How good did it feel this morning waking up after our first Premier League win of the campaign? Sport is special like that. It can be a complete mood changer, both for the good and the bad. Unfortunately this season hasn’t brought us much joy so far, so boy did we need that last night! The first win of a campaign can arguably be the most important. It gets us off the mark and, in this case, takes us above the relegation zone for the first time all season. Some of the joy is back at the Cottage.
Now we can’t be getting ahead of ourselves. West Brom were the poorest side that we have played against this season. Bar a couple of opportunities that we pretty much handed them on a plate, they made nothing going forward and they didn’t really test our defence at all. Always the optimist though, I tend to say one of the reasons that they were so poor is because we didn’t let them get into their flow. Remember that this was a side that scored three goals against Chelsea earlier in the season so they do have some threat! As for Fulham though, I thought that to a man we were brilliant. While our defence wasn’t tested too much, I thought that when called into action our new centre back pairing of Tosin Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen were solid while Aina and Robinson both had a part to play in the goals. It was Robinson’s deep cross to Mitrovic that allowed our front man to set up BDR for the opener and just minutes later it was Aina who nearly burst the net with his pile driver with his weaker foot.
There were lots of brilliant performances last night. The already mentioned Robinson had his best game in the Fulham shirt, while Mitrovic may not have found the back of the net himself, he did set up both goals. He was a handful for the Baggies defence and they just couldn’t contain him. Andersen came in for his debut and while he wasn’t hugely tested, he looked extremely calm in there. Just what we needed, but there will be bigger challenges ahead. For me though, the standout man was Tom Cairney. I don’t think I’m overexaggerating by saying that Cairney’s performance last night was the best I have seen from him in a few seasons. While he has been decent so far this campaign, last night he was like a man possessed! From the first minute every time he was on the ball he was looking forward either to pass or to drive himself. Recently we have had to watch as one of our most talented midfielder has frustrated us a bit with some unadventurous play. Playing in a deeper role hasn’t suited him and he had been caught out defensively a bit. This hasn’t necessarily been his fault as that isn’t at all his favoured position and I’m so glad that Parker has seen the light and played him in that number 10 role last night. And oh how he repaid his managers faith! He was involved in everything good last night and the Baggies had to resort to cynical fouls to stop him. His decision making was spot on and it was so refreshing to see him drive forward instead of passing backwards. When he is on form he is so hard to get the ball off. This was like watching prime Cairney from our first promotion year and if we are to stay up, we need more performances like that from him. It’s imperative that Parker keeps him in that number 10 role. He just isn’t as effective in the deeper role, but when played behind the striker in the hole he can hugely impact our results.
It looked like the shackles were off for Cairney, and therefore the whole team, last night. It was wonderful to watch us not only win, but to look so comfortable. Yes, there were a couple of mistakes that might be punished against better teams, but all in all we controlled the game from start to finish. We move onto West Ham now with confidence. Play like we did last night and we give ourselves every chance of coming away with another three points.
Rightly or wrongly, it looks as though Scott Parker is entering a perilous stage in his young managerial career. Just one point won from a possible 18 in the Premier League so far has left us rooted to the bottom of the table. Let me make something clear from the very start, I don’t believe that Parker should be sacked right now. It would be incredibly harsh to give a relative rookie a job, see him take us up (even if we made very hard work of it) and then sack him only a few months after. I’d personally rather that we stuck with him for now. The transfer window has barely slammed shut so he is working with a group of players only recently fully put together and the recent performances have at least looked more positive than what we saw in the first 3 games.
I’m not saying that I’m happy with how things are going. Of course I’m not. But I also don’t believe that sacking Parker right now would help us in the long term. Our problem is much more than what we see on the pitch right now. In fact, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. For me Fulham as a club are reactive and not proactive. One of the biggest lessons my old school hockey coach taught me was that if we are constantly being reactive, we will never get to press on towards our own ultimate goals. If we only focus about what the opposition are going to do at a particular moment in time then we aren’t focusing on our own game. To be successful in sport, you cannot be just focusing on the next fire to put out. No, to be successful you have to ensure that the fires don’t get lit in the first place. I’m not talking about Parker and his tactics here, I’m talking about the thoughts and processes that went in to putting together this particular squad. Now I know that’s perhaps an oversimplified way to think about it, but I believe that the point stands. We need a proactive approach that is built on planning and sacking Parker right now would once again highlight the reactive and not proactive approach of our owners right now when it comes to matters on the pitch. If we were proactive, the planning into our squad would be much better. If we were proactive we wouldn’t have left it until the last minute to do business. But instead of doing that our DoF has reacted to the poor opening performances and scrambled to bring players in at the last minute and has needed them to perform like a well oiled machine instantly.
