Cairney curler sets Fulham on their way

A sublime strike from skipper from Tom Cairney against his former club set Fulham on their way to their first Championship victory of the season as the Whites beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

Cairney’s audacious curler from 25 yards gave Scott Parker’s side a half-time lead that Fulham barely merited, given a nervous start and the fact that Blackburn produced a far better display than during their opening day defeat to newly-promoted Charlton. The hosts had their own poor start to rectify following a lamentable reverse at Barnsley and the assured debut of new signing Harry Arter added a bit of bite and mobility to a midfield that had been far too passive at Oakwell.

There still enough signs of sloppiness to frustrate Parker in an error-strewn opening, however. Rovers might have taken the lead inside the first twenty seconds when Bradley Johnson steered an inviting cross from Adam Armstrong wide of Marcus Bettinelli’s goal. The dangerous Bradley Dack had a low drive deflected fractionally wide in a bright Blackburn opening and Arter had to produce a desperate block with Johnson ready to pounce at the back post after a neat move down the right.

The closest Aleksandar Mitrovic, who looked a forlorn figure at the heart of the Fulham attack again in the early stages, got to making an impression was at the wrong end when he skied a clearance over his own crossbar. Fulham threatened in fits and starts with Anthony Knockaert, on his first start for the Cottagers, looking the most likely source of an opportunity as he cut in from the right flank. Toison Adarabioyo blocked his low cross-cum-shot, but the French winger’s energy seemed to lift his team-mates.

Fulham fashioned a pairing of decent chances in the space of two minutes. Mitrovic outmuscled two Blackburn defenders to surge up to the edge of the box, but slashed a shot wide, before Knockaert drove dangerously into the box himself and dragged his own effort wide. Knockaert then had a goalbound shot blocked and Mitrovic’s ambitious overhead kick flew harmlessly wide.

The home side were working up a head of steam but Cairney’s opening strike still came somewhat out of the blue. There appeared little danger as Arter was faced by two defenders 25 yards from goal, but the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder did brilliantly to feed Cairney, who had enough time to pick his spot and beautifully found the top corner with a trademark left-footed effort from range.

Blackburn, to their credit, still pushed forwards before the break. Armstrong’s clever movement was causing some serious problems for a Fulham back four that continues to look frail, with Sam Gallagher flicking a header wide from an Elliott Bennett cross. Tony Mowbray’s men had been more than a match for their hosts in the first half and could justifiably consider themselves unfortunate to be behind.

Parker has continued to ask his side to play out from the back, but the Whites haven’t found their feet in that respect. Wayward passes created problems at Barnsley and Blackburn had clearly been taking notes as Dack pounced on a poor ball to send Armstrong clear, but the forward’s shot flew wide of the far post with Bettinelli stranded.

There were a few defensive jitters at the other end, too. Ivan Cavaleiro looked the favourite to gallop around Christian Walton before Bennett intervened and, shortly afterwards, Arter drilled a sighter wide from the edge of the box. Fulham were getting a bit more joy from their attacks as the second half progressed – with one swift counter-attack culminating in Knockaert curling a left-footed strike fractionally wide as he darted into the box.

Mowbray threw on a couple of forwards in search of a spark and Rovers almost found one when Gallagher did well to drift between Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream but sent a looping header wide. But the visitors’ ambition left more space at the back, something ruthlessly exploited by Joe Bryan’s surging run from left back that finished the contest with nine minutes to play.

Bryan, whose dreadful effort had led to Barnsley’s opening last week, galloped more than 50 yards with the ball at his feet and then had the presence of mind to square for Mitrovic as a retreating Rovers’ defence closed in – leaving the former Newcastle front man a simple finish from close range.

A third would have been exceedingly harsh on Mowbray’s side but Bobby Decordova-Reid really should have marked an encouraging cameo with a debut goal. Bettinelli went route one from a goalkick and Decordova-Reid, a deadline-day arrival from Cardiff City, gambled to reach Mitrovic’s flick but then contrived to shoot wide from eight yards with only Walton to beat.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter, Johansen (Decordova-Reid 62), Cairney; Knockaert (Le Marchand 84), Cavaleiro (Reed 79), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, McDonald, Ayite.

GOALS: Cairney (35), Mitrovic (81).

BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-2-3-1): Walton; Bennett, Bell (Downing 71), Adarabioyo, Williams; Johnson, Travis (Graham 74); Rothwell (Brereton 65), Armstrong, Dack; Gallagher. Subs (not used): Leutwiler, Platt, C. Evans, Buckley.

BOOKED: Johnson, Bennett.

REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).

ATTENDANCE: 17,987.

Goodbye and good luck, Ryan Sessegnon

At some point last season, Ryan Sessegnon’s departure became inevitable. He clearly struggled with the step up to the Premier League and he wasn’t the only member of what became a desperately poor Fulham side to do so. It was a shame to watch him wasted on the right wing on the rare occasions that Claudio Ranieri allowed him to start. You could tell that Fulham’s failure hurt him deeply and, once relegation was confirmed. it was a formality that a talent as bright as his would be moving on.

Within modern football, there’s a tendency to diminish the people who depart your team for pastures new. He wasn’t that good, he didn’t fit within the side, we’ll be better off without him. That just isn’t the case. I’ve seen a few fools posting potshots at Sessegnon on social media – and it angers me. We all know that the teenager has the talent to go all the way and, once he recovers the confidence that was so brutally stripped from him during that calamity of a season last year, he’ll probably do it.

