It was a night of Fulham firsts at the New Den as Slavisa Jokanovic’s much-changed side cruised into the fourth round of the League Cup with a comprehensive win over Millwall. There were first Fulham goals for Joe Bryan, American youngster Luca de la Torre and Cyrus Christie – who scored a thirty-yard screamer with his wrong foot – as well as a first start for 15 year-old midfielder Harry Elliott, the latest teenage sensation off the Motspur Park conveyor belt.
There was also a welcome return for Tim Ream, who made his first start of the season after being sidelined by a troublesome back complaint as part of a reshaped defence. Jokanovic deployed the American defender, who was Fulham’s player of the season last term alongside two other central backs, in an innovative 3-4-3 system that gave Christie and Bryan license to roam forward from wing-back roles. It didn’t take long for Bryan, making his first appearance since being dropped following Fulham’s win over Burnley last month, to remind Jokanovic of his offensive qualities with a beautifully-taken opener.
De la Torre, who shone brightly throughout, found a pocket of space just outside the Millwall box and slipped a lovely ball into the area for the onrushing Bryan, who swept home a finish across Ben Amos and into the far corner from an acute angle. it was just the sort of attacking contribution that Jokanovic seeks from his full-backs and the type of goal that Bryan scored in this competition last year as Bristol City went on a remarkable run to the semi-finals.
The goal galvanised an experimental Fulham side, who could have put the contest to bed well before half-time. Floyd Ayite did well to retrieve a floated cross and tee up de la Torre, who was denied by a smart save from Amos. The midfielder was once again denied by the Millwall keeper later in the half. Then Kevin McDonald, making his hundredth appearance for the Whites, went close to repeating his feat of scoring a spectacular goal against Millwall, as he did last April. The Scottish international took aim from 20 yards and his powerful drive flashed inches wide of goal.
The energetic de la Torre and Bryan combined again just after the half hour to nearly double Fulham’s lead. The tricky Californian midfielder drove at the Millwall defence after seizing on a loose ball, committing a couple of Lions defenders before again freeing Bryan down the left flank. This time the marauding Fulham wing-back went for power and his shot flew high over the bar.
The visitors maintained a high tempo and their attacking intent after the break. After a frustrating first half, Aboubakar Kamara almost laid on a second goal just two minutes after the restart. The French forward fired an inviting cross all the way across for Christie, but the Irish international’s strike whizzed fractionally wide of goal. The Whites didn’t have to wait long to put a bit of clear water between themselves and their Championship opponents – with that crucial second goal coming five minutes later.
Following some patient keepball involving Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Bryan, Ayite was afforded far too much space to gallop into down the left and he produced the perfect cut back for de la Torre to pick his spot when left unattended around the penalty spot. It was a memorable moment for the 20 year-old, whose mature display fully vindicated Jokanovic’s decision to offer opportunities to the younger members of the Fulham squad.
What seemed a straightforward success for the Whites was soon thrown into doubt when Millwall raised their level and pulled a goal back with half an hour to play. The home side were briefly enlivened by the lifeline provided when Tom Elliott forced home Shane Ferguson’s corner from a couple of yards out and began to put the Fulham defence under a sustained aerial bombardment.
But the visitors weathered the storm and made sure of a place in round four courtesy of a thunderbolt from the most unlikely of sources. Christie is hardly known for his goalscoring – not least off his left foot – but took advantage of the invitation to cut inside from the right and curl a majestic finish into the bottom corner from the best part of 25 yards. That meant that the intensity of the contest waned a little towards the end, allowing Harvey Elliott, who stepped off the bench just hours after sitting school tests to become the club’s youngest-ever player, to display a few classy touches in a promising cameo as the Whites sauntered through the closing stages.
MILLWALL (4-4-2): Amos; McLaughlin, Wallace, Cooper, Ferguson (Wallace 88); Karacan (Williams 74), Skalak (Romeo 45′), Tunnicliffe, O’Brien; Gregory, T. Elliott. Subs (not used): Martin, Webster, White, Morison.
GOAL: T. Elliott (61).
FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; S. Sessegnon, Ream (Odoi 62), Le Marchand; Christie, Bryan, McDonald, Anguissa; Kamara, de la Torre (O’Riley 85), Ayite (Elliott 81). Subs (not used): Fabri, Chambers, Cisse, Mitrovic.
GOALS: Bryan (7), de la Torre (52), Christie (68).
REFEREE: Darren Bond (Lancashire).
Sergio Rico: A largely straightforward debut for the Sevilla loanee as League Two Exeter rarely posed much of a threat to the Fulham goal. Rico was saved by his far post after being beaten by Matt Jay’s low drive from distance that nearly gave the Grecians an equaliser shortly after the home side had taken the lead, but other than that he barely had a save to make. His distribution was a little shaky, sending a couple of kicks straight out of play, and he flapped at one second half corner. 6
Cyrus Christie: An energetic showing from the Republic of Ireland international, who frequently bombed on from right back to cause problems in the final third. His driving runs were an effective weapon against Exeter, with his fourth minute shot totally surprising Christie Pym and leading to Fulham’s opening goal. Still a little inconsistent with his final ball and probably hasn’t done enough to usurp Timothy Fosu-Mensah for a starting spot against Brighton on Saturday. 7
Ryan Sessegnon: The teenager was deployed at left back after only getting a few minutes as a substitute against Burnley on Sunday and was eager to impress from the off. Sent a couple of shots wide in the first half and looked to supplement the Fulham attack as often as he could. Laid on a couple of good chances for Neeskens Kebano by getting to the by-line after the break and looked full of running until the end. Unlikely to displace Joe Bryan at full back and could face a battle to win his spot back from Luciano Vietto following the Argentine’s excellent outing at the weekend. 7
Alfie Mawson: The summer signing from Swansea’s long-awaited debut was encouraging as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. Resumed his one-time England under-21 international partnership with Calum Chambers at centre back and looked every inch the old-fashioned centre half that Fulham have been lacking. Confident in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, it is clear that Mawson will be a fixture in the first time once he has regained that much sharpness. Stayed on for a bit longer than Slavisa Jokanovic had suggested and, barring one moment where he was caught out by Jay, it was an outstanding start in a Fulham shirt. 7
Calum Chambers: An understated display from the Arsenal loanee alongside Mawson. Looked to get on the ball at every opportunity and started a number of attacks from the back. Still a few doubts about his positional sense as he lost track of Exeter’s three forwards on a few occasions, but Chambers did produce a couple of crucial blocks in the second period. Might have gone from one of our first choice options at the beginning of the campaign to a reserve once everyone is fully fit. 6
Ibrahima Cisse: The Guinea international got his opportunity at the base of the Fulham midfield and seems to be more attuned to Jokanovic’s system than he was last season. Not afraid to get a foot in, Cisse now appears able to start moves off with a cute pass or two and this was a much more mature display than some of his early showings in a Fulham shirt. Still makes some questionable decisions at times and surrendered possession far too simply in a dangerous area of the field that almost led to an Exeter equaliser early in the first half. 6
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa: Plenty to like about the Cameroonian midfielder’s all-action display in a more advanced role than the one has filled on his previous two outings for Fulham. Looked a threat carrying the ball forward from debut and displayed plenty of nice touches and an eye for a pass. One brilliant turn and release sent Ryan Sessegnon scampering to the by-line as his set up a second half chance and Anguissa was eager to get a few shots away, although he should have scored when presented with an open goal after Pym had tipped Stefan Johansen’s free-kick onto the post. 7
Stefan Johansen: The skipper for the evening was unlucky not to cap a strong performance with a goal late on when Pym did well to turn his curling free-kick from just outside the box onto his near post. Seemed to operation in second gear for much of the contest, but still showed touches of the drive and endeavour that characterised his excellent first two seasons at the club. Made the second goal with a beautiful through ball to release Aboubakar Kamara. 7
