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

Birmingham Preview

After last week’s disaster at home to Hull, it’s imperative that Scott Parker and his team get a result away to Birmingham tomorrow. With the rumblings surrounding Parker’s position, we are past the stage were he can get away with the team putting in a decent performance. He needs all three points tomorrow.

You can describe Birmingham’s season as being inconsistent. Seven wins, which is one more than Fulham have, go alongside seven defeats and a draw leaving them down in 12th. We are just one point better off than them in 8th, highlighting once again just how tight this Championship season is. They are in pretty good form with nine points out of the last 15 available, but they did lose last time out to Cardiff City.

Goals have been reasonably hard to come by for Birmingham with only 16 scored and with top scorer Lukas Jutkiewicz having just scored four. They’ll be facing us without captain Harlee Dean after he was sent off against Cardiff last weekend. Outside Dean and Jutkiewicz, a lot of the Birmingham squad are relatively unknown but we should be aware of 16 year-old Jude Bellington. We know only too well how exciting it is when you can include a youngster who has come through the youth system at a club. He may be just 16, but that doesn’t mean that he should be underestimated. He’s scored two goals from midfield this season and looks to be a real prospect.

For Fulham we will be missing Joe Bryan after he picked up an injury last weekend. Parker will have the same old question about who to start in goal with Marek Rodak available again after his one game ban for his red card two weeks ago. Bettinelli didn’t cover himself in glory up against Hull last weekend, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t get the nod ahead of Rodak. In the matches were Rodak has been included he hasn’t done anything for me to suggest that he is the stronger option. It’s an area that needs addressed in January, but maybe for now we stick with Betts.

Despite the fact that we have the league’s current top goal scorer in Aleksander Mitrovic, we haven’t managed to score in 3 of the past four games. We need to take advantage of the fact that Birmingham are without their main leader tomorrow and rattle them early on. The good news is that we haven’t went three Championship games without scoring since January 2015. We don’t have a great record against Birmingham though, with four losses in the past six meetings.

History and form aside, this is a must-win game for Fulham. We have dropped far too many points already this season, and the only reason we are still within touching distance of the top too is because no-one in this league seems to want to run away with it. It is still incredibly close, but soon the gap will be too hard to pull back. We are getting to the stage were Parker’s job is on the line. Hopefully he has enough in his locker to get him through this.

#COYW

Stick or Twist?

It’s that time of the year again. You know the time when nothing seems to go right for Fulham? The loss at home to Hull City was for me the poorest result of the season, not because of the scoreline but because of the absolutely dire performance that went along with it. Something just wasn’t right, and it’s been that way for at least the last few games. Scott Parker is in a bit of a predicament. His style of play has come under fire in recent weeks, but he has hit back suggesting that he won’t be changing his ways anytime soon.

I can understand why Parker wants to stick with his philosophy. He is a real student of the game, and won’t have committed to a style without a great deal of thought, but his approach still needs some work. We have seen it work, the results against Millwall and Reading being the two most recent examples, but we have also seen too many occasions where it has been a disaster. On Saturday at home to Hull, we had 75% of the possession yet had one shot on target. When you have the talent of Tom Cairney, Mitrovic, Bobby Reid etc in your side it’s criminal to think that we forced the Hull keeper into a save on just one occasion. I can sort of understand what Parker is trying to do, but the team aren’t executing it properly. Whether that is down to what’s happening on the training pitch, or that other teams have figured us out, I’m not sure.

The question now around the fanbase is whether Scott Parker is going to last as Fulham boss. I’m still avoiding the ‘Parker out’ campaign, but I completely get why the question is being raised. I spoke with a work colleague recently who thinks that Parker has lost the dressing room. Shahid Khan was in town on Saturday, so if you can’t get the players motivated to play well in front of the boss then when can he motivate them?

However, I just don’t think sacking him at this stage would be helpful. The performances need to start improving, but I think to change the manager now would just further disrupt the squad. When Slavisa Jokanovic started slowly, a lot of people wanted him gone, but they stuck with him and it paid off. We are only 15 games into a very long season, and we know that things in this division can change so quickly. There are only 8 points between first place and twelfth, with no team really running away with things so I’m not going to take the doom and gloom approach. I believe that sticking with Parker for now would be better than causing more disruption to the squad. I think that he will have had an impact in the likes of Cairney and Mitrovic staying. And let’s remember that he is still new to management and is learning his trade. Mistakes are going to happen early on, yet we are still doing enough to still be in contention for promotion.

Let’s keep the faith.

#COYW

Stoke Away Days

In recent history, Fulham generally haven’t had fun when we have travelled to Stoke. We have played away at the Britannia Stadium, or the Bet365 Stadium as it is now known, seven times since 2008, losing five times, drawing once and winning once. One of those defeats was a League Cup fixture while the rest were in the Premier League. During their Premier League tenure Stoke became a side who no one liked facing. Well-drilled and defensive, they caused one or two upsets as well as generally becoming a very difficult team to beat. Our sole victory there in recent times was thanks to some Bairdino magic back at Christmas of 2010. Two ridiculous strikes from the Northern Irishman inside the first 10minutes helped us to a 2-0 win. Wonderful scenes.

One of the worst days for me as a Fulham fan was when our thirteen year term in the Premier League came to an end after a pathetic 4-1 defeat to Stoke under Felix Magath. That day was nothing short of a Fulham calamity in the way we were set up and the way we played. Yes, relegation was looking likely anyway, but that performance pretty much summed us up under Magath. For that to be our last visit to Stoke, it’s understandable why so many of us have bad memories and a feeling of unease when we look ahead to tomorrow.

But we are in a new era at Fulham. Yes, last season was rocky, but Fulham under Scott Parker and the ownership of Shadid Khan are a different force. We still have issues to sort out defensively, but we are a side who could feasibly take points off anyone in the division. We still have maturing to do under Parker, but our side consists of the talent needed to get promoted again. However, tomorrow is also somewhat of a banana skin. Stoke have had a horrible season and sit bottom of the table. They have taken one measly point out of a possible 18 at home with Nathan Jones under a lot of pressure at the helm. But fitting nicely with the Championship’s unpredictability, they did beat then leaders Swansea City away from home last time out. Classic Championship.

We are currently unbeaten in six league games, but draws are becoming far too frequent. If we want to go up automatically, we need to put teams at the wrong end of the table to bed comfortably. If you have watched much of Stoke this season you will know that defensively they have been all over the place. Jack Butland in goal is an England International, but he has made mistakes time and time again. Confidence is low in the Stoke camp. We know what that is like after suffering so badly last season and we know that once the heads drop, it’s very hard to get anything from a game. That’s what we need to do to Stoke tomorrow, make their heads drop early on. The longer they feel like they are in the game, the harder it will be for us.

We know that you should never underestimate a team struggling at the bottom of the table, but we should be targeting 3 points tomorrow. We can’t afford to slip up against the bottom placed team.

#COYW