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No one is ITK…

It is hard to be a Fulham fan right now and not be completely frustrated with the endless procession of players we are linked to one minute only to be dismissed the following day having seen said player sign elsewhere or deny ever wanting to leave in the first place.

 Much like myself I am sure your timeline consists of a bunch of “ITK” accounts claiming to have sources much closer to the club than you, Other clubs actually making signings and a Director of football who seems to only post about Wrestling when he should in fact be getting to grips with a squad that clearly needs investment. 

I want to think that I am better than most when it comes to being patient around these things but it doesn’t stop me refreshing Twitter every hour in the hope that something has occurred despite constantly reassuring myself that it is all completely out of our hands and what will be will be. 

No doubt there will be some new faces when we kick off at home to Liverpool on the 6th August but whatever we achieve between now and then will in most people’s eyes never be enough. If, like me, you anticipated an early promotion meant that this time round we would have a smoother transition with lots of early arrivals then clearly you have let the optimism of last season cloud your judgement of the club you know all too well.  

If you want to be optimistic about our current predicament then it should be said that our inability to secure a single new recruit so far is probably due to the fact we are in the market for a higher calibre of player and not just scrambling around for the free transfers and deadwood from other teams that are on the move. In that sense it will take longer to get these people over the line and with a world cup being just 6 months away many players are taking their time to ensure they make the right move as well as completely switching off for summer break before pre season begins. 

The fact we play Liverpool first game of the season is probably a blessing in disguise as I would much rather have a “free hit” with half a squad than a “winnable game” when it’s highly likely that all the pieces won’t be in place by that point. I am of course aware of the irony that we took 4 points from them last time out and calling it a “free hit” may be a little premature.

I have no doubt that the club are very aware that we have a lot of work to do in this window and I am sure there are plenty of very capable and very focused people doing good work in the background to get these deals done but if you can hold off retweeting or posting who is holidaying where, private flights that are inbound from Portugal and general speculation from Turkish newspapers and ITK accounts with 10 followers then we will  all probably all be much happier mentally. 

Socrates once said “I know that I know nothing” but what I do know is that if ITK doesn’t stand for “I’m Tony Khan” then it probably isn’t even worth contemplating at this stage.

Blackpool reflections

After a 2 hour each way commute to The Cottage yesterday afternoon and some time to reflect, It seems rather trivial to sit at a laptop and bemoan a below par Fulham performance, a woeful referee and non existant transport links. The critical incident in the Hammersmith after just 10 minutes that unfortunately resulted in the passing of a fan not only had an effect on the game but without doubt most of us in the ground, especially those in the immediate vicinity.

Sometimes things happen that just put into perspective how insignificant football is in the wider scale of things. Without wanting to comment too much on what is undoubtedly a tragic day, I can only add a few thoughts based on a spectator’s view from 10/15 yards away at that end of the ground. The response not only from the fans but more so the medical teams, in particular those from Blackpool it must be said who were the first on the scene have to be commended. The decorum of spectators and their initiative to use the flags to create an element of privacy and security was human behavior at its very best.

The thirty minutes or so that passed with both teams returning to the dressing room and eventually re emerging was met with impeccable patience and understanding as we all looked on in hope that the medical team’s efforts would result in a positive outcome. It has of course since come to light that this was not the case and so one can only further distance themselves from caring too much about the result and individual player analysis on a day like this.

Much like the performance of the team after the restart, the atmosphere never really managed to get going again for the remaining 80 minutes. There was singing and passion, anger and frustration for sure but with all that had gone on, the on pitch action felt more like a distraction than anything else. By the time we had started to find a bit of rhythm again after the restart, the half time whistle was blown.

Most will agree that Fulham didnt do enough to win the game. The second half in particular with the exception of a Carvalho chance hitting the post was riddled with misplaced passes and corners that promised so much and delivered so little. It was inevitable that sooner or later one of the many defensive mistakes and loose passes would cost us. Josh Bowler was the main threat for the visitors all afternoon having struck the bar in the first half and it seemed inevitable that it would eventually be him to find the net against his old club. Whether or not Rodak could have done better was hard to say from the Hammersmith end.

