Fulham missed the chance to move out of the relegation on a frustrating night at Craven Cottage as Tottenham recorded a third successive win after an unfortunate own goal from Tosin Adarabioyo. The tall defender, who has made such an impact since moving from Manchester City in October, turned Dele Alli’s flick into his own net to settle a tight London derby. Scott Parker’s side probably deserved a point on the strength of an improved second-half showing but saw Josh Maja’s equaliser chalked off by the video assistant referee for an innocuous-looking handball by Mario Lemina.
Alli made the most of his first league start since the opening day of the season, driving forward from his number ten position to turn Heung-Min Son’s terrific cross towards the far corner. The final touch came off the luckless Adarabioyo, but Alli’s instinct for getting into telling positions in the opposition penalty area – something Jose Mourinho’s side have lacked at times this season – was richly rewarded. Spurs looked threatening in the final third after Mourinho played Gareth Bale, Son, Alli and Kane in the same starting eleven with the England skipper spurning two glorious header chances to give the visitors the lead as well as falling to the turf theatrically in the hope of winning a penalty.
Fulham had began the sharper, with their incisive passing and link-up play between their midfielders almost catching Tottenham cold. Ruben Loftus-Cheek created the first opening with a powerful run through the heart of the Spurs midfield but, as all too often this season, his shot lacked conviction and Mario Lemina ballooned the rebound high into the Hammersmith End. Loftus-Cheek almost had another sight of goal when a beautiful reverse pass from the excellent Harrison Reed prised open the Tottenham defence, but a heavy first touch allowed Davinson Sanchez to snuff out the danger. Right on the stroke of half-time a rampaging run from Antonee Robinson fashioned a great opportunity for Lemina, who fired unforgivably over from eight yards.
The home side began the second period with a similar intensity. Joachim Andersen, who regularly switched the play with precise long passes, extended Hugo Lloris with a looping header and the French goalkeeper then fielded a headed effort from Adarabioyo at the ensuing corner. Loftus-Cheek sent a effort over the edge of the box after another excellent passing move that saw Robinson and Lookman, who were posing Tottenham serious problems down the left flank, link up impressively.
The game’s most controversial moment arrived when Maja, who had been hitherto well-marshalled by Toby Alderweireld at the heart of the Tottenham defence, punished a sloppy clearance by Sanchez with a powerful near-post finish that crept past Lloris. The goal was disallowed via the VAR for a handball by Lemina, although the ball bounced back off the on-loan Southampton midfielder’s wrist, when his arm was down by his side and hadn’t moved. It seemed exceptionally harsh – and no doubt that particular rule will be revised come the end of the season.
Fulham kept pushing for an equaliser, but even after introducing Aleksandar Mitrovic to join Maja in attack, couldn’t conjure another clear-cut chance. Spurs went close to sealing it the other end, with Alphonse Areola spreading himself well to deny Kane after Erik Lamela had played him in. The Argentine was excellent off the substitutes’ bench for Tottenham, having already produced a sublime sequence of skills tight to the byline to almost find Kane minutes earlier, and Fulham couldn’t quite reply in kind in stoppage time with Lookman’s cutback far too close to Lloris to allow either Mitrovic or Maja a run at it.
Parker’s charges will have to quickly put this disappointment behind them, with tough tests at Liverpool and against league leaders Manchester City on the horizon. There’s plenty to admire about the grit and character of this side, but Fulham remain deep in relegation trouble – and the breaks just aren’t going for them at the moment.
Kevin McDonald’s announcement this morning, via a sensitively conducted interview on Fulham’s website, that he will shortly undergo a kidney transplant was profoundly moving. Most impressive was his poise – even at a deeply personal and troubling movement – in explaining how he had played with kidney failure throughout his career and had made the choice to opt for a transplant as he contemplates the next stage of his life. Football seems very trivial at such grave moments, but it is how we’ve come to know McDonald and, having watched his performances over the year, his courage is not a surprise.