Neeskens Kebano: The Congolese international was desperate to impress and buzzed away dangerously drifting in from the left flank all night. He will be desperately disappointed to have picked up an ankle injury when his second half shot was blocked by Aaron Martin – and we hope that it is not as serious as it first appeared. Was perhaps trying too hard to force his way back into Jokanovic’s first time plans as he spurned a few good opportunities, but Kebano remains a lively option off the bench. 6
Aboubakar Kamara: The star of the show. The French forward’s enthusiasm has always been infectious and the manner in which he took his two goals illustrated just how much he has improved since those early performances following his arrival from Amiens last summer. Showed brilliant reflexes and agility to volley in the rebound from Christie’s speculative shot as he put Fulham ahead and some of runs from the right flank were particularly intelligent. Kept up his cool when one-on-one early in the second half and may still have significant improvement in him at the age of 23. 7
Rui Fonte: It just hasn’t happened for the Portuguese forward and Fulham and last night’s performance encapsulated why. Fonte struggled to get much change out of the Exeter back three as a lone forward, lacking the physicality to win anything in the air and often dropped so deep that he was behind the play. Toiled manfully, but when he did get an opportunity in the six-yard box, his finish lacked conviction and Pym was able to make a good reaction save. 6
Luca de la Torre (on for Neeksens Kebano, 74): The American showed a few clever touches in a lively cameo after replacing the unfortunate Kebano for the final fifteen minutes or so. 6
Steven Sessegnon (on for Alfie Mawson, 75): The young defender displayed his versatility by slotting in alongside Chambers at centre back and even ventured forward with a couple of mazy dribbles as he got more first-team minutes under his belt. 6
Sarah runs the rule over some fine performances as Fulham recorded their first Premier League win in four years yesterday …
Marcus Bettinelli: Football’s a funny old game. Just two weeks ago, it looked as if Bettinelli would be frozen out after the Whites signed two senior goalkeepers and now he has returned from the cold to keep goal in the Premier League. He had little to do here, in truth, with Burnley’s two goals being their only shots on target and he was left helpless for both of them. Jokanovic clearly wants a keeper comfortable with the ball at his feet and there were early signs that Bettinelli still struggles to fulfill this requirement. There’s hesitancy in his distribution and several of his early passes went into touch – and it will be interesting to see how the goalkeeping situation resolves itself. 6
Timothy Fosu-Mensah: An energetic and enterprising display from the Manchester United loanee, who was once again preferred to Cyrus Christie at right back. He showed an eagerness to get forward from the off and displayed a blistering turn of pace in the final third that Fulham could yet utilise to their advantage. Fosu-Mensah was solid defensively and read the game well, but like most modern full-backs offered real value as an overlapping attacking. His crossing proved more dangerous than Christie’s and one splendid low centre narrowly eluded Andre Schurrle and Aleksandar Mitrovic in the second half. 7
Denis Odoi: The Belgian was recalled to the heart of the Fulham back four following his suspension and Calum Chambers’ below-par display at Wembley. He is still very much a makeshift centre back and can struggle to convince at this level, but managed to nullify Chris Wood’s physicality for the most part. Although it was Maxime Le Marchand who gave away the ball for Burnley’s equaliser, Odoi was slow to shuffle across and read the danger, ultimately leaving Bettinelli unsighted for Hendrick’s first shot. 6
Maxime Le Marchand: This was probably the Frenchman’s least assured of his three Premier League outings to date. He has been superb since stepping into the Fulham defence but was badly culpable for Burnley’s first goal, gifting the Clarets possession on the halfway line with a sloppy pass. Did little else wrong, making a couple of excellent recovery tackles to thwart potential danger and switched to left back for the final quarter of the contest after Joe Bryan went off. 6
Joe Bryan: Another excellent display from the left back, who has shown little sign of being daunted by the step up to the top flight after arriving on deadline day from Bristol City. Got forward to great effect and dovetailed nicely with Luciano Vietto down that flank, providing him with the pass that began the move for Fulham’s first goal. Positioned himself well defensively and seems a solid acquisition with scope for improvement, who already looks comfortable at Craven Cottage. 7