On any other day we would have exited the ground with a feeling of dissapointment, annoyance and dissatisfaction but in fact it felt more melancholy than anything else. At the end of the day we still sat 6 points clear at the top of the league and the buffer does allow for the occasional poor performance. We can only hope that next week sees a more composed defensive performance as we face Man City at the Etihad.

A final note on a day like no other at Craven Cottage. Despite not knowing the supporter who lost his life at the game on Saturday we as a collective are forever tied together in our love and support of this Football club. In turn it is natural that we should feel some affinity and a kinship to all those on our side. We share our hopes and dreams as a Fulham family are at this time are united in our sympathy and condolences to the grieving family. Rest in Peace and know that you will be forever Fulham.

Fear and loathing at Craven Cottage – Volume 5: Reading (h)

It had been a few weeks since our last trip to the Cottage. In addition to the delay of an  International break we approached the game against Reading no longer under the illusion that “HMS Piss the league” wouldn’t be without a few icebergs along the way, as recently experienced while docking in Blackpool. A more convincing mid week jaunt to Birmingham however meant that optimism on route this Saturday in the sunshine was still pretty high.

Sure we were still without the boy wonder Fabio Carvalho and Harrison Reed was a doubt but ours is a squad that should on paper have had enough to cope with such absences. The pre match analysis also reminded us that Tom Cairney and Terrance Kongolo were unavailable but as the sun had indeed risen that morning (and The Pope was still a Catholic) I naturally assumed that to be the case anyway. 

Having loaded up on Ramen and soft shell crab tempura before the game I met my  acquaintance for the day at Hammersmith station and popped in to the Duke of Cornwall on the way for a swift pint, made all the more bitter as it was accompanied by Brenford on the TV comfortably dispatching Wolves in the early kick-off. In hindsight this afternoon was never destined to recover from such an early blow. 

My guest was an Everton fan who also happens to play for the same Sunday league Veterans team as myself and having recently cracked a rib in a committed challenge for said team I felt a first ever trip to The Cottage may well by the tonic to brighten up his weekend. The downside to meeting in Hammersmith of course meant there was no red carpet treatment for that introduction to the Craven Cottage experience with the Bishops Park walk but I did my best to give a brief tour of the key sights prior to settling in for the kick off in H5. I will apologise to the person stuck behind my guest who in addition to having to contend with the stadium structure restricting their view would also have struggled to see much over his 6’6 frame. Given the result however it may be you who owes me a gratitude of thanks.

Having spent much of the pre game talking up the impressive job Marco Silva had done in transforming Fulham’s attacking intent to an Everton fan, I was left feeling that the team really weren’t holding up their end in supporting my argument as the first half went on. Our left hand side with Robinson and Cavaleiro were particularly guilty of loose passing while Harry Wilson was completely anonymous for at least forty minutes. The attacks that did result in us registering shots on target seemed to be exclusively limited to being straight at the keeper and with little to no conviction.

Reading who had brought along a good following given the short 30 minute journey into Paddington played some neat football but were by no means on top. It would be unfair to say that Ovie Ejaria’s opener in the 20th minute was against the run of play but nevertheless it still came as a shock to the system. I haven’t been shy in airing my disapproval at Gazzaniga being our first choice keeper but there was very little he could have done with that one. Instead I found comfort in staring hopefully at Rodrigo Muniz warming up who I noticed for the first time in front of the Riverside stand. 

It was hard to put a finger on exactly what was going wrong for Fulham but the centre of midfield seemed to lack any sort of balance. Seri was doing his thing and unlike everyone around him rarely misplacing a pass but BDR never really seemed to get a foothold in the game and Chalobah was a bit of a headless chicken. Even now I can’t work out if he had a good or bad game. Neither seemed to be in sync with Mitrovic who, considering he was playing in a team that registered a total of 25 shots in the game, seemed to cut a fairly isolated figure. Just before the break Antonee Robinson produced his obligatory one good cross only for Mitro to hit the bar when he should have done better. I certainly wasn’t ready to surrender but being surrounded by so many waving white flags in the Hammersmith end it just felt like it may be one of those days.