This has been the approach at Fulham for years and it has resulted in managers losing their jobs and often a poor choice of candidate being brought in. The Slavisa Jokanovic to Claudio Ranieri change still baffles me. You can’t turn a squad build for free flowing, attacking play into a defensively rigid, play on the counter side overnight The tactics of the two managers were the complete opposite. If we were going to replace Jokanovic we needed to have a better version of him really, not someone with the polar opposite footballing philosophy. Then if we look back further to 2013/14 we became a real laughing stock with our approach to managers. Martin Jol had until December, Rene Meulensteen had until mid-February and then Felix Magath saw us relegated. Magath himself was then sacked after a disaster of a start to the Championship campaign and then we had Kit Symons in charge as caretaker before eventually getting the job itself. In less than two years at the club, we had went through 4 managers and every appointment was unsuccessful and made with what looked like no planning.
I’m annoyed at how things are going right now. While I think Parker was always going to be a risky appointment given how inexperienced he is, I think it would be a crying shame if he became the latest managerial casualty at Fulham when the problem lies further behind the scenes. We need planning at Fulham, not firefighting. For now Parker can only do his best. It’s clear that he maybe needs a change of tactics or more than one trick up his sleeve. This is a huge test for him but he also needs to rise to the occasion. Just because I’m frustrated at things off the pitch at Fulham, it doesn’t mean that he gets off completely scot-free. Time for everyone at Fulham to up their game and give survival a real go.
Given the global pandemic, the window that slammed shut on Monday has been one of the strangest yet. Given the financial constraints that clubs around the country are facing because of a lack of fans it’s no surprise that the overall spending of clubs in the Premier League was down from last year. However the pandemic certainly hasn’t stopped some clubs from spending huge amounts of money to improve their squads. Chelsea were the big spenders with £222m spent, with Leeds United, Aston Villa and Everton all among the clubs splashing the cash for players.
For Fulham, we were promised that the club wouldn’t be making the same mistakes as last time in the Premier League. Promised that we wouldn’t essentially throw aside the players who got us up for a bunch of over-priced mercenaries. To be fair to Khan and co, we certainly didn’t overspend, but rather than make the same mistakes we just made a whole load of new ones. It may have come good in the end with the two centre backs that we craved so much coming through the Motspur Park doors on Deadline Day, but Tony Khan certainly hasn’t gotten it all right this time around. I doubt any Fulham fan out there was confident in our defence going into the new season. Denis Odoi and Tim Ream are both excellent servants to the club, but they weren’t up to Premier League standard two seasons ago so upgrades were needed – and badly. And unfortunately Hector doesn’t seem up to it either, but I’m still hoping that he will come good. He maybe just needs someone confident around him. The truth of the matter is that these deals should have been done a lot earlier than they were. Our season has started in disastrous form and this is because our squad was not ready for the opener against Arsenal. While I don’t doubt that the team behind the scenes were working to bring people in, there just seems to have been too many mistakes there that have resulted in deals being completed too late.
Tony Khan has also had to go against some of his earlier summer quotes in bringing in a lot of players on loan without any sort of ‘option to buy’ clause. He made a big thing at the start of the window of saying that he isn’t in the business of developing other teams players when they don’t have the space for them regarding Ryan Sessegnon yet he has brought in a number of players including Ruben Loftus Cheek, Ademola Lookman and Joachim Andersen all on loan but with no options to buy. That said, those three players undoubtably bring a heck load of quality to the squad and I’m buzzing to have them at the club. It’s just a shame that we are doing exactly what Tony said he didn’t want to do in developing other players that teams don’t have time for currently.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The business that we have finally gotten over the line seems to be very positive. We have recruited in the areas that we desperately needed too alongside giving the squad much more depth and quality in other areas. Speaking to a Manchester City fan today it’s clear that many of them are fuming that City have let Tosin Adaraboiyo go on a permanent with no buy-back clause and for such a small sum of money. That could prove to be a fantastic piece of business in years to come. We have also brought in the heavily sought after Antonee Robinson, Kenny Tete and the already mentioned Andersen in defence while Alphonso Areola and Marek Rodak will have a competitive battle over the number one jersey between the sticks.