Kevin McDonald: The Scottish international was restored to the starting line-up to face his former club having missed the meeting with Spurs last weekend – and delivered another composed performance at the base of the Fulham midfield. Didn’t need to snap into too many tackles to break up Burnley attacks, but his reading of the game and positioning remained spot on. A reassuring pressure in front of the back four, McDonald know hows he will need to be on top of his game as Anguissa adapts to English football. 7
Tom Cairney: The Fulham captain was a little quieter than usual at the heart of the midfield, but was by no means poor. Produced a brilliant floated ball that looked to be straight from the Motspur Park training ground routines for Mitrovic’s first goal from a cleverly worked short corner and found the room to run at the Burnley defence as the game became open in the second half. Substituted as a precaution following a late challenge from Charlie Taylor, but Jokanovic revealed that he should be available for the trip to Brighton on Saturday. 7
Jean-MIchael Seri: The Ivorian already appears a cut above as a classy orchestrator of possession in the Fulham midfield, with his quick movement of the ball, and his exceptional footballing brain. He produced a moment of genuine quality to put the Whites ahead, with an exocet from long-range that left Joe Hart beaten just four minutes in – the kind of effort that the Whites have seemingly been reluctant to take on in recent years. But with the low centre of gravity reminiscent of Mahamadou Diarra and some of the vision that reminds you of Mousa Dembele, Seri has all the attributes to be a star. 8
Andre Schurrle: The German was determined to make his point after being recalled to Jokanovic’s first eleven yesterday afternoon and buzzed around with intent from the off. You can see his quality in the driving runs from midfield he makes and how he darts into dangerous central areas – as will as some of that vision to release team-mates. Schurrle seems to be full of confidence and looked to test Hart at every opportunity, hitting eleven shots during the contest, but it appeared as though it wouldn’t be his day until the former England goalkeeper turned Mitrovic’s effort onto the post and the winger rifled in the rebound. 8
Luciano Vietto: The Argentinian was handed a surprise start at the expense of Ryan Sessegnon on the left of Fulham’s front three and turned in an excellent performance on his full debut. He might look a little lightweight for the rough and tumble of the Premier League, but Vietto’s intelligent runs and clever use of the ball shows just how he could fit into Jokanovic’s plans. Vietto was bright throughout and floated in an inviting cross for Fulham’s third goal – the high point of an energetic display. 7
Aleksandar Mitrovic: On this form, the £22m Fulham paid Newcastle to finally secure the Serbian’s services this summer looks a snip. There have been question marks about his ability to score goals at this level but Mitrovic seems to thrive on proving the doubters wrong. He already has three – topping the Premier League’s goalscoring charts – and he bullied the Burnley centre halves throughout. He buried two headers but his all-round play was far more significant, with intelligent movement and the ability to play in others. Unfortunate not to claim a memorable hat-trick late on. 9
Calum Chambers (on for Joe Bryan, 72): Sent on to sure up the Fulham defence for the final quarter of the contest as Joe Bryan tired and didn’t let anybody down. 6
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (on for Tom Cairney, 78): Showed plenty of promising touches during a late camera that also features such driving running from deep and a penchant for pulling the trigger. Anguissa will need to smooth out some of the overplaying that got himself into trouble against Tottenham, but proves much-needed competition for McDonald in front of the back four. 6
Ryan Sessegnon (on for Andre Schurrle, 88): Gareth Southgate’s scouting trip afforded him just two minutes of seeing the wonderkid, who was a late substitute for the excellent Andre Schurrle. 6
Fulham’s Under 23s began their Premier League 2 season with an encouraging display and an entertaining draw against Manchester United at Motspur Park last night.
Peter Grant’s side commendable resilience to come from behind twice to claim a point against the Red Devils after conceding goals to Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong. The young Whites were indebted to their centre back partnership with set piece equalisers arriving courtesy of Arron Davies and Rob Atkinson. The draw was the least the home side deserved for an enterprising display full of ambition and creativity, sparked by the energy and drive of Tyrese Francois in central midfield.
