One of the stand out performers since the restart for Fulham has been Harrison Reed. The midfielder has been plagued by injuries this season, but the stats show us that we seem to be a better side with him in it so being able to allow him to get fit during lockdown has made a huge difference to our promotion bid.
The first word that comes to mind when I think of his style of play is ‘busy’. He seems to get everywhere on the pitch, and buzzes around the opposition, winning the ball back and more often than not making a positive pass straight away. It can be frustrating when players win the ball but then lose immediately by holding on to it too long or by putting in a loose pass, but you rarely get that with Reed. His calm nature on the ball is what makes him so effective.
Reed has been involved in the league 23 times this season and of those games we have won 12 times, drawn 6 and lost 5. While those aren’t mind blowing stats, if we look slightly closer we can see how important he is in the heart of midfield. I’ll take the example of two of our loses this season. When we played Reading on New Years Day, Reed came off the pitch because of an injury after 19 minutes. We were already 1-0 down at that stage, but a bad start got even worse when he came off the pitch and we went on to lose 2-1. More recently we have our defeat in our first game back of the restart against Brentford. Reed had to come off after 80minutes when the score was still 0-0, but we went on to lose 2-0. There have been 20 matches without him. 10 of those have been victories, 4 have been draws and 6 have been losses. It’s simple really. We pick up more points, whether through draws or victories, with Reed in the side.
Whether we go up or not, we should be trying to make Reed’s move to Fulham a permanent one. It might be that the player himself is waiting to see what league we are playing in before he makes his decision. He deserves a shot in the Premier League but he hasn’t been given it at parent club Southampton, so a move away from them may be on the horizon regardless. We obviously give ourselves a better chance of signing him permanently if we go up, and if we do, we must avoid what happened with Ollie Norwood. Not signing him from Brighton when we went up last time was one of the many nails in our coffin that season. Hopefully Southampton will prove to be easier to work with than they were when it involved Matt Targett though.
For now our attention turns to West Brom on Tuesday night. If Cairney is back from injury I’ll be hoping to see a midfield three of him, Reed and Josh Onomah. That’s the midfield that is our most balanced and therefore giving the team the best possible chance of taking something from the game. With the play-offs confirmed and the automatics looking more and more unlikely given the form of other teams, all that matters right now is building up momentum.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.