The educational element of McDonald’s interview should not be overlooked. His season has been a frustrating one, relegated to the sidelines after another promotion from the Championship, but the doubts surrounding those decisions can be placed to one side now. No one can diminish his contribution to Fulham’s success in almost five years at Craven Cottage and it is clear that the club hold him in high regard, given how he has been working with the youth teams as part of his progress towards his coaching qualifications.
McDonald makes the profound point that people only know footballers through their persona and performances on the pitch. You always felt with the him that what you saw on the field – however impressive – was only half the story. Here was a natural leader, a character for others to rally around, the voice to offer encouragement and inspiration or a quiet word for those who needed it. There was no doubt that these characteristics proved pivotal in Fulham’s successful promotions from the Championships. His strength of character can only be underlined by the fact that he has reached such heights in his playing career whilst battling a chronic condition.
Writers like me often use hyperbole to illustrate their points, but it is no exaggeration to say that McDonald’s impact upon arrival from Wolves in 2016 was massive. He moved to west London after Fulham’s year-long pursuit finally paid dividends and, after Slavisa Jokanovic deployed him in a deeper role that at any previous point in his playing career, made Fulham far harder to play through. It wasn’t that was a mere stopper in the classical mould, either. McDonald could nit the play together impressively, the perfect fit for a side that wanted to play out from the back and dominate possession, ensuring that his team could effectively utilise the considerable talents of his midfield colleagues, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney.
He was a vital part of Fulham’s most attractive side for twenty years and that midfield triumvirate took the Championship by storm as Jokanovic’s swashbuckling side surged to within a whisker of automatic promotion with a memorable 23-match unbeaten run. McDonald’s joyous celebrations after the final whistle on that gorgeous day at Wembley will live long in the memory. My favourite image of his Fulham career remains a private one, captured in the Wembley dressing rooms, with McDonald addressing his victorious team-mates following their moment of glory. I have no idea what he was saying but the faces transfixed on his words tell you just highly regarded he was as a leader.
Dressing rooms are unforgiving places. Players quickly discover who is a phoney and won’t excuse though who shirk challenges. You could never level such an accusation at McDonald, whose matter-of-fact manner rather lends itself to cutting through any confusion. Such qualities will serve him well when he makes the transition from playing into coaching. His contributions have already made quite an impression on some of Fulham’s youngsters and, although there’s an admirable desire to continue his career in the lower leagues, I hope he might be able to contribute to the club’s future in a coaching capacity. He certainly has plenty to offer – and at this difficult moment, as ever, McDonald is leading by example.
In many ways, this was the story of Fulham’s season of struggle. Scott Parker’s side dominated possession, created the clearer chances and yet couldn’t find a winner against Crystal Palace this afternoon. You sense that Roy Hodgson – one of Fulham’s finest ever managers – would have been the happier with a share of the spoils at full time and the Whites would be left to reflect on a missed opportunity to pile yet more pressure on their principle relegation rivals, Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion.
Parker certainly couldn’t be accused of settling for a point, throwing on Aleksandar Mitrovic to accompany Josh Maja up front for the final quarter of an hour but Fulham failed to make their superiority count on the scoreboard. Palace were workmanlike and resilient but, bar a late rally that threatened their second smash and grab raid of the week, the Eagles rarely tested Alphonse Areola in the visiting goal. A splendid save from Vicente Guaita denied Maja, who spurned a series of good opportunities in the second half, a winning goal on his return to Selhurst Park and Parker’s attention will now turn to securing a surprise result against the likes of Tottenham, Liverpool or Manchester City in the coming weeks.
A turgid first half an hour was only enlivened by a couple of close shaves. Tosin Adarabioyo timed his intervention impeccably to deny Christian Benteke a sight of goal, whilst Joachim Andersen almost inadvertently turned a teasing cross from Andros Townsend beyond his own goalkeeper. Fulham’s best openings came from set pieces with Joachim Andersen heading wide from a corner and then sending a free header over from Ademola Lookman’s free kick.
