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Goodnight Mister Tom?

It’s fair to say the pressing concern for every Fulham fan at the moment is the need for a new centre-back, maybe even two! Right now, we would all settle for a rumour linking us to a new centre-back. In the grand scheme of things any issues outside of that whether it be the need for a second striker to backup Mitrovic or further additions to the midfield pale into insignificance.

That being said I still think there is a conversation to be had around our midfield and specifically the justification for Tom Cairney to start. I cannot be alone in feeling that our captain has somewhat plateaued in recent seasons, perhaps even gone backwards. For much of last season it felt as though he was always going through the motions, never really match fit and a shadow of his former self. Upon viewing the shortlist of our goal of the season contenders I couldn’t quite believe how many times he featured and do wonder whether the 6-8 albeit beautiful goals each year mask the reality of his real contribution.

Cairney managed just three assists last term in 42 appearances. During our previous Premier League campaign, he managed just a single goal and solitary assist in 32 appearances. In fact, his best season for us was in Slav’s first year when were beaten by Reading in the play-offs, managing thirteen goals and ten assists. The subsequent promotion season in 2018 saw both his goal tally and assist figures drop by half. We all know about his qualities but these days he plays like someone who won’t take a risk for fear of damaging his pass completion percentage. I swear there are times during a game when he shapes to play a pass he would once have taken a chance on only to turn back inside and lay it off to Harrison Reed six feet away.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what he needs to do more in the current team as his very role is so hard to define. He isn’t as combative as Reed and can’t seem to beat a man like Onomah can, so perhaps his link up play just needs to offer more than a huge variety of short square balls. By no means am I underestimating his leadership and influence in the squad but is this a season where Fulham can afford to have players who only bring that to the table? And how much do we really lose on the field when he does come off given the likes of Hector and Mitrovic do offer visible vocal leadership as well.

We are only one game into what will be a tough season and Cairney will get game time to hopefully step up in a way that he certainly didn’t last time round in the top flight. With Harrison Reed and Josh Omomah solidifying their places in the midfield we have the likes of Anguissa, Lemina and at the time of writing Seri still on the books as options. There were times last season where I felt Mcdonald or Johansen could offer something different when TC was off his game but the chances of either of these (or Seri) featuring seems highly unlikely.

While Cairney rightly remains a fans favourite and a loyal servant to the club we can’t afford to be sentimental when assessing what value he brings to the team this season. Perhaps more needs to be done to define the role he plays but with the first day of the season severely lacking in creativity Parker will need his skipper to find a new level. It may be seen as somewhat blasphemous to lay criticism at his feet and so early in the season but this really is more of a comment on the last few years rather than the Arsenal game itself.