Our midfield was probably the place that needed the least work but it has also been upgraded considerably. Frank Zambo-Anguissa has developed greatly after his time at Villarreal and adds some real quality to that box-to-box position so it looks to be a wise decision to keep him on. Harrison Reed was brilliant for us at the end of last season so the £8million spent on him for me was worth it. Mario Lemina and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both come with real Premier League quality and as for Jean Michael Seri, we’ll have to wait and see what he really contributes to the side. He clearly has quality but there have always been question marks over whether he really wants to be in West London.
Another worrying aspect of our squad was our wingers. Unfortunately Cavaleiro and Knockaert don’t look like they will have much of an impact this year. They, alongside Aboubakar Kamara and Neeskens Kebano, aren’t really much more than squad players. They so far haven’t been able to provide much support for Mitrovic up front which has been a worry. But while those players can provide decent enough options off the bench we really needed someone who would come in and take a game by the scruff of the neck. Someone with proven quality but who has a real thirst top prove himself in England. Enter Ademola Lookman. How good has he looked in both cameos so far? He changed the game against Wolves on Sunday and provided a chance that Kamara should have finished off. Lookman looks like someone who could really flourish at Fulham and I’d have him starting every week if he is fit enough.
So all in all I’d say that our transfer window has been positive in terms of who has come through the door, but just poorly executed in terms of timings. I’ll give Tony credit for the players who have been brought in, but none whatsoever when it comes to having this squad ready for the start of the season. The worry is that the positive signings that have been brought in, players who could really make a difference, have come too late. We are four games into the season and have no points. Tony will practically be praying that he didn’t move too late. Let’s hope that he didn’t.
The countdown is on. Scott Parker now has less than a week to put his final plans in place ahead of our Premier League opener with Arsenal at the Cottage. I’m excited about football being back, but I reckon it doesn’t compare to how I’d feel if I knew that I’d be walking through the turnstiles next Saturday morning. I pretty much miss everything about it. The smell of the burger vans, the busyness in the pubs and streets pre-game , the sounds of the fans milling around the stadium. And then there’s the actual football. It’s funny how it can be the worst bit sometimes! But the overall match day experience is something that I miss greatly.
Football just isn’t the same. On a slightly happier note, it looks as though we will have a decision on whether or not every game will be televised in some way. The relevant authorities at first said that it wouldn’t happen but after consultation with the FSA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport there’s a chance that we will have a U-turn on that decision. It definitely makes a difference getting to at least watch the games on TV as football in the Premier League is running the risk of creating even more of a gap between clubs and their fans.
But anyway, less of my musings and on to the football.
We’ve been given a very tough opening fixture in Arsenal. They are undergoing a bit of a revival under Mikel Arteta and, unless something dramatic happens in the next 7 days, we will be facing one of the best strikers in the league in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal also have a wealth of young talent in the likes of Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah. Our back line, which is still looking far too weak for my liking, could be in for a tough afternoon. On the flip side, Arsenal have their own defensive frailties, and if I had David Luiz in my team I think I’d be in heart attack territory every week.
For Fulham, I’m hoping that our transfer business isn’t done. With Mawson and Sessegnon possibly heading out on loan, we are now even thinner at the back than we were. I really worry about Tim Ream being one of our centre backs against Premier League opposition. It didn’t work two years ago, so I doubt it will work now! Michael Hector is an upgrade on what we had before but the truth of the matter is that we don’t actually know how he will cope in the Premier League. His career has been spent on loan at clubs in the Championship so there will be question marks over whether he can step up. While he didn’t show his best football post-lockdown, he did make a massive difference to our defence so I’m hopeful that he can build on that against some of the worlds best. Our full-back positions are also questionable. I think I’d be happier if we played Joe Bryan further forward as, while his link up with Mitrovic was brilliant last season, defensively he can be hit or miss – something that we just can’t afford in the Premier League. Obviously we have brought in Antonee Robinson from Wigan and he comes with bags of potential. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod at left back next week.
