Charlton Athletic 3-2 Fulham U21s

A fairly entertaining affair at the Valley saw Carl Robinson’s Charlton host Peter Grant’s Fulham academy side. Robinson made eleven changes to the Charlton team that played at the weekend, bringing in the experienced Johnnie Jackson and Mark Marshall whilst Ben Reeves also came into the midfield. The fixture under the floodlights on a pretty chilly evening drew a crowd of less than 750, sarcastically reported as Charlton’s lowest for a competitive fixture but treated like the FA Cup final by the rowdy home supporters in attendance. Officially the under 23s, Fulham held their own in a game where their eldest players were a ripe 20 years old, Charlton supporters will claim it was their kids playing but 10 of their starting eleven were older than the Fulham starting team.

The experienced heads of Johnnie Jackson and Ben Reeves grew into the game after a strong Fulham start, which saw Charlton control possession of the football for large periods of the game but the Whites defended resolutely holding them to few clearcut chances: which will disappoint Peter Grant’s squad even more following the collapse of a 2-1 lead heading into final minutes turn into a switch around 3-2 loss. Some bright sparks in the cold of a South East London night, the game provided the perfect learning experience for Fulham’s youngsters: playing and preparing in a professional football stadium with competing with more experienced footballers.

Player ratings:

Magnus Norman: Strong in his own penalty box, Norman will be disappointed to concede three. One or two really decent saves were topped by his safe hands with the majority of crosses coming into the penalty box. Think he could really have done better with one or two of the Charlton goals but tough to say on first viewing and no replays at the Valley. 6

Djed Spence: 17 year old Djed Spence was making only his 2nd start for Fulham at this age group and defended pretty well all things considered. He grew in confidence and tried to make more of an impact in an attacking sense with a few quick bursts down the right flank. Kept Karlan Ahearne-Grant fairly quiet. 6.5

Aron Davies: One of Fulham’s better performers, 20 year old captain Aron Davies helped create Fulham’s early opener with a gorgeous ball from the ball that found Elijah Adebayo’s chest perfectly – must have been a 50 yard pass. Overall, Davies defended resolutely bar one moment in the second half, and his distribution was key to the majority of Fulham’s attacks: again, one moment where he shanked a ball into the stands but otherwise a strong display. The boy is due professional football, that’s no doubt his next learning experience. 7

Moritz Jens: I’ve admired the German centre back ever since he arrived at Fulham, and despite still being 18 years old, he looked at home last night. Solid in the air, Jens and Davies complimented each other with the younger Moritz putting in more of an understated performance. 6.5

Rob Atkinson: I felt for the recently signed Rob Atkinson last night. Typically a centre half, who could potentially make a move to left back but was taught a lesson by the experienced Mark Marshall on the Charlton right flank. Nice passer of the ball and attempted to get forward, but simply losing the one-on-one battle with Marshall is the reason for the low grade. 5.5

Mikki Kwietniewski: The Polish attacking midfielder was taken off at half time and didn’t affect proceedings at all. You could really have forgotten he was playing; and I do like him as a player, it’s simply testament to Charlton’s impressive left back, Jamie Mascoll 5

Matt O’Riley: Showed the poise which has lead to his Fulham first team debut and swept up nicely in midfield but the team didn’t have enough possession for O’Riley to make a real impact on proceedings. The youngest player on the pitch but didn’t look it, may not have had his foot on the ball as frequently as usual but held his own against what would’ve been a solid League One central midfield pairing. 6

Jayden Harris: 18 year old Jayden Harris possesses impressive athleticism, the type of player we rarely bring through at Fulham. He put himself about well but simply didn’t affect the game. If I had to proper match report, Harris wouldn’t have featured bar a funnily memorable moment where he held off 35 year Johnnie Jackson with absolute ease. Needs some seasoning but a good learning experience for him. We weren’t completely overwhelmed in midfield despite a 16 year old and an 18 year old going against a 25 and 35 year old. 5.5

Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson: You could argue the little Icelandic was the best player on the pitch. A gorgeous finish for the opener, Thorsteinsson drew frustration out of the home crowd and management staff – the spark for most things in attack for Fulham, Thor’s skill all over the pitch brought Fulham time with free kicks and was a fairly constant threat. Also thread a beautiful slide rule pass for Cameron Thompson’s goal to put Fulham in the lead. I hate saying players are the ‘next X, Y and Z’ but Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson glided on the left flank in an Eden Hazard like fashion. Charlton manager Carl Robinson took the time to speak to Thor after the game and mention him specifically in his post match comments, “he’s certainly got plenty of talent.” My man of the match. 7.5

