January Sales

January is probably the strangest time in the season for football fans. The transfer rumour mill churns out names apparently linked to clubs like there is no tomorrow, feeding on the insecurities that fans have about the squads of the teams they support. It can be a chance for clubs to cover holes left by injuries or to find that something special to help you reach your goals. For Fulham, we have had some absolute stinkers in the January transfer window, with Kostas Mitroglou in January 2014 jumping to mind immediately. I genuinely thought that he was going to waltz his way onto the Craven Cottage pitch and save us from our relegation woes. We broke our transfer record at the time for him but instead of our relegation saviour, the Greece international made three appearances for us and scored no goals. Disaster.

On the other hand, the signings of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Matt Targett in January 2018 turned us into a side feared in the Championship. If we hadn’t have brought them in when we did, there is absolutely no way that we would have went up that year.

While I believe that we have a squad filled with wonderful players, I think that we need a couple of Mitrovic and Targett-esque signings before the transfer window closes at the end of the month. Defensively we are so poor. We’ve conceded 30 goals so far this season. That’s nine more than Leeds at the top of the table. Michael Hector obviously feels like a January signing despite the fact that he has been training with the club since the start of the season. He was solid enough during his debut against Aston Villa on Saturday, but he did make an error for their goal. It would be great if we could ease him in, but really we need him to play out of his skin for the reminder of the season! There is a lot of pressure on him, hopefully he is up to it.

It’s interesting that we have turned Ivan Cavaleiro’s loan deal into a permanent one this week. I’ve really enjoyed watching him in a Fulham shirt so far this season and he has chipped in with a few goals and assists. If the rumours of a £15million fee are true, then it’s a lot of money, but it does open up a loan spot in the squad so I could see us bringing in another loan.

If we go through the whole of January and all we do is get Hector fully registered and make Cav’s move permanent, then I don’t think fans will be satisfied. While going forward this team could be lethal, defensively we just aren’t strong enough for promotion. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that we are likely to leave things to the last minute as usual. Hopefully we just don’t leave it too late.

#COYW

Keep Fighting

My mid-season report is coming two games late this year. Christmas has gotten the better of me, obviously. The good news is that while the first half of our season was an inconsistent one, we are already one point up from the second round of matches based on the matches we have played so far. While our 3-3 draw with Luton on Boxing Day was a disappointing result overall, we can be happy at least with the fight the team showed to come from behind on three occasions while the win over Stoke certainly beats our embarrassing defeat away from home in the reverse fixture.

Going into 2020 we find ourselves in the healthy position of third in the Sky Bet Championship, but a full nine points behind both Leeds and West Brom in first and second. With Leeds travelling to West Brom on New Years Day we have a chance to pull at least two points closer to one of them, depending on the result, if we pick up a win at home to Reading. We’ve had some super results throughout the first half of the season, with the victories over Millwall, Leeds and Reading all showing what we can do, but too many defeats against clubs around the lower end of the table has kept us away from a real automatic promotion battle.

We should have enough to stay within the play-off picture, but we certainly can’t take our position for granted. There’s only six points between us and Blackburn in 13th, so we need to keep picking up wins. If I was Scott Parker, I’d be telling the team to make sure that they better their points total from the first half of the season. When you think of the amount of silly points that we have dropped, I’d be fully expecting that we have it in our capabilities to put things right. The form of Leeds and West Brom over the first half of the season was superb, but can they sustain this? We have already seen Leeds drop a few points recently, while it was Middlesbrough who ended West Brom’s 100% home record on Saturday. Points will be dropped in the coming months, that’s certain, but it’s by who and how many that matters. If we manage to close the gap to six on Wednesday with a win over Reading and either a Leeds or West Brom loss, then this automatic promotion race is far from over.

