In their different ways, both Marco Silva and Jean Michael Seri hit on Fulham’s biggest problem as the Whites look to plot their path back to the Premier League. Some of Fulham’s football as they dismantled Queens Park Rangers on Saturday was sublime, but in the fifteen minutes after half time when the visitors got themselves on the front foot, it looked as though the hosts might capitulate from a winning position as they did at Coventry before the international break. Consistency is key in getting out of the Championship – and it has been far too elusive for Silva this season.
For a while on Sunday, it looked as if the mauling Cardiff suffered at the hands of their bitter rivals Swansea City would put Mick McCarthy out of his misery. The Bluebirds have lost six straight games and McCarthy’s primitive methods looked badly dated when compared with the more modern and easy on the eye approach preferred by Russell Martin. Cardiff’s football has been both predictable and below-par for far too long, but the board – according to reports from Wales – have given McCarthy the games against Fulham and Middlesbrough to save his job.
Given Fulham’s ability to be ever so generous against sides woefully out of form, it wouldn’t come as a galloping shock to see Cardiff end their worst run of form since 1985 at Craven Cottage this evening. Indeed, it would be the definition of Fulhamish. But the fact that the Cardiff hierarchy are happy to keep McCarthy in post for the time being still appears baffling, especially as his side seem shorn of the sort of creative influences that make a serious difference in the final third. Fulham’s very Harry Wilson had a quietly effective campaign on loan at the Bluebirds last season – and another former Fulham loanee Sheyi Oyi also added pace on the wings – and McCarthy’s curious decision to field five centre backs in a local derby hinted at the fact that the club simply haven’t recruited adequate replacements over the summer.
Cardiff will clearly be physical, stubborn and tough to break down tonight as they seek the sort of result that could kickstart their season. Fulham’s task is to do something they have failed at too often already this term – replicate the Rangers result by putting together another stylish showing. Silva will be without Ivan Cavaleiro and Joe Bryan, who both had to replaced after picking up injuries in the derby demolition, whilst Fabio Carvalho’s Covid isolation has hampered his delayed recovery from a fractured toe. Kenny Tete could return against the Bluebirds, although Silva was at pains to point out that he probably wouldn’t last a full ninety minutes, and captain Tom Cairney – an unused substitute at the weekend – also needs to build up match fitness. Risking two of the club’s key players against a side show to be putting the boot in might not be the smartest move.
Cavaleiro’s absence should allow Neeskens Kebano, who was excellent again against QPR, to continue in the starting line-up. The Congolese winger played a key part in two of Fulham’s goals and should now get the sort of extended run in the side he has been crying out for throughout his time with the club. Bobby Decordova-Reid, who scored the vital third on Saturday with a wonderfully assured finish from Seri’s superb pass, is the likeliest replacement for Cavaleiro against his old club – and it will be interesting to see who starts in the number ten. Wilson began in that position against QPR but was largely used as a decoy runner by his team-mates before Decordova-Reid moved infield to devastating effect.
It is simply too easy to glibly classify this as a home banker, although that is what all the pundits appear to have already done. Fulham have slipped up on plenty of banana skins already this season – few would have seen the defeats to Blackpool and Reading coming for example – and the Championship’s glorious unpredictability means you can’t take any fixture for granted. But Silva knows that the Whites can’t afford to allow a gap to grow between themselves and the top two if Seri’s ambition of going up as champions is to be achieved. Champions knit together impressive winning runs and Fulham will have to do that sooner rather than later.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Seri, Reed; Kebano, Decordova-Reid, Wilson, Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Mawson, Tete, Chalobah, Onomah, Cairney, Muniz.