Until yesterday, you’d have been hard pressed to find any real bright spots from Fulham’s return to the top flight. The closest thing to a positive was probably the arrival and emergence, via two encouraging cameos off the bench, of Ademola Lookman that made the lively winger’s introduction to the starting line-up a sure thing. Having perked up Fulham’s attacking play against Brentford and Wolves, the on-loan Leipzig wide man was rewarded with a start at Sheffield United – and he marked the occasion with the sort of goal that he’s been threatening to score since he made the switch to Craven Cottage.
The stunning individual goal will win all the plaudits – as it should – but it is Lookman’s mentality and desire that have impressed me since he first feratured for Fulham. In a side that has proven predictable because of a preoccupation with possesion and a predilection for sideways passes, the nippy winger is ambitious and direct. He’s not bothered by the prospect of getting clattered by defenders and, in a system that has previously seemed to shackle the creativity of our wide players, Lookman wants to take people on at every opportunity. It’s a refreshing change – and one that is already reaping rewards.
The goal itself showed the limitations of Scott Parker’s set up in the final third, in a perverse way. Lookman made it all himself, darting inside Sander Berge with real purpose and a turn of pace, before riding the challenge of Chris Basham and, crucially, gathering himself as the ball might have wriggled out of his control and firing an unstoppable shot high into the roof of the net. Watching his exploits again, it was notable that had he decided to head for the byline and cross for a team-mate, no other yellow shirt had made a move from the edge of the box. That static element of Fulham’s play in the last third needs to change and Parker can’t rely of moments of individual magic to deliver it.
Lookman’s potential has never been a secret. He burst onto the scene so impressively as a teenager at Charlton and started well having earned a big move to Everton before his career rather fizzled out under Sam Allardyce. Harnessing his willingness to roam infield from a wide left position will be crucial to transforming Fulham’s threat to the opposition, which has hitherto largely come from a horribly isolated Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian striker had a day to forget yesterday – but there were still elements of the pair’s link-up play to admire, especially when Lookman lifted in a peach of cross that Mitrovic headed wide in the closing stages.
There are things that can improve as his Fulham career progresses. The understanding with Antonee Robinson down the left flank might be one of the most exciting parts of his inclusion in this side, particularly when you consider how adventurous the former Wigan full-back is in his own game. Lookman rather ignored the American international at times in the second half as Robinson offered a promising overlap, preferring to plough his own furrow or shift the ball inside, but a partnership can be forged by a bit of hard graft and exploration at Motspur Park in the weeks ahead. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek now able to pull the strings from a number ten position, Lookman should have even more opportunities to terrorise top flight full backs in Fulham’s upcoming fixtures. Keeping him fit and firing could pay real dividends.