Mattias Kait: Started the game in the hole, before being moved to the right in the second following Kwietniewski’s substitution. Worked hard off the ball but didn’t have many touches on it, could have been forgiven for forgetting he was playing. Victim of Fulham’s inability to control possession as he is a good footballer. 5.5

Elijah Adebayo: Hovered between a 6.5 rating and the 7 I did eventually give him, Adebayo was a handful for the Charlton centre backs all game right up until his substitution. Had a connection with centre half Aron Davies and won a large majority of his duels with Jo Cummings throughout the game. Showed some nice target man play for the opening goal and edged the 7 with his all round impact in what was a tough game to be a striker. Has all the tools to make a good career for himself if he works hard but will likely have to start in non-league. 7

Fulham substitutes:

Cameron Thompson: Thompson’s introduction gave Charlton another thing to think about with Fulham’s counter attacks. Knowing Cameron since his time with the U16s, he’s a lethal finisher and displayed it with a lovely left footed strike past Dillon Phillips in the Charlton goal (a 22 year old who has won the National League). A smaller striker but with a Defoe/Aguero like finishing ability, Thompson’s sole opportunity to score came to him on his weaker foot and at 17 years old he despatched with aplomb. Threatened with his pace in behind, Thompson now has two goals in his first four matches at this level to add to his 9 in 6 matches at under 18 level. Whisper it quietly, but here’s the next star striker for Fulham at academy level – and I would’ve told you that two/three years back. I look forward to seeing him develop throughout the season, and can see him starting games at this level by the end of the season. 6.5

Michael Elstone: Peter Grant changed his mind on substitutions a couple of times in the game, seemingly calling Tyreese Francois back from his warm up to get him ready but he didn’t come on. He also had Isaac Pearce on the sideline ready but sent him back to the dugout after the Charlton equaliser. Elstone doesn’t get a rating simply because he only had about 10 minutes to work with; Charlton were piling on the pressure at this point n/a

Overall it was an average performance from Peter Grant’s men with a few stand outs. A good learning experience and resolute team display for the majority of the game. I think Charlton would’ve spent more money on stewards and staff despite the £10 adult tickets and regularly priced food (including £6.00 for a curry in the Millennium Lounge and £2.30 for a cup of tea). No wonder nobody turned up.

Slavisa’s stalling Fulham side

The Whites travelled to Villa Park on Saturday afternoon off the back of a bland four game unbeaten run, but the lacklustre performances continued with Slavisa Jokanovic’s stalling side yet to get going. Once lauded for his ability to switch things tactically at Watford, Jokanovic’s side have become predictable and teams turn up with a game plan to limit the passing game; whether it’s Preston’s high pressing style or more of deep defensive block just begging for a team who has been without its premium creative talent to break them down.

The predictability has simply been highlighted through Tom Cairney’s injury, Slavisa Jokanovic has remained stubborn with his shape to the extent of forcing our multi-million pound number nine out wide to retain the three in midfield despite lacklustre performances from both Stefan Johansen and Oliver Norwood in the absence of the club captain. A lack of creativity both on and off the pitch has stifled Fulham’s progress regardless of the talent that the recruitment team has assembled; even with Tom Cairney’s injury, this team is good enough to be picking up wins both at Craven Cottage and on the road.

It’s the surprising perseverance with averagely performing players in a system that Jokanovic slavishly adheres to which doesn’t help frustrations – nothing is being changed to make things better and Slavisa has the personnel to make drastic changes to the shape and player positions whilst retaining the possession style of football.

Considering Cairney is currently unable to start games, Fulham could switch to a 4-2-3-1, with the goalkeeper and back four remaining the same, unless you wanted to start Rafa Soares at left back or Denis Odoi at right back. To provide the defence a little more solidity – perhaps necessary when the Whites have managed just two clean sheets in thirteen league matches – you can add Ibrahima Cisse alongside Kevin McDonald to provide a defensive shield allowing the three in front to support and create for the striker. With no Tom Cairney, you’ve got a couple of options for the number 10 role – Rui Fonte can feature there if you want to start Aboubakar Kamara or alternatively the Portuguese can take up the lone striking role. Johansen could take up a more traditional attacking midfielder role but it wouldn’t be my preferred option. Out of our attacking/wide midfield players, Neeskens Kebano is arguably most suited to the free role behind the striker, which allows you to slot Ryan Sessegnon on the wing (introducing Soares at left back) and Yohan Mollo on the right (or whatever combination of wide players either side of Kebano you would prefer).