Cameron Thompson, deployed on the left wing in a fluid 4-3-3 that mirrored Slavisa Jokanovic’s preferred system, had Fulham’s first sight of goal but couldn’t connect with Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson’s dangerous cross before Cauley Woodrow, who endured a frustrating evening in front of goal, wasted a good opportunity after a fine through ball from Matt O’Riley. United had dominated possession and gradually began to create chances of their own with Magnus Norman saving stubbornly from George Tanner at his near post.
Thompson did saw a shot well blocked by united’s Ro-Shaun Williams before the visitors broke swiftly, but James Wilson’s low cross didn’t find a team-mate. Estonian international midfielder Mathias Kait then drilled a shot fractionally wide of far post midway through the first period, but it was United who broke the deadlock. A neat passing move found Tanner out in space on the right flank and the full-back was afforded far too much time to cross. Angel Gomes drifted between Atkinson and Davies to direct a firm header past the helpless Norman.
The visitors, who despite their ample resources were surprisingly relegated last season, then had chances to double their lead before half-time. Former Fulham forward DJ Buffonge saw his effort bravely blocked by Atkinson and Davies then bravely threw himself in front of a Gomes effort to thwart further danger. United were to pay for those misses four minutes before the break when O’Riley’s deep free kick was turned home at the far post by Davies.
The equaliser gave Fulham a boost at the start of the second half. United keeper Kieran O’Hara pulled off a brilliant save from Woodrow’s improvised flick at his near post and Thornsteinsson then saw a strong penalty shout waved away by the referee. Instead, it was the Red Devils who went ahead again – hitting Fulham on the break. A lovely move involving Buffonge and Gomes finished with Belgian winger Chong drilling an excellent finish past Norman.
Defeat would have been harsh on the hosts and, to their credit, Fulham never gave up. They grabbed a deserved second equaliser from another O’Riley set play with Atkinson able to punish a poor clearance from Williams with a fine header. The Whites pushed hard for a third in the closing stages of an intriguing contest, but both sides ultimately had to be content with a point.
FULHAM U23s (4-3-3): Norman; Jenz, Mundle-Smith, Atkinson, Davies; Kait, Francois, O’Riley; Thornsteinsson, Thompson (Harris 73), Woodrow. Subs (not used): Stahl, Opoku, Drameh, Carvalho.
GOALS: Davies (41), Atkinson (80).
MANCHESTER UNITED U23s (4-2-3-1): O’Hara; Tanner, O’Connor, Williams, Garner; Poole, Hamilton; Chong, Gomes (Dearnley 88), Buffonge (Whelan 88); Wilson (Bohul 45). Subs (not used): Warren, Forstieck.
GOALS: Gomes (28), Chong (61).
Kevin McDonald says Fulham are ready to ‘give it a right old blast’ in the Premier League this season after seeing the club supplement their promotion-winning squad with new signings during a busy summer transfer window.
The Scottish international insists that the Whites aren’t just looking to survive but are determined to prove they belong in English football’s top flight. Fulham spent around £120m on twelve new signings over the summer – including five arrivals during a busy transfer deadline day – and McDonald told the Evening Standard that reflects the ambition at Craven Cottage.
We are going to give it a right old blast this season. We are not here to make up the numbers. We are here to prove to everyone what we can do, prove that this is where the club belongs. The owners have invested money wisely and bought some really good players. That can only benefit the team.
The former Wolves and Burnley midfielder was quick to insist that the squad themselves are remaining grounded ahead of the start of the new campaign, acutely aware of the big step up in quality from the Championship.
People are seeing all these big names coming in and the money we are spending so it is understandable that from the outside expectation levels have been raised. But we are a level-headed group of players and we know where we stand. We would be naive to start looking above to the top half of the table. First and foremost we have got to establish ourselves as a Premier League team. Of course we want to finish as high as we can but we know it is going to be a long, hard season.
McDonald also reiterated that Slavisa Jokanovic has told his players to keep true to their footballing principles and that the Fulham squad don’t feel under any extra pressure on the eve of the new season.
We are a new team coming to the league so I do not think there is pressure on us. Outsiders always think the three promoted teams are favourites to get relegated. With the signings we have made maybe we are different. The gaffer wants us to play the exact same way. He got us here playing that way. That is not going to change.