Parker sent on Antonee Robinson to add a bit of adventure from left back and his side’s willingness to test Guaita was on display from the first minute of the second period when Maja tried to chip Spanish goalkeeper from the halfway line. Another Lookman free-kick posed problems for the Palace defence but Guaita dealt easily enough with Adarabioyo’s tame header before fielding a speculative strike from Andersen after the home side had struggled to clear another corner. The Danish defender went close from a 30-yard free-kick – his effort from distance, as well as perhaps the identity of the taker, surprising Guaita and flashing a yard wide.
Fulham were fully in control and Ruben Loftus-Cheek perhaps should have done better than bend a tame effort into Guaita’s chest after Bobby Decordova-Reid had teed him up on the edge of the box. Maja, until then well marshalled by the experienced Gary Cahill and Cheick Kouyate at the heart of the Palace defence, then went as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock, spinning away from Kouyate and shooting just wide from the edge of the box.
Ivan Cavaleiro then almost had an immediate impact after being introduced as a substitute. The Portugese winger curled in a beautiful cross from the right, Maja rose majestically to head for goal and Guaita made a magnificent reaction save. Fulham probably should have gone in front from the ensuing corner, but Cahill made a brave block as Andersen appeared destined to score at the back post. Loftus-Cheek then lashed a drive just wide of goal after Cavaleiro had cushioned a high ball from Andersen superbly into the Chelsea loanee’s path – and you got the feeling it just wasn’t going to be Fulham’s day.
Mitrovic replaced Anguissa as Fulham went for broke, but they momentarily lost their grip on the midfield battle as a dour, tense contest reached its closing stages. Benteke threatened from a Palace corner, climbing high to head across goal, and Hodgson’s charges briefly perked up as an attacking threat but it was Fulham who finished far stronger. Lookman was guilty of snatching at a glorious chance when he was found by a wonderful cross from the excellent Harrison Reed, slashing his strike wastefully wide with Mitrovic crying out for a cross, and Fulham couldn’t carve out a winner in the three minutes of stoppage time with another Adarabioyo header drifting frustratingly wide.
Parker’s plucky side haven’t lost any ground on their competitors at the foot of the table, but this was a big chance to take a giant leap towards safety missed. The consolations come in the form of another diligent defensive performance, rewarded with a ninth clean sheet of the season, and the continuation of an eight-match unbeaten away run, which represents Fulham’s finest top flight sequence away from home in the club’s history.
Tosin Adarabioyo believes Fulham have the quality to see off relegation from the Premier League – and the defender is confident that the Whites will ‘go on a mad run and stay safe’.
The calm and collected centre back has been an instant hit at Craven Cottage since moving to Fulham from Manchester City for just £2m in October – which already looks like one of the bargains of the season. Adarabioyo has helped shore up a Fulham defence that was leaking goals left, right and centre – forging impressive relationships with Ola Aina and Joachim Andersen in Scott Parker’s reshaped backline as the Whites managed to stop the rot. In a wide-ranging interview with the Telegraph earlier today, the likeable defender discussed his England ambitions – as he targets a possible call-up in time for the European Championships – but insisted that his main focus was ensuring Fulham stay up.
“I am just focusing on survival, on avoiding relegation and we have full confidence that we will remain in this league. We have so much quality and so much fight to push on and get the results that we need. I think we are going to go on a mad run and stay safe.”
The Whites had let in ten goals in their first three games, prompting plenty of pundits to suggest they were top flight cannon fodder, but the introduction of Adarabioyo and Andersen to their defence heralded a tightening up. Parker’s side have conceded just eleven goals in their last fourteen games – only league leaders Manchester City can boast a better record – and picking up seven points last week has put a spring in their step. Adarabioyo reckons that a steady improvement in their performances is now being reflected in Fulham’s results:
“It’s an amazing achievement. The start of the season was not great so it is catch-up, a lot of catch-up. But now we have reached a point where we know what we are about and what we can do. We are getting some good results and some more respect in the league. Teams are starting to be wary of us and know what we are capable of. I definitely don’t think we are a team that deserves to go down. We are a top team and we will keep fighting. There are a lot of games still to play.”