The three-man defence has become more fashionable recently with Chelsea’s success under Antonio Conte (although here the Premier League shows itself up as a copycat league following that formation’s ascendancy in Italy over the past five year). Fulham’s game is already built around full backs surging forward – and one of these systems would allow them to take full grasp of these positives in their game. Odoi can come in as one of the three in defence alongside Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream, having filled in remarkably for Kalas at Reading and Leeds and is one of our more athletic footballers. The midfield upwards are where the questions come in, do you go two forwards and three in midfield or two in midfield and three attacking players? Either could work at Fulham, the extra man in defence could give you a McDonald and Johansen central midfield partnership with two wingers supporting your striker (again, who you’d prefer – some would say Soares at wing back and Sessegnon further forward, some like Floyd Ayite: others don’t). The other option is your midfield three where you can keep McDonald, Johansen and Norwood in the middle but have Rui Fonte up front alongside Aboubakar Kamara.

Jokanovic remains the right man for Fulham but he needs to show more when his plan A is not coming to fruition – you can point to the possession numbers but for his philosophy to secure promotion, this side has to to be harder to score against and less predictable. I also think the players need to do more – how many of this squad can you say justify their spot in the starting eleven? Kevin McDonald and maybe two or three more? I don’t think good footballers playing average football should get away with no criticism either.

We go on to face Bolton Wanderers next week, but if nothing is to change, then prayers to whatever deity are necessary to facilitate Cairney’s return to full fitness as soon as possible.

Tom Cairney’s rise to Fulham’s leader

Tom-Cairney-594571

Born in Nottingham to an English mother and a Scottish father, Tom Cairney’s first professional football environment was at Leeds United, joining as a seven year old. After nine years on the books at Leeds, Cairney was released at the age of 16 for being ‘too small,’ however, his footballing career kept him in Yorkshire as he joined Hull City. After two years representing the Tigers at academy level and winning their Young Player of the Year award, Tom Cairney made his professional debut in the League Cup, scoring for (what was) Phil Brown’s side against Southend United. In the season Fulham reached the Europa League final, Cairney finished his debut campaign with a handful of Premier League appearances including a club Goal of the Season winner for a strike in a 5-1 loss at Goodison Park against Everton (a gorgeous left footed volley from the edge of the box). Hull City were however relegated at the end of that season, coincidentally, Steve Wigley and Tim Flowers (now of Fulham of course) joined Iain Dowie in the unsuccessful effort for Premier League safety.

Hull failed to bounce back straight away, with Cairney proving to become a useful squad player in two seasons which saw two more new coaches in Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby. It was with these sporadic appearances that the midfielder came into the Scotland set up, representing the Scottish under 21 national team on more than one occasion. Former team mate George Boateng saw the potential of the maturing midfielder, describing him as ‘potentially a huge asset to the England national team.’ Another year, another new coach, 2012-13 was set to be a potential break out season for Cairney, but a ‘horror tackle’ from future team mate James Husband saw Tom suffer a serious knee injury and his season disrupted, losing time to impress new manager Steve Bruce.

After struggling to return to semi-consistent first team action in a Hull City shirt, Tom Cairney joined Blackburn on an initial loan in the summer of 2013 where he quickly became a key figure under Gary Bowyer creating the second highest amount of goals for Blackburn as they floated to an 8th place finish. His early season performances convinced Rovers to make his loan a permanent one in January; a move justified by being named Blackburn’s Player of the Season ahead of top scorers Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede. Despite largely playing in wide positions, his performances at Blackburn showed enough for Fulham to make the commitment to purchase the Scotsman for £3m in the summer window of 2015.

In his first season at Fulham, Cairney’s promise continued to show as he tallied his best figures for goals and assists notwithstanding mostly playing on the right of midfield. Slavisa Jokanovic became Cairney’s seventh head coach of his career, and after squeezing Championship safety out of Fulham between his appointment and the end of Cairney’s first season – Slavisa rebuilt the football club to play his style – with Tom Cairney being a focal point of this new look team. A flowing, attacking and possession based footballing philosophy, Cairney’s confident care of the football on top of his ability to score goals and create chances has benefitted him and Fulham in this push for promotion. As we speak, the recently rewarded Scottish international has completed the most passes in the Championship, with the highest passing accuracy whilst also creating the most chances and is the only player in the division to reach double figures for both goals scored and created.

