A Tribute to Tom Cairney

In the modern football world it’s rare to see a player stay at a club for a sustained period of time and continue to play week in, week out. With the high turnover of managers naturally comes a high turnover of players and the idea of a ‘one club man’ seems to be a thing of the past. When we consider this, it’s all the more remarkable to see Tom Cairney hit the double century milestone for Fulham. When we signed him back in 2015 for a reported £3million, I’m not sure anyone could have foreseen just how important he would become for the club over the next five years. But here we are, five years later and able to look back at his 200 appearances for Fulham knowing that we have someone really special at the club. He has been the captain ever since the 2017-18 season and while he has had a great deal of criticism at times, we know that when Cairney plays well, the team plays well. He has been a crucial part of any success that we have had over the past 5 years.

However, it hasn’t always been easy, with Cairney criticised at times for shying away and not really taking games by the scruff of the neck. We know that he has the talent to win games, or save us from defeat at least, so it’s frustrating when he isn’t able to show that on the pitch. Often the criticism is unfair though with people sometimes claiming that he doesn’t care, but I don’t think a player can reach the 200 appearance mark when they don’t care. Even if they were good enough, they just wouldn’t get played! He has changed as a player and as a man whilst at Fulham. Injuries have maybe meant that he has had to play deeper than he would have when he was younger and gone are those iconic knee slides (probably banned by the physio in case he wrecks himself again!) He has also became a father whilst at Fulham and that brings with it more responsibilities and therefore maturity. Things are quite difficult at Fulham right now, but Cairney is the sort of player who can get us through it.

 I love watching Cairney when he is in full flow. He can look so graceful on the ball, and when he is really on it, he must be an opposition manager’s worst nightmare. He has the ability to completely change the game and can keep the ball like the best of them. When he is given freedom to join the attack you just know that in an instant he can either find the right ball to unlock a defence, or to have a go himself. Who can forget those late goals against Leeds in both 2016 and then in 2017? Or that winner against Blackburn at Ewood Park in 2016? One of my biggest frustrations from this season, and last, is that Cairney has clearly been told to play a much deeper role. It often means that we don’t get to see him really own games the way he used to. I fully believe that if Parker starts playing him further up the pitch that things will change for us in the final push in the season.

When Cairney stroked the ball past Sam Johnstone on that famous day at Wembley, I think my head nearly exploded. For it alone he will go down in Fulham history. But there is so much more to the Tom Cairney story at Fulham than that day, I’m proud to have been able to watch him dance around pitches up and down the country in the famous black and white. Long may it continue.

#COYW

The Fulham Conundrum

We are in a bit of a mess aren’t we? A squad filled with incredibly talented individuals, on huge wages, but with the apparent inability to take chances or to defend. We’ve had the chances to propel ourselves into the top 2 this season, but we have missed the mark time and time again. Since lockdown, we have suffered defeats to two of our fellow promotion rivals and in both games we had the chances to win but after those were squandered, our age old defensive problems came back to haunt us and BANG….game over.

It would be very easy to point blame at Scott Parker, but in truth I think our problems run much deeper than that. Yes, Parker seems to have survived thanks to some of the talent in his squad rather than any tactical masterclass, but let’s not forget that he is a rookie and still has a chance, even if it’s a slim one, to clinch promotion through the play-offs. We have to be honest though, would he have gotten the job at any other club in the Championship given his inexperience? I’m just not so sure.

Some have said that even with his lack of experience he should have done better with this squad, but I have to disagree with that. Just because a rookie craftsman is given the best tools available, doesn’t mean that he is going to produce the same level of work as someone with more experience. They say that a bad workman blames his tools, well it works the other way around as well. You don’t create a good workman just by providing him with the best tools. It takes a lot more than that. That’s not to say that he won’t be a great manager in the future. I think he can be given how astute he is and how much study he puts into the game. He gives a great deal of thought to detail, but at the minute he is focusing on the wrong details. I fear that this job with the target of automatic promotion has came far too early for him.