Sessegnon’s packed a career full of Fulham memories into three short years. Credit to Huw Jennings and his colleagues at the Fulham academy, who took him straight from school to an audition with first-team coach Slavisa Jokanovic, when they felt he was ready to train with the senior side in the summer of 2016. Nobody would have expected the sixteen year-old to prosper in the way that he did. Jokanovic didn’t take long to be convinced of Sessegnon’s prodigious talent and the player himself credits Scott Parker with being one of the people to ensure he settled in senior football. It’s a shame that Parker’s promotion to first team manager didn’t come sooner, in a way.

The poise with which Sessegnon took to senior football was remarkable. His debut at Leyton Orient might have been notable, but the maturity with which he ran at a retreating Leeds defence a few days later on his senior debut was startling. Jokanovic gave the youngster license to roam from left back and the goals soon flowed. There was his first strike against Cardiff, a predatory one that hinted at a suitability to play further forward, and a winner in the FA Cup in the Welsh capital. He came to national attention with a brace at Newcastle, putting his finger to his lips at the Gallowgate End, and would have a hat-trick against the champions had he been allowed to take an injury-time penalty.

Jokanovic tried to dampen down all the talk about his superstar but Sessegnon’s performances might those efforts futile. It was astonishing that having been the youngest ever inclusion in a Football League team of the year in 2016/2017, the level of his displays simply increased. No second season syndrome for young, Ryan. He scored an outstanding hat-trick on an unforgettable night at Sheffield United and only looked dazed by what he’d done afterwards, clutching the match ball tightly as he boarded the team coach afterwards.

Such was the consistency of his excellence, it came as a surprise that Jokanovic rested him at Norwich City in April. Fulham had been worried about burnout given that the young winger – for he had now firmly nailed down that advanced position – was playing far more senior football than anyone had envisaged. His uncanny knack of popping up in the opposition penalty area was proving crucial – goals against promotion rivals Aston Villa, Wolves, Derby and Millwall sustained Fulham’s 23-match unbeaten run to the end of the season and, when the Whites needed a lift in the second leg of a tight play-off semi final against Derby, there was Sessegnon to slam home an equaliser.

Nobody connected with the club will ever forget Wembley. A gorgeous day at the sun-kissed national stadium against Aston Villa – and those nerves gnawing away at you. Not that the pressure seemed to bother Sessegnon, who spun away from the Villa midfield to slide a beautiful ball through the defence for his captain Tom Cairney to settle the final. The return to the top flight might have been fleeting and deeply unsatisfactory, but the joy of that day will remain with every Fulham fan forever.

The consequence of just how easy Sessegnon made the step from academy prodigy to senior football might mean that people expect others to replicate his achievements. They won’t. It would be unfair to judge anyone by Sessegnon’s ridiculously high standards. He was a one-off. A star who shone in a sensational side and whose delight at making it was infectious. We were very lucky to see him for so long in a Fulham shirt. Here’s to you, Ryan Sessegnon.

Arter completes Fulham loan move

Fulham have this afternoon confirmed the signing of Irish international midfielder Harry Arter from Bournemouth on a season-long loan.

The 29 year-old midfielder was one of Fulham’s longstanding targets and the loan move contains an option to make the deal permanent next summer. Arter, who spent last season on loan with Cardiff City, has teamed up with his brother-in-law Scott Parker, who is at the start of his first full season in charge of the Whites at Craven Cottage.

Fulham viewed Arter’s Championship pedigree as being crucial. He has made more than 250 appearances in more than a decade at Bournemouth, including helping the Cherries to promotion from League One and the Championship. Parker’s side looked light in terms of midfield options, having lost Jean-Michael Seri and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa from last season’s squad, and Arter’s acquisition adds depth to the first-team squad and experience of the division.

Arter told Fulham’s official website:

I’m delighted to be here. Fulham is a fantastic club with a lot of ambition who want to get back to the Premier League, and I hope I can help them achieve that this season.

Fulham closing in on Arter capture

Fulham are closing in on the capture of Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter, according to reports in the Irish press this morning.

The Irish international, who is the brother-in-law of Fulham manager Scott Parker, was left out of Bournemouth’s final pre-season friendly against Lyon yesterday and is expected to join the Whites on loan in the next couple of days. The deal would complete Fulham’s protracted attempt to bring in the experienced midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Cardiff in the Welsh side’s ultimately unsuccessful fight against relegation from the Premier League.

Arter, who had attracted interest from a number of Premier League and Championship clubs, is understood to be very keen to move closer to his London home and team up with Parker at Fulham. The 29 year-old has made more than 250 first-team appearances in over ten years at Bournemouth, whom he helped to win promotions from League One and the Championship.

Parker has been keen to add depth to his midfield options having seen Jean-Michael Seri and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa leave the club on loan over the past couple of weeks. Fulham have also been in need of a back up option to Kevin McDonald, who played as the holding midfielder in yesterday’s disappointing opening day defeat at Barnsley.

Fulham in battle for Carter-Vickers

Fulham are among a clutch of Championship clubs chasing Tottenham defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, according to a report this morning.

Spurs are ready to allow the American centre back, who has had loan spells with Sheffield United, Ipswich Town and Swansea City over the past three years, to leave White Hart Lane on loan again to gain further first-team football. Fulham are eager to add to their defensive options after Alfie Mawson’s injury scare last week and yesterday’s disappointing defeat on the opening day at Barnsley.

Scott Parker will face stiff competition in trying to bring in the centre half from Tottenham, where he spent a season coaching their under-18 side. Leeds, West Brom, Derby, Middlesbrough, Luton and Barnsley are reportedly all interested in bringing in Carter-Vickers, who made 30 appearances for Swansea last season in the Championship.

The 21 year-old, who has won eight international caps for the United States, has made four first-team appearances for Spurs, all of which came in domestic Cup competitions.