To be honest, I’m not really worried about our standard of midfield or up front players. I do feel that we could do with another proven Premier League striker to cover Mitrovic and to ease the burden for goals, but I think that we have plenty of talent at that side of the pitch. Our midfield is pretty strong with Cairney, Onomah, Reed, Lemina and Anguissa all battling for spots so the big question really is over Parker and how he copes with the decisions.
Parker has been rewarded for getting us back to the Premier League with a new three year deal, but this will be a new challenge all together. There was zero expectation on him when he took the job on as caretaker boss in 2019, but it’s a different world for him now. I reckon those few months in the Premier League last time around will stand him in good stead. Whatever happens though, I hope that we stick with him. The changes made last time around were the final nail in the coffin for our survival hopes, so let’s do it differently this time around.
I was wrong about Aboubakar Kamara. Let’s bring ourselves back to January 2019 when the news was breaking out of Motspur Park that Kamara and Mitrovic got into a fight during a team yoga session. To this day we don’t have the full details of the bust up, but rumours of an arrest for actual bodily harm and criminal damage for the young French striker were rife at the time. And this had all come just two weeks after Kamara had refused to give the ball to Mitrovic to take a penalty in a crucial game against Huddersfield. Kamara went on to miss the spot, nearly throwing away a valuable win, only for Mitrovic to pop up in injury time with the eventual winner. It was another sign that things weren’t good behind the scenes at Fulham. Jokanovic was long gone and Claudio Ranieri wasn’t having the effect that Shad Khan had hoped.
When the news broke about the Motspur Park fight, my mind was made up. I wrote an article about how we needed to rid ourselves of the maverick striker. For me he was immature and having a huge detrimental effect on a team that was already badly struggling. We needed togetherness, not selfish individuals. I wanted him gone. The club sent him out on loan but I had my doubts about whether or not we would see the striker play for Fulham again. I pointed out that apart from a few impactful games in the Championship in the season before, we hadn’t really seen a striker who could really make a difference in the team. Even when he was causing problems for defences in the Championship, he would ruin a good performance with a blatant dive, or too many off-the-ball incidences. I had lost all patience.
I am so glad that the club saw something that I didn’t. Kamara came back from his loan stint at Yeni Malatyaspor in Turkey and we were told that the squad were happy to have him back. The club decided to nurture him rather than offload him. The combined effort of Mark Maunders, the player care manager, and the coaching staff have helped mould AK into the sort of player who we can trust. He has had an injury hit year, but has looked like a different player, and man, than he was the season before. His talent was so raw when he first came to us and his first touch left a lot to be desired, but that had massively improved. He has always had pace and strength, but now he has the game management and intelligent play that really makes a player a threat. Let’s not forget that he was trusted enough for the Wembley final in 2018, but back then I guess we were still worried that he would do something daft and get himself in trouble in the most important match for the club in years. This time around I wasn’t worried. Well, I was concerned about his fitness, but that was it. We had this crazy record last season were we did very well without Mitrovic in the side and AK was a big part of that early on. Despite not being used a lot, he stepped up and scored 2 against QPR, and has probably made more of an impact than Bobby Decordova Reid when asked to do the same thing.
He scored 4 and made 4 this season. Not outstanding, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story really. He offers us something completely different to our other attacking players, and now that he has improved his game management I think that a solid run in the side will see him provide more goals. He is proof that if you take the time to really nurture a player who is a bit rough around the edges, you can really make a difference. Some of the videos after the final last week show a squad that is united, and AK seemed to be in the middle of everything. One video of him with his arm around Stuart Gray told me everything that I needed to know. The coaching staff have him on side, and he has returned their faith.
I think AK could have a lot of fun in the Premier League next season. He looked so sharp when he came off the bench against Cardiff at the Cottage and then at Wembley, and if we can keep him fit, he could surprise a few opponents next season. I was wrong about him, and I’m so glad about it.