Whether or not the team received a half time ticking off is a mystery but the second forty five started quickly with Cavaleiro doing more than he had done in the whole of the first half and getting a good shot away following some tricky work down the left. That lifted the crowd for all of eight minutes until Reading promptly went down the other end and scored a second following yet another loose pass and some fairly suspect defending alongside little to no effort by the now manbunless Gazzaniga to prevent Ejaria from scoring again. 

A host of Fulham changes seemed to do very little to turn the tide. Kebano was brought on at right back for Odoi in an attempt to give us a threat down the right wing given that Wilson was having without doubt his worst performance so far in a Fulham shirt. Onomah replaced Seri in midfield but only served to add further imbalance and confusion around who was doing what while Muniz made his Craven Cottage debut coming on for BDR as we went with two up top for the final thirty minutes. 

There were definitely signs of a partnership with both Muniz and Mitrovic combining together a few times although it remains to be seen how often we would actually play two up top outside of sheer desperation. Muniz’s first goal gave us hope and but for an excellent save Onomah may well have equalized late on but it never felt like it was going to be our day. 

For the first time this season we departed The Cottage without any points and a little unsure if this season would be as smooth sailing as we first thought. I suspect if it were anyone other than Scott Parker’s Bournemouth ahead of us at the top of the league we would be more content with sitting second after eight games. Whether complacency had set in after the Birmingham game I couldn’t say but there were plenty of poor performances to suggest as much. 

The novelty of a mid week League cup fixture against Premier League opposition felt like a pointless distraction in the wake of another defeat and the need for a good result at Ashton gate next Saturday was the major point of discussion as we trudged down Stevenage road.

Fear and loathing at Craven Cottage – Volume 4: Stoke City (h)

As I made my way to Craven Cottage for a second successive Saturday it promised to be the toughest test yet for Fulham’s promotion credentials. Stoke, who under Michael O’Neill have been playing far more attractive football than their historical reputation would suggest, were sitting in third prior to kick off and shaped up as one of the toughest opponents in Marco Silva’s brief tenure in charge.

My pre match preparation involved an extensive Dim sum luncheon in China town with the in laws and a commute to the ground accompanied by my girlfriend’s Chelsea-supporting brother. As he had never visited the ‘home of football” I felt it was vital to travel via Putney Bridge and give him the full match day experience and the hospitality that only Bishop’s Park can provide. This as many of you will know goes hand in hand with swarms of away fans and Stoke were certainly out in force.  Many though had made the classic mistake of disembarking at Fulham Broadway and, after they had joyfully mocked the Fulham fans for “shopping at Wholefoods,” nobody saw it necessary to tell them differently! .The joke of course was not lost on my Chelsea-supporting companion either. On the walk in I observed no less than three “Muniz” shirts with fans desperately anticipating our first new forward in what feels like a lifetime. 

The District line being as reliably slow as ever and the fact I had one too many dumplings at Dim Sum meant it was only a 20 minute gap between turnstile and kick-off left time for only a single pre-match Carlsberg. Clearly the away fans had rectified their tube station blunder as their end looked full unlike last week, while the Hammersmith End was in great voice. All seats now appear to be in place in the Riverside stand having clearly been filled in throughout the week. Our line up was fairly consistent with Odoi deputising at right back and Wilson coming back in on the right with Bobby Decordova-Reid starting wide left.

Any pre-game dissipated after only five minutes when Harry Wilson finished off a beautiful flowing team move to drive home following a clever Mitrovic lay-off. Despite what was in truth a rather routine win, it has to be said that Bursik in the Stoke goal was incredibly good. Without his efforts the score would easily have been even more comfortable. At the other end, Stoke showed signs of the quality that had seen them start the season so well although much of this culminated in peppering our box with crosses. Despite my reservations around Gazzaniga as our first choice keeper, this was far and away his best so far in a Fulham shirt. His handling with the exception of one missed cross in the 2nd half was faultless alongside a few decent saves to provide assurance on the odd occasions when Stoke did threaten our goal. With Kenny Tete seemingly being out for a while it was also nice to see Odoi put in a solid performance at right back and still to this day he amazes me at how a man of his stature wins balls in the air. 