You also can’t really account for the sheer amount of individual errors that occur within this squad. We are very good at handing opportunities to our opposition on a plate. The past two matches were incredibly frustrating to watch, especially considering the mistakes made are ones that have been made all season. What I would say is that Parker surely should have made tough decisions earlier about the culprits of those mistakes. Any player can make an error but if it is a common occurrence like it has unfortunately been with the likes of Joe Bryan and Harry Artur, then they need to be taken out of the firing line for a bit. It might be a big call to do that, but that’s what Parker needs to do. That’s his job as a manager.

I believe that the problem lies more with those further up the pecking order. I don’t doubt at all that Shahid Khan has done a lot of great things for this football club. He has put plenty of money into the squad and let’s not forget about the new stand that will make a huge difference to both the club and the surrounding area. But I don’t think any other club in England would have someone as inexperienced as Tony Khan as their Director of Football. This isn’t a new concern, fans have voiced the opinion that we need someone more experienced than Tony to do such a crucial role around the club for a long time. Tony is clearly a very intelligent guy, but he is only in his mid-thirties and is involved in three different jobs. I don’t believe that he can fully focus 100% on each and unfortunately it seems as though the only company that has flourished is All Elite Wrestling. He might disagree, but that would indicate to me that more time is put into that than is put into either the Jaguars or Fulham. If he could solely focus on one, then I reckon he’d have more success. For Fulham, we need a Director of Football who is ONLY a Director of Football.

For now we just have to find it within ourselves to keep supporting the boys, even if it has to be from afar during the pandemic. While the automatic promotion dream looks dead and buried, we can still get promoted. To be honest, I don’t think we are ready for the Premier League next year, but I do fear the financial problems that may come with staying in the Championship next season. Hopefully a victory against QPR tomorrow evening can inject some optimism back into the club.

#COYW

February Madness – Part Three

Have we recovered from Saturday yet? I’m not sure if I have. It was a performance that included everything bad about Fulham this season. For certain games and periods of games we have looked so good, but for the most part we have been pedestrian and devoid of ideas. Yes, we have managed to get the results that have us up in third place, but bar the Millwall home game back in August we haven’t really played out of second or third gear. I honestly believe that this squad has so much to offer, but we are playing with shackles on, and if we don’t release them soon we’ll find ourselves out of the top 6.

But let’s not get too down on ourselves. As I say, we are still in 3rd place and while the last couple of results have seen us miss a huge opportunity to move into second, we are still very much in this fight. Fulham are actually 6th in the form table when you look at the last six Championship matches. Remarkably, there is only one side from the top six above us in the form table, and that’s Preston North End. The last two results have sucked, but when we look at the bigger picture, things aren’t as bad as they could be.

While all of our games are considered as ‘must win’ at the minute, Derby on Friday night has become important for more than just the result. The team have to come and put in a performance that shows us that they are up for this. We haven’t played at Pride Park since we lost the first leg the play-offs in 2018, but earlier that season early goals from Ryan Sessegnon and Aleksander Mitrovic were enough for all three points. I was at that game, and the way we played in the first half, you’d have thought that we were going to win about 7nil. We were sublime, and Derby couldn’t contain us at all, but we let them into the second half, and nearly blew it at the end. We need the Fulham of the first half from that game in 2018 to show up for 90minutes on Friday. Derby have had a reasonably poor season, but they have been a bit better recently and Wayne Rooney has helped to boost the mood around Pride Park. They taken 10points from the last six games, which isn’t awful considering that they are down in 13th in the table.

For the promotion race, arguably West Brom and Brentford have the hardest games this weekend. Brentford host a Blackburn side who are at the top of the form table and who are closing in on a top 6 spot themselves, while West Brom face Bristol City away, who are in 7th. There’s no easy game in this league, but you’d expect Leeds, Forest and Preston all to get wins this weekend, so we need to put the pressure on by taking 3points on Friday night.

Football is a funny game. While the result on Saturday was terrible, it was the manner in which we performed that was the most disappointing. Barnsley didn’t come and nick a 1nil victory, they played us off the park. But the good thing about football is that there is always the next game to put things right. Roll on Friday night.