In my first season covering football outside Fulham, I was at a match between Crusaders and Dungannon Swifts in the Irish Premiership. Crusaders won giving them a 12 point lead at the top of the league, and afterwards I asked manager Stephen Baxter if the title was won. He gave me the usual, very diplomatic answer of “It’s not over until we have our hands on the trophy….” but to be honest nobody really believed him. If they blew it at that stage, it would take a combination of a serious fight from another team and a huge dip in form from themselves. I was also there on the final day of the season when arch rivals Linfield lifted the trophy after an extraordinary run-in saw them somehow pip Crusaders to the title. Crazy things can happen in football. All we can do is control our own results, and if we do that then you never know what might happen.

#coyw

Toxicity

It’s been a turbulent 8 days at Fulham Football Club. We went from winning four games in a row, to losing three in a week. It’s hard to take as we have dropped to sixth in the table, but really that’s the least of our problems. The gap between us and Leeds and West Brom is most likely too big to claw back, meaning that the goal of automatic promotion could have already ended. We have a talented squad, but we also have a massively under achieving squad and it’s hard to figure out what direction we are going in. We aren’t a happy club right now.

But I really don’t think it justifies the absolutely toxic atmosphere that we have created for ourselves.

What has happened to us? Some fans are on the backs of the players before they have even touched the ball. Our boys are out of form, but I don’t for a second believe that the likes of Mawson and Bryan are bad players. You don’t become a bad player overnight, and we have seen enough of them to know that they have a lot of quality. They aren’t showing it at the minute, and that’s hugely frustrating for us all.

This is second time this season that I’ve written a piece about the treatment of our players, and it’s not even Christmas yet. This isn’t about not venting your frustrations. We absolutely have that right, but quite often the sort of things that are shouted at football players throughout a match are just vile. It’s not helpful to anyone and there will come a time when it impacts the players. It might have already started to.

Let’s get some perspective. We have a very inexperienced manager who is trying to find his feet, yet we are still very much in the play-off scene. We are in one of the craziest leagues in the world, were results are neither predictable or consistent, and we aren’t even half way through yet. While we would need a near miracle for us to achieve automatic promotion at this rate, it’s not impossible. What we need to do as a fanbase is get behind the team rather than tear them apart at every opportunity.

On to Leeds for hopefully a much better performance than against Brentford.

#COYW

Looking Ahead

Fulham are on a high. A four game winning streak has propelled us from 8th to 3rd in the table and we now have a tiny cushion between ourselves and the teams below us. It’s a nice position to be in, but the form of West Brom and Leeds means that we have at least 5points to make up if we are to break into the automatic promotion places. The frantic nature of the Championship means that the games are coming thick and fast so by Christmas day, we know a lot could have changed.

We are about to enter a run of four extremely tough fixtures, all against teams in and around us. It’s an opportunity for us to continue to climb and to continue to stamp our authority on this promotion run, but if it goes badly wrong, we could easily undo all the good work that we have done since that awful 3-0 defeat to Hull at the start of November.

There are lots of positives to take from our performances over the past four matches. The form of Mitrovic is sensational, Marek Rodak has become instrumental in between the sticks and the transformation of Aboubakar Kamara shows that those working behind the scenes at Fulham are doing an incredible job. I was happy for us to get rid of Kamara in the summer. I doubted his footballing ability, his maturity and his commitment to the team, but I have been happily proved wrong. He seems to have developed a football brain, and the rest of the squad have clearly forgiven him for his antics last season. When Mitrovic was suspended I was concerned, but Kamara came in amidst a wave of criticism and panic from Fulham fans and showed us exactly why Scott Parker was right to have faith in him. He still has work to do, as do all footballers, but he seems to be a different player from last season.

Tomorrow we host a very decent Bristol City team, currently sitting in 5th place but just three points behind us. They battered Huddersfield Town last time out 5-2 and will be looking to draw themselves level with us with victory tomorrow. They have plenty of goals in their side with Andreas Weimann, Josh Brownhill and Famara Diedhiou all a handful for defenders. But as much as they are good going forward (they’ve scored the same amount of goals as we have in the league this season), only six teams have conceded more goals than they have so far.

