo, who Pep Guardiola had spoken about as a potential first-team centre half, for as little as £1.5m up front in the closing hours of the summer transfer window.

The 23 year-old’s Fulham debut might have come a little quicker than envisaged after Joachim Andersen’s untimely ankle injury earlier this week, but you would never have guessed it. A consummate ball-player, he slotted successfully alongside Tim Ream into what had been a jittery Fulham defence previously, immediately offering assurance and the calmness of a man who had played far more than eighty senior games. What was most notable was that Adarabioyo was quickly organising his colleagues, offering instructions from the outset, and none of the chances that fell to Ollie McBurnie as the Blades cranked up the pressure could be considered to have come from an error by the new man.

Instead, Adarabioyo was almost flawless. The best defenders are largely unnoticed for much of a match, not needing to resort to a last-ditch tackle or an eye-catching interception that would be lauded as an excellent defending, because of their positioning and reading of the game. Adarabioyo certainly had an eye for danger, blocking an early shot from Sander Berge, but he rarely needed to go to ground – making just a single tackle throughout the contest – because he was regularly in the right place to take control of possession. Similarly, there was just a solitary interception in the whole game, as he glided effortlessly through his first Premier League outing.

It was easy to see why Fulham felt Adarabioyo would fit their system. Since Scott Parker has sought to build his side from the Jokanovic template, it was no surprise that he would want to find a centre half who was comfortable with the ball at his feet. Adarabioyo definitely fits that bill – completing 96.4% of his 56 passes successfully, the highest percentage of anyone who started the game and he didn’t fall short aerially either, winning five duels in the air against David McGoldrick and McBurnie, which is no mean feat. Such is his professionalism that he berated himself for failing to do better with a late headed chance from Tom Cairney’s corner that might resulted in a dream winner.

I’m always rather weary of reading too much into a debut, but Adarabioyo’s assured start has to be represent one of the biggest positives on an afternoon of mixed emotions in south Yorkshire. Fulham’s battle for survival hinges on a cohesive defensive unit bedding in quickly so as to ensure Parker’s charges don’t find themselves cut adrift at the foot of the table. On this afternoon’s evidence, Adarabioyo certainly won’t be lacking in application, while his attributes and calm demeanour can give Fulham a fighting chance of staying up.