#COYW

February Madness – An Update

In the midst of the Premier League’s first ever winter break, Championship sides are in their busiest period of the year. I wrote an article a week or so ago about our February, and the seven games that we have that could end our promotion bid or see it go into overdrive. Two games in and things are swaying towards the latter. I’ve had a look at all of the fixtures for the current top 6 to give us an idea of the possible twists and turns ahead. It’s so tight that I could have included a couple of teams outside that as well, especially Bristol City, but to keep it simple I’ll stick with 1st to 6th.

With there being so many games in such a short period of time, and many of the top 6 playing each other, we know that the table could look very different by the end of the month. We are in one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world, but over the last couple of weeks very few results have went against Fulham. We have managed to capitalise by winning four out of the past five leagues games, but the pressure is still very much on. We can’t count on the teams around us having bad days over and over again so we need to keep up the momentum.

Fulham have won four out of their last five games

This would probably be the worse time to have a bad run. To come so close to the automatics and then to tail off would reveal a real weak spot in our squad. Being part of the chasing pack is the easy bit! The question now is whether or not the boys can take the chance that has just handed to us on a  silver platter and not let go. In the year we beat Aston Villa in the play-offs, arguably we should have went up automatically, but questionable results right at the end when it was in our own hands cost us. I don’t think anyone cares as we were given one of the greatest days in our history, but things might not end so rosily this time around.

Can we expect Leeds to continue to fall apart? Can we rely on Brentford to start dropping more points? No. We have gotten ourselves in an incredible position, but we have to follow through now. To be honest, I would rather that this opportunity had came further on in the season. Obviously I want nothing less than a win at Millwall, but if we do win tomorrow night and go into second, then we have a heck of a long time to fend off the hunters. Yet, if we don’t win then that is a huge opportunity missed which could eat away at the squad. AH, the dilemma’s of football fans, eh?

This league continues to amaze me. I can’t remember it being tighter than this ever and it’s both the best and the worst thing that could happen. The best because of the pure drama of it, and the worst because at this rate I doubt that I will have any colour left in my hair come May! This stress, though, I wouldn’t swap it for anything.

COYW

February Madness

What a day for Fulham Football Club. We might have made it difficult for ourselves, but our win over Huddersfield alongside defeats for Leeds and Nottingham Forest means that we jump to third in the table, just three points off second. Before Christmas, the race for automatic promotion didn’t exist. Leeds and West Brom seemed too far away for anyone to really threaten, but now we stand here with 16 games to go and just SIX points separates West Brom in first and Bristol City in sixth. We really do have an extraordinary run in ahead of us, although I’m not sure if my heart can take it!

While we can be feeling very positive right now, I’m sure there were a few disappointed people amongst the fanbase given our unusually quiet transfer deadline day on Friday. I was hoping for a wing back in the door at Motspur Park, myself, but when we look at the business that we did get done, I think we can be happy enough. Making both Cavaleiro’s and De Cordova-Reid’s loan deals permanent is very good business while bringing in another centre back in Terence Kongolo, alongside finally being able to use Michael Hector, the core of our defence already looks far better. We have yet to see Kongolo and Hector together as our centre back pairing in the league, and I think once we do, we will start to see an improvement there. I am still concerned about our left back and right back spots, but hopefully Joe Bryan can start to regain some of the form that saw him become one of the best left backs in the league when he was at Bristol City. However, both him and Cyrus gained assists today, so going forward we have players who can contribute to the attack.

Going forward we are one of the strongest teams in the league and we showed that again today. I was worried when I saw that Mitrovic was in the starting line up as it doesn’t seem like that long ago that he gained his ankle injury in the first place, but thankfully he returned with a bang, netting his 19th league goal of the season and managing to play the full match. It’s great to see him back.

I like to split the season into months, and if there is any month that could push our promotion bid on, or completely derail it, it’s February. We have seven league games this month, including our win today. We are so used to hearing that the Christmas schedule is busy, but this is something else. Seven league games, two taking place midweek and three of them on the road. While we don’t face any of the teams in the top 6, we do have to take on four of the play-off chasers in Preston, Swansea, Millwall and Blackburn, so we aren’t in for an easy month.

Automatic promotion is still in our hands, but we absolutely must keep our head above the water. There will be twists and turns in the coming weeks, but we really can’t be dropping any silly points. We could easily finish outside the play-offs, even, that’s just how tight it is.

Bring it on.

#COYW