One thing that fans going to the Cottage should remember; City fans are planning on paying tribute to Benik Afobe after the sudden death of his daughter last week. Afobe is injured at the minute but there will be some sort of tribute during the game.

If we want to be serious automatic promotion contenders, we have to be able to navigate a tough fixture schedule. The next four games will show us if we are as good as we think we are, or if we are nowhere near it.

#COYW

AK Double sends Fulham Fourth

Fulham edged an entertaining West London Derby under the lights at Craven Cottage thanks to an Aboubakar Kamara double. Kamara caused a fair few raised eyebrows, including my own, when his name appeared on the team sheet, but he took a huge step towards proving that he is a solid stand in for the suspended Aleksander Mitrovic.

Atrocious defending gave Rangers the lead inside the first few minutes, with Joe Bryan caught out of position and then Marek Rodak pushing the ball into the path of Jordan Hugill for a simple finish. There have been so many question marks over our defence this season, and it doesn’t look as those questions will be going away anytime soon. Tim Ream played like his head was still on a plane somewhere travelling home from International duty, while we had too many players trying to over pass the ball.

While Rodak was poor for the opening goal, he did redeem himself on a few occasions throughout the first half with quick thinking to prevent Nahki Wells from getting a shot away when he was one on one, before making a crucial save from Hugill just before half time.

Our first goal came from the man who has divided opinion since his arrival at Craven Cottage. It was a brilliant piece of play and delivery from Denis Odoi, perfectly placed for Aboubakar Kamara to head home for his first goal of the night to draw Fulham level at the break.

The second half started on a more even footing, but still QPR were proving a threat from the wing-back positions and Alfie Mawson had to be at his best and block a number of shots and crosses in quick succession. Harrison Reed had to be replaced by Bobby Reid after picking up a knock early in the second half. Reid was straight into the action, carving out an opportunity for Anthony Knockaert instantly.

While the switch was forced, there can be no doubt that Reid made a difference to a Fulham team that had struggled to use the ball effectively in the first half. Stefan Johansen was pushed slightly further back to allow Cairney and Reid to roam forward, and Parker’s side became much more dangerous straight away. Fulham’s second of the night came from a high press, the sort of play that teams so often play against us. Bobby Reid gave QPR keeper Joe Lumley no time to think about his clearance, and he could only blast straight at Johansen. The Norwegian took one look, and released Kamara who maintained his composure and found the bottom corner to double the lead and his tally for the night. Fulham very nearly added a third within minutes, with Reid putting through Knockaert but the winger could only find the base of the post with his shot.

We have too often this season went into the closing stages of a game with a slender lead only to end up with a draw, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling uneasy about the last fifteen minutes but tonight seemed to be Fulham’s night. Some tenacious play from Ivan Cavaleiro in the final 10minutes was a particular highlight of mine as it shows that this Fulham team is becoming much better in terms of game management.

Kevin McDonald was brought on for Cavaleiro for the five minutes of injury time to help see Parker’s boys through to a second successive victory and to send them to fourth in the table ahead of the weekend’s games.

Job done in the first West London derby of the season at a time when Fulham have been under a great deal of pressure. While it wasn’t a perfect performance, it was the sort of game that we have failed to get points from in the past. We can be proud of our team tonight.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Reed (De Cordova-Reid 54), Johansen, Cairney; Knockaert (Christie 76), Cavaleiro (McDonald 90+1), Kamara. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, O’Riley, Onomah, Kebano.

BOOKED: Bryan.

GOALS: Kamara (27, 64).

QUEENS PARK RANGERS (5-3-2): Lumley; Kane, Manning, Hall, Leistner, Wallace; Amos (Chair 66), Ball (Mlakar 81), Eze; Hugill, Wells (Scowen 66). Subs (not used): Barnes, Smith, Pugh, Bright-Samuel.

GOAL: Hugill (3).

REFEREE: James Linington (Newport).

ATTENDANCE: 18,320.

#COYW