He explained that there was little personal angst about leaving Manchester City, where he been since the age of five, in search of first-team football.
“I was fine with it, to be honest. It wasn’t the same club that I grew up in. A lot of things changed, obviously, so it was an easy decision for me especially knowing that I needed to get out there and play football. It wasn’t the right club for me anymore and it was time for me to get a move to a Premier League team, to Fulham, and get some experience in this league. Knowing that I needed to go out and play Premier League football consistently was the only thought in my head. That’s what I needed.
“Being a Premier League defender is what I aspired to be and being a top one at that. I just need to continue to show my qualities. I felt like Fulham was the right opportunity for me to go out and play and show everyone.”
“Knowing Matt Wells and Scott Parker from playing against Spurs sides’ when I was younger helped. We spoke quite often after the games and they would say ‘well done, you’re a good player’ and stuff like that. That’s how I got to know them and especially Wellsy. We kept in contact over the years. He has watched my games, he has given me some good advice even when he has not been on the coaching staff at the clubs I have been at. So having that support there was a big factor.”
Adarabioyo reveals that his induction at Craven Cottage has been helped by a number of ‘friendly guys,’ who he had played against in youth team football, naming Josh Onomah, Ademola Lookman, Ola Aina, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Antonee Robinson. He is a thoughtful football and a voracious reader, who has a particularly routine ahead of a fixture aided by Fulham’s first-team match analyst, Jonathan Hill.
“Pre-match I look at the strikers to see who I am up against. But, to be honest, I look at pretty much every player who might be in the starting XI, see the way they play, see the passes they might make, the errors they could make. The analyst knows what I want.”
The defender praises Parker – ‘it helps that he was a top Premier League player. He knows exactly what is required’ – and you can tell his confidence is infectious. It’s no surprise that Fulham’s fortunes have headed upwards since Adarabioyo made the move to London.
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher – now a Sky Sports pundit – famously claimed on live television in October that he had ‘never been more certain of anything in his life’ than Scott Parker’s side being relegated. Andersen, whose arrival from Lyon on loan at the end of the summer transfer window has been one of the major reasons why the Whites are still in with a shot of another great escape, told the Sun that he thrives on proving the detractors wrong.
“I love when people are saying that we are going down because it fires me up. I want to show it’s not going to be the case. One week can change everything. We got seven points last week and we’re now three points behind Newcastle.
“There’s no need to stress. In football, you always get what you deserve. When we played like we did for months, at some point it had to turn. It’s such a big, big goal to keep this club in the Premier League and I feel that from every single player in the squad.”
Andersen, whose impact at Craven Cottage was so immediate that Parker quickly named him as skipper after injuries robbed him of club captain Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic, has forged an impressive partnership with fellow summer signing Tosin Adarabioyo at the heart of a new-look, miserly Fulham defence.
“It’s not so often that a loan player is the captain of a club. Of course, it’s a huge honour and something I didn’t expect. It’s not something I’m unfamiliar with because in the youth teams for Denmark I was always the captain. I’m quite vocal and feel I have some good ideas on the pitch.
But it’s also about how I’m raised. I moved from my family at a young age. It helped me to mature and take care of myself. I also have a dad who expects a lot from me. He’s a leader in his work. It’s something I learnt from him.”
Andersen appears interested in making the move to Craven Cottage permanent at the end of his season-long loan.
“Yeah, of course. It’s early to say but I will not exclude anything. I’m open. I have to speak with Lyon about my situation there, so it’s a little bit difficult to say because I haven’t spoken to them. We need to see that in the summer.”