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’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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.