Even with the early goal we went in at the break only one better than our visitors having missed a host of chances. Carvalho seemed quiet by his standards and really should have passed to Mitrovic on a breakaway instead of shooting and Onomah despite being productive was guilty of some fairly loose passing. Competition for the three central midfield berths is high and, while Seri seems like a new signing given his form and renewed interest in actually wanting to be here, one of the biggest cheers came at the sight of seeing Harrison Reed warming up for the first time this season.

Many of our wasted chances in the final ten minutes of the half had been missed by the hoards hurrying for half time refreshments – and this exodus is taking place earlier and earlier every week. John Mitchell received a well deserved welcome from the Hammersmith in his half time appearance while my Chelsea supporting guest expressed his bemusement as to why we only got updates of Championship scores and not the Premier League as well. I informed him this was a privilege we as a club needed  to earn again before we finally managed to get enough signal to check them ourselves and have a good laugh at Arsenal’s expense. 

It was fairly clear that O’Neill had told his team to get stuck in for the second half and tackles flew in as frustrations grew. Fulham seem to have the knack of scoring at the right time and the second came barely ten minutes into the second half with some good work from Mitrovic resulting in a rebound falling to Decordova-Reid, who slotted home from close range. Much like the majority of the first half every Fulham attack was accompanied by the posh kid behind me gleefully telling his mate that he expected Fulham to “put it in the top bins” each time a shot was registered. Needless to say this grew old incredibly quickly but i resisted the urge to say anything.

Harry Wilson was inches away from bagging his second and Fulham’s third hitting the post before minutes later bravely sacrificing himself to lay on the third for Mitrovic. The biggest takeaway from the second half outside of the fact that we really are very good (despite still not being able to take penalties) was just how big Stoke centre back Harry Souttar is. He dwarfed Mitrovic although luckily in a game that was won on the floor rather than in the air. Reed managed a brief run out to a rapturous reception that was quickly followed by a moment of action after a hefty challenge on his previously injured ankle left him in a heap. Reed was fit to carry on, but with all three substitutions made, we didn’t get to see Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa do anything other than amble along the touchline. I suspect it may be the last time we see him in a Fulham squad.

Oddly enough, Fulham finished with 51% possession in a game that was so much more comfortable than anticipated. Maintaining our place at the top of the league going in to the International break caps off an excellent first few weeks under Silva’s tenure with the only real negative being the rumours swirling around AEW potentially coming to Craven Cottage in the future, but we can’t hold Marco accountable for that. Here’s hoping Harry Souttar is the closest thing we see to a wrestler on the pitch in the near future as we look forward to a trip to see the lights in our next outing away in Blackpool. 


Fear and loathing at Craven Cottage – Volume 3: Hull City (h)

Any Saturday that starts with a Katsu Curry and finishes with us being top of the league cannot be classed as a bad one. In what felt like a continuing trend for the season my trip to the cottage went hand in hand with yet another wet and rainy walk through the residential streets of SW6. In anticipation of this my acquaintance and I had quadrupled down on our intake of high quality Japanese beer over said katsu in Central London prior to heading out west on the Piccadilly line instead of risking the uncovered but still packed beer gardens of Fulham Palace Road. There was however just about enough time to squeeze in one of Fulhams famous barely cold bottles of Carlsberg in the ground before finding our seats in the Hammersmith end. 

As the wet Craven Cottage pitch received an additional soaking from the sprinklers before kick off it became clear that the club shop had been doing a roaring trade with their Boa Morte name printing in recent weeks. Our Assistant manager must be way ahead of everyone bar perhaps Mitrovic when it comes to fan shirt real estate. Being only the second game of the season I’m still to familiarise myself with my season ticket neighbours in H5 although luckily I’m already on first name terms with the concrete pillar that obscures my view. Off the back of 2 straight wins there seemed to be a real air of optimism among the crowd and while the weather had dampened the cardboard clappers it had certainly not subdued the atmosphere. 