A classy footballer and a presentable young man, Slavisa Jokanovic’s influence on Tom Cairney continued; as Scott Parker’s lessening contribution saw the Serbian put the captains armband on the Scotland international. This move has seen Cairney grow with the belief put into him by Jokanovic, growing in the role game by game, and has now become a strong in-game leader; highlighted by ignoring all previous issues from the penalty spot, to grab the ball and dispatch two massive penalties at Norwich and Huddersfield in this late surge of form. Cairney has become the face of Slavisa’s Fulham side and whilst other players also deserve credit, Tom’s style, technique and creativity has made him the catalyst for the clubs’ success: holding abilities that is rare to find on the transfer market. His starring second season has made him one of the best players in the Championship, a viewpoint agreed by his peers as he was placed in the PFA Championship Team of the Year for 2016-17.

Tom Cairney’s rise to captaincy of Fulham Football Club has been littered with the typical highs and lows of a professional football but the right player, at the right football club under the right head coach has seen Tom Cairney play close to the potential that George Boateng once pondered.

How high can Ryan Fredericks go?

Ryan Fredericks of Fulham during the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham v Preston North End played at Craven Cottage, London on November 28th 2015

I had been mulling over this post for a few days now but after his performance today, how could I hold off writing about the potential of Ryan Fredericks for much longer? Playing as more of a wing back against Cardiff in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, Fredericks was integral in both Fulham goals eventually earning him a deserved Man of the Match award as Joe Bennett will struggle to tie his own shoelaces with the dizzying display from our speedy full back.

A bizarre signing initially as he left Bristol City after 26 days in the South West of the country, citing personal reasons for his motivation to come back to London. Bristol City’s loss was the gain of Fulham FC as they snapped him up matching the alleged lower than £250k fee it cost for the Robins to sign him initially. Ryan Fredericks had a mixed first year at the football club, taking part in what would eventually become a one sided battle for the right back position with Jazz Richards, playing in a number of different systems under both Kit Symons and Slavisa Jokanovic (and also experiencing game time on the wing), a product of the Tottenham Hotspur academy, Fredericks also suffered from frequent niggling injuries keeping him out for weeks at a time and noticeable drops of energy in every game he played – running at lightning speed before being desperately shattered at the hour mark in every game.

The injury issues appeared to be continuing for Ryan as he walked off injured in our second official friendly in pre-season against Brighton just days prior to the team flying out the Portugal. Fredericks had surgery on August the 1st ahead of a 10-12 week recovery period which wouldn’t see him back in a Fulham shirt until October. The beneficiary of the owner connection and everything being bigger and better in America, Fredericks spent a chunk of his rehab in Jacksonville with the Jaguars enjoying intense sunshine and getaway training to recover.

And recover he has, since coming back into the Fulham line up, Fredericks has lost just one of the matches he has started (against League leaders Brighton and Hove Albion) whilst blitzing the involvement in goals from the previous season – a mere one assist – to sitting on four with so long in the season yet to go. A genuine game changer with lightning speed, Ryan doesn’t overly rely on it in defence positions as many speedsters have in years gone by. Relatively comfortable when closer to his own goal and an astute defender of his far post, Fredericks does however hold an issue with discipline; picking up 6 yellow cards in his 12 games back from injury. An issue that will need to be eradicated for his ability to take serious looks from those in the division above, I genuinely believe that the former district champion in the 100m and triple jump competitions has the core qualities to get to the highest level of English football.

Should Ryan Fredericks be able to keep himself fit and flying, importantly keeping that electric fleet of foot running for 90 minutes on a consistent basis, harness his feisty nature on field into disciplined defending and continue to provide in the final third, Fredericks’ ceiling is very high indeed. Thanks must go to Slavisa Jokanovic and the clubs’ Head of Medical and Sport Science Marco Cesarini for the intensity of training sessions and improvement of his conditioning – it’s now down to Ryan Fredericks to continue his already quick development, and at only 24 years of age, Fredericks is looking every bit like a player you could shine up to take into the Premier League.

The case for Christensen

 

christensen-large_trans++I3_2Ulf18R2HKjbIxMbPhOl8610ZVvllx1hEi4r742MAdmittedly, I write this having not been in attendance on Saturday afternoon, with work obligations I was left with watching the 90 minutes on Monday morning of Fulham’s 4-0 humbling at home to Bristol City. Rather than give you my opinion of the match, as I’m sure you all have your own already and it’s been discussed to death over the course of Saturday evening, Sunday and Monday already, I wanted to discuss something I noticed and raise the debate for the return to – not only the 18 – but the starting eleven for a talented young player who has been left out harshly by our Serbian manager.

