Marek Rodak could have been forgiven for feeling fed up in August. He started Marco Silva’s first season on the edge with the Portuguese head coach’s handpicked goalkeeper Paolo Gazzaniga preferred in between the sticks. Having been elbowed out of the first team picture by loanee Alphonse Areola after playing such a pivotal role in Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League, the Slovakian could easily have sulked. Instead, he knuckled down and resolved to take his chance when he came. After Gazzaniga’s gaffe sparked a shocking second half collapse in the Coventry rain, Rodak was restored to the starting line-up and Fulham haven’t looked back since.

A run of five consecutive clean sheets has underpinned Fulham’s fantastic recent form that has now opened up a handy six point cushion over third-placed West Brom. If you were in any doubt as to the importance of having the right man in goal, it would pay to have watched Rodak relentlessly marshall his back four in recent weeks. Even with the Whites costing at home to the Baggies and at Blackburn, the goalkeeper gave his defenders a rollocking when they found themselves out of position. At London Road yesterday, he let his gloves do the talking. Two terrific second half saves denied Jonson Clarke-Harris – his fingertip onto the far post when the striker looked certain to equalise was sublime – whilst a full length dive to keep out Joe Ward’s free-kick was equally impressive.

Patience and confidence in his own ability is something that Rodak has had to rely upon. He signed for Fulham at sixteen after a successful trial when the Whites scouting network spotted him starring inn the Kosice youth team and lesser characters might have been overwhelmed by the prospect of moving to a foreign country at a tender age. Not Rodak. He threw himself into English lessons and training sessions at Motspur Park and was soon fast tracked into the under-18 side. He was picked as the first choice keeper for Fulham’s Dallas Cup winning under-19 side in March 2013, making crucial penalty saves in the semi-final shoot-out.

Rodak went on to keep goal brilliantly as Fulham’s under 18s went all the way to the FA Youth Cup final and, after making the bench for the first team at Leeds, he got a taste of senior football on loan at Farnborough, where he made five appearances as they battled against relegation from the Conference South. Rodak had another fight with adversity at cash-strapped Welling, who didn’t win any of his first thirteen games, in an ultimately unsuccessful battle against the drop. But his character, footwork and shot-stopping ability impressed many a visiting scout – and Accrington Stanley stepped in to take Rodak on loan in January 2017.

He went straight into John Coleman’s side with Stanley anxiously looking over their shoulder at the wrong end of League Two. He kept eight clean sheets in twenty appearances as Accrington put together a thirteen-match unbeaten run to finish comfortably in mid-table after briefly flirting with the play-offs. Those assured performances attracted attention from Rotherham United, whose old school manager Paul Warne was taken by the goalkeeper’s ‘bravery’ and bolshiness. It proved an inspired decision as the Millers went up via the League One play-offs, with Rodak outstanding in the play-off final at Wembley.

He was just as impressive in a second loan spell at the New York Stadium, despite Rotherham losing their brave battle against relegation. It was after Rodak had turned down a third season at Rotherham that he stepped into the Fulham first team, displacing Marcus Bettinelli, and turning a faltering campaign around. Rodak bounced back from a nightmare first start, when he was sent off at Middlesbrough for handling outside his area, to keep fifteen clean sheets in 36 appearances as the Whites went up via Wembley with a memorable win over Brentford. He was unfortunate to be usurped by Areola in the top flight – something which probably cost him a starting spot at the European Championships, after his outstanding penalty save from the Republic of Ireland’s Alan Browne in the play-off semi-final shoot out and assured display against Northern Ireland that steered Slovakia to the finals.

But Rodak is now making the most of his opportunity. His first goalkeeping coach was his father, who had a successful goalkeeping career both in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and the youngster’s desire to match those high familial standards fuelled his early rise. His sustained excellence in the Fulham goal should now be an immense source of pride. He has worked hard on his distribution, an increasingly critical element of the modern goalkeeper’s game, and has been much more decisive in claiming crosses than Gazzaniga. Rodak’s already made a massive difference to Fulham’s season – injecting real confidence into the jittery back four that had threatened to undermine Silva’s enterprising start. Given what he has gone through in an action-packed journey to the Fulham first team, it is no surprise that he remains level headed, something which should another benefit for the Whites as the push for promotion heats up.