Fulham remained unchanged from the Millwall game with the born again John Michael Seri anchoring Midfield alongside Josh Onomah and the boy wonder Fabio Carvalho. Gazzaniga, fresh off a mid week endorsement from Mark Crossley describing him as one of the best keepers in the league continued in goal despite my longing for Marek Rodak. Our opposition lined up in their tiger stripes with very few familiar names. The most recognizable being the aging figure of Tom Huddlestone warming up as a substitute. His long hair bringing back bad memories of that season in the Premier league when he vowed not to get a hair cut until he broke his goal duck which of course came during our trip to the KC and a horrific 6-0 defeat. Unlike Middlesbrough Hull seem to have struggled in selling their allocation given the Putney end only seemed at best two thirds full. 

Fulham as usual started quickly with lots of possession but not much in the way of clear cut chances. A decent Onomah volley went wide of the post and Seri took what had to be one of the worst corners I have seen in a long time. It would have been one that even the king of hitting the first man Bryan Ruiz would have been proud of. Whether or not the delay to the game that saw Tim Ream hobble off injured and replaced by Alfie Mawson affected Hulls concentration I can’t be sure but Mitrovic’s headed opener from a much better Seri corner occurred before Ream had even made it down the tunnel. 
As much as Ream has been good in the first few games I can’t help but feel his tenure in the side has limited longevity should we achieve promotion and Alfie Mawson (If he is able to stay fit) could well still develop in to a solid Premier league level defender and deliver on that promise he once showed at Swansea. It has to be said that he was imperious in the air all game and I don’t remember him losing a single header.

 Barely ten minutes after the first we found ourselves two up with Carvalho yet again finding the net following some good work by Robinson. Alongside the obvious cheers this resulted in continued “sign him up” pleas from the Hammersmith end as we seemingly again run the risk of mismanaging a promising product of our youth academy out of the club. 

Much like the first goal the second came only seconds after another enforced change for Fulham having had to replace Kenny Tete with striker come wide player come full back Bobby Reid who as per usual did everything that was asked of him. Despite every shot Fulham had seemingly going on target we once again struggled to kill the game off completely with a third goal. Cheers of “Shoot” when Tosin picked the ball up just outside of the box would usually have  resulted in a ball in the Thames but even this tested the keeper. Hull on the other hand offered very little going forward but as we reached half time the words of my acquaintance “a decent team talk and a swig of Lucozade and there is no reason they can’t get back in this in the second half” suggested we still needed another to be certain of a result. 

Evidently the Lucozade didn’t help and a fairly uneventful 2nd half saw no change in the score line. I’m not sure what the referee had to drink but it certainly didn’t result in Fulham getting many decisions going their way after the break. The closest we came to a third was a misplaced Mitrovic header from another better Seri corner.

The embarrassment of riches we have in our squad was highlighted again with the introduction of Anguissa for Carvalho after seventy minutes. As comfortable as we were with a two goal lead I certainly wasn’t comfortable enough to embrace every Fulham pass with an “Ole” like many others and instead chose to keep tabs on the West Brom game ensuring that even at this early stage of the season our goal difference was enough to put us top of the pile. The noise from the away end never seemed to get going either. Not that there was much for them to cheer about but another flap at a cross from Gazzaniga in the final few minutes could on another day have resulted in a nervy run in. 

It certainly wasn’t a match that will live long in the memory. Just as two weeks on from the last home game the Riverside stand is a few more plastic seats towards completion, Fulham are another three points closer to where they want to be as well. The difference in style under Silva is slowly becoming more noticeable and was evident in one of Antonee Robinsons best performances I have seen in a while. 

We departed the Cottage under cover of rain again having gained the win that was expected. The feeling of optimism has perhaps been replaced with entitlement and expectation already but it’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable.
Upon arrival at Hammersmith we were greeted by a hoard of QPR fans more cocky and antagonistic than you would expect from people who had just witnessed a 2-2 home draw with Barnsley. Sometimes I take for granted the nature of our own fans when compared to other less desirable traits of our neighbours. It’s easy to forget the pains of last season so perhaps we should enjoy the comfortable home wins while we can. 

Needless to say Stoke will be a much tougher challenge on Saturday!