I accept that in watching the game with the benefit of knowing the result it’s easy for opinion to be different but I don’t think we played badly overall; we saw plenty of the ball, took plenty of shots and generally made the right movements. Bristol City were however solid in their defending, excellent in the transition and took advantage of poor defending for their second goal before swiftly making it three following an unfortunate deflection off of Jozabed playing right into the hands of Bobby Reid to end the game before Fulham even recovered to build a response to the second goal. This wasn’t a 4-0 game, but the facts are that Bristol City came to Craven Cottage, scored four goals, conceded none and left with three points when you look at things in the ultimate simplicity of football.

Fulham took 22 shots on Saturday afternoon, and although a strong number, it’s the nature of the shots that is most important – with 12 taken from outside of the box and only two on target, Fulham never really tested Frank Fielding in the Bristol City goal as opposed to our visitors who shot on target 10 times (the same amount of times that Fulham fired shots – all off target – in the opposition penalty box).

Moving away from the numbers and onto the original point of the post – it was noticeable whilst watching the replay how frequently Fulham’s wide players looked to cut inside onto their strongest foot before doing very little danger. The only source of more than sporadic danger was the overlapping Ryan Sessegnon who fired six crosses into the box on top of taking one of our two shots on targets all game. When you have players wanting to float inwards, you may as well reduce the size of the pitch of the width of the penalty box making it increasingly difficult to penetrate your opposition; especially when they defend in a well organised low-block such as Bristol City did. Fulham have looked unbalanced in recent weeks with Denis Odoi not making an impact on proceedings offensively and Tom Cairney’s inability to do anything with his right foot. Whilst Floyd Ayite is injured also, the only form of attack we have in wide areas is the running from Ryan Sessegnon or Scott Malone from the left full back position and that has to change.

Having players take up positions in wide areas naturally stretches the opposition back four to cover more of the pitch giving more room for those in the middle of the pitch to work in as you don’t want to leave a wide player free – if you do, it usually ends in something productive (see Walcott’s goal vs. Chelsea this past weekend). It’s easy to debate that Fulham have one out-and-out winger in Floyd Ayite, and whilst he’s injured, Fulham have meandered with an ever narrowing and depleting attack.

Fulham need a player that will take a player on around the outside, Fulham need a player that can carry the ball 20-30 yards either relieving the pressure on the back four or leading a counter attack, Fulham need a player that can create chances and score goals, and Fulham need a player that will do their defensive job and protect their full back. All roads lead to one player in the current squad, one player who has all of these characteristics in their locker and one player who has been left looking onwards from the outside – that player being Lasse Vigen Christensen.

The academy product from Denmark is admittedly my favourite player in the Fulham squad so perhaps I display some bias, but whilst performance levels have dipped and defensively frailty has crept in, why not utilise the young Dane on the right hand side who can offer support to Denis Odoi and provide a genuine attacking threat down the right hand side? Despite a change of role in the team under Kit Symons and a number of injury issues, Christensen still managed to play a direct part in five goals last season down from the previous seasons’ 12. Christensen has shown the ability to play and make an impact in the Championship in a role where he can influence proceedings in the final third and giving the bundle of energy – who was my nominee for Player of the Season in 2014/15 – the freedom to do what he does best down the right hand side could lead to an increase in offensive efficiency and defensive solidity.

Lets not forget also, Christensen’s Lampard-like ability to be in the right place at the right time in the penalty box, coming inwards from the right hand side when the ball is wide left – Christensen can become an extra body in the area that simply isn’t there currently. Lasse can play short passes in intricate and tight spaces, his burst of movement can be too much for defenders to handle and the skill he has to beat opponents is something none of our other players have.

With this, we can move towards more of a 433, packing the middle of the park and getting support for Chris Martin with the runners from deep like he was accustomed to at Derby County. The adjusting Stefan Johansen can then find a role in the team that suits him as we give the back four more of a shield and modify our game to get more out of our striker. Criticism is growing on Chris Martin but he’s lacked the consistent quality service that is needed for most strikers to score goals; let alone the chemistry with his teammates to deliver him what he wants.

It’s easy to forget that these things take time, especially when the season started so well, relationships are still building and that includes building from back to front, that includes defending and knowing what both you and your team mates around you are going to do and that includes the type of service your team mates want to be able to go from 22 shots with 2 on target to goals and winning matches. I believe the first step to a better Fulham is a Fulham with Lasse Vigen Christensen on the right hand side, lets focus back on getting solid again and if you can get solid, more balanced in attack and provide a different attacking option to what we’ve had thus far; why wouldn’t you take that chance?