Grabban brace brings Fulham back to reality

A brilliant brace from Lewis Grabban secured a smash-and-grab victory for Nottingham Forest at Fulham this afternoon.

Scott Parker’s side were well below the sublime levels of performance that saw them demolish Millwall in midweek and, despite dominating possession, were left to rue defensive errors that proved costly despite laying siege to the Forest goal in the closing stages. Parker took responsibility for young Steven Sessegnon’s poor pass that presented Grabban with the opportunity to double the visitors’ lead – an opening he finished with real aplomb – and this was a reminder that the Championship is an unforgiving league.

Forest were disciplined defensively and incredibly well-drilled and, if there was more than a little gamemanship as they tried to hold onto their advantage, then Sabri Lamouchi’s men should be applauded for the adventurous way they sort to put Fulham on the back foot from the off. They had already threatened to exploit Sessegnon’s inexperience before a beautiful move between Tiago Silva, Joe Lolley and Jack Robinson sent the full back scampering into space down the left. Grabban bent his run beautifully to drift off the back of Tim Ream and coolly converted the cross at the back post to score his second goal of the season.

Fulham were caught cold by their opponents’ strong start. Grabban, an expert goal-poacher at this level, might have made it two from twenty five yards with an audacious effort that drifted wide – and Lamouchi’s side were adept at preventing Fulham’s one-touch football from seriously threatening their penalty area. The hosts were largely restricted to efforts from outside the penalty area, with Joe Bryan and Harry Arter driving speculative shots wide, and league debutant Brice Samba was only troubled once – when an Aleksandar Mitrovic strike lacked the power or placement to beat him. Silva might have done better than hook an ambitious overhead kick wide had he realised just how much time he had in front of the Fulham goal.

Parker replaced Stefan Johansen with Bobby Decordova-Reid at the break, but the former Cardiff and Bristol City forward seemed uncertain of whether to partner Mitrovic or drift into pockets of space behind him. Fulham made a quicker start to the second half, although Reid’s close-range finish was ruled out for a foul by the Serbian striker on the Forest goalkeeper. Samba made a smart save from Reid’s downward header on 53 minutes – and the stage seemed set for a concerted period of Fulham pressure.

But the next opening arrived at the other end. Sessegnon sought to play the ball out from the back – in the manner that Parker has asked his defenders to do – but Sammy Ameobi seized on a mistake from the young defender and quickly fed Grabban with Fulham short-handed at the back. The striker had plenty to do as he darted away from Alfie Mawson, but made light of work of his task smashing an unstoppable finish beyond Marcus Bettinelli and in off the underside of the bar.

Fulham had little choice but to throw men forward in search of an unlikely comeback. They were frustrated by Forest’s outstanding defence, with Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall delivering a masterclass in how to nullify Mitrovic for the most part, and an inept referee’s inability to retain control of the contest. Samba, who was booked far too late for continual delaying of the restart, produced a brilliant one-handed save to claw away Sessegnon’s deflected volley – but the home side failed to test him enough given they enjoyed 72% of the possession.

The Whites did grab a lifeline with eight minutes to play. Substitute Aboubakar Kamara bulldozed his way down the left flank and cut the ball back from the byline, allowing Mitrovic to arrow a first-time effort into the far corner. There was still plenty of time for a storming finish with Worrall remarkably heading a goalbound Harry Arter volley behind for a corner and a couple of strong handball shouts waved away, but Forest resisted during eight minutes of second-half stoppage-time to claim an outstanding away victory.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Kamara 74), Bryan, Mawson, Ream (Christie 87); Arter, Johansen (Decordova-Reid 45), Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, McDonald, Reed.

BOOKED: Arter, Kamara.

GOAL: Mitrovic (82).

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (4-1-4-1): Samba; Jenkinson (Cash 82), Robinson, Dawson, Worrall; Watson; Lolley (Adomah 72), Ameobi, Sow, Silva (Semedo 58); Grabban. Subs (not used): Muric, Ribeiro, Figueiredo, Mir.

BOOKED: Ameobi, Semedo, Samba, Adomah.

GOALS: Grabban (4, 61).

REFEREE: Peter Bankes (Merseyside).

ATTENDANCE: 18,186

Parker praises Fulham’s work ethic

Scott Parker saluted Fulham’s hard work during pre-season after the Whites thrashed Millwall 4-0 at Craven Cottage tonight.

The Fulham boss felt his players were reaping the rewards of a strenuous pre-season programme and believes that his side have swiftly absorbed the lessons of their opening day slip up at Barnsley. The comprehensive victory over Millwall lifted Fulham to third in the table – and the manager was delighted with the manner of his team’s success.

The most pleasing thing is all the work that has gone in over the last 10 weeks you finally see your team execute against a good Millwall side who have started their season well. Full credit goes to the players who have been superb.

Momentum is with us. We are winning football matches, that’s three on the bounce now, and confidence is high and long may that continue. This league is relentless. Tonight is good of course but four games in we have a long way to go. This has been a good night but come tomorrow we work it away.

The victory owed much to the outstanding wing play of new signings Ivan Cavaleiro, who scored twice, and Anthony Knockaert, who opened his Fulham account with a header. Parker praised the Fulham hierarchy for bringing in those two players, who have a history of success in the Championship, on loan over the summer.

It’s so important to bring in those type of players. That’s credit to the owners who identified the mistakes we made last year in terms of recruitment. We have signed players who tick boxes and who you know what you are getting. You limit the risk and they have fitted in really well. All the new boys have fitted in superbly.

Flawless Fulham hit Millwall for four

Many may have scoffed at Scott Parker’s managerial credentials – especially following Fulham’s opening day defeat at Barnsley – but there are signs the feelgood factor has returned to Craven Cottage. The Whites put on a spellbinding display of flowing football, which rivalled any of the eye-catching performances during the Slavisa Jokanovic years, to ruthlessly outclass Millwall and underline their promotion credentials.

There was always a feeling that Parker’s new front three of Ivan Cavaleiro, Anthony Knockaert and Aleksandar Mitrovic might be far too hot to handle for Championship defences and the home side were irresistible going forward this evening. But the stylish way in which they cut Millwall to ribbons and the precise nature of their passing suggests that Parker’s side could be successful in following the Jokanovic blueprint of playing their way out of the Championship. The 934 completed passes during this ninety minutes surpassed anything recorded in this division since Opta began compiling data in 2013/2014 – they simply passed Millwall into submission.

Neil Harris, who praised the majesty of Fulham’s football after the final whistle, probably got his tactics wrong. Millwall played a passive 4-4-1-1 and sat off the home side, which proved to be a fatal mistake. Parker’s charges looked frightening with the time and space to work their magic – the traditional Millwall blood and thunder approach, mirroring the way Barnsley had pressed Fulham out of their comfort zone, might have paid more dividends.

As it was, Fulham played pretty passing patterns from the outset and were soon into their rhythm. Bartosz Bialkowski produced an excellent save to prevent Mitrovic from heading home Knockaert’s floated cross, but the visitors never looked likely to resist wave after wave of Fulham attacks. The opener duly arrived in the fifteenth minute when Tom Cairney, who orchestrated proceedings regally from midfield all night, fed Cavaleiro inside the box. The Portuguese winger darted inside Mahlon Romeo and Connor Mahoney in the blink of an eye and crashed a right-footed effort high into the net.

Fulham’s second was a work of art. Knockaert provided the finish – a rare header as he scampered free to meet Cavaleiro’s cross – to a mesmorising 26 pass move that involved all eleven home players. It was something of a surprise that Millwall, who looked bewildered by the ease with which their opponents played through them, managed to make it through to the break with no further damage to the scoreline. Their plans weren’t helped when Jiri Skalak, making a first league start since February, limped off injured shortly after seeing a deflected shot fielded by Marcus Bettinelli.

Harris shook things up at half-time – with former Fulham forward Matt Smith introduced from the bench – and Millwall briefly threatened a revival. Smith should have scored almost instantly, but snatched at his shot when a Tom Bradshaw effort rebounded at his feet, before Romeo and Bradshaw both had shots blocked in quick succession. The visitors’ lively start to the second period petered out as Fulham began to see more of the ball and there was greater damage to come.

Steven Sessegnon, who enjoyed a remarkably composed home league debut, saw a cross loop onto the top of the bar, but Fulham’s third wasn’t long in coming. There was an element of fortune about it as Harry Arter miscued a speculative shot from the edge of the box and the ball broke to Mitrovic in front of goal. The Serbian reached the loose ball ahead of Bialkowski, who was already committed to a challenge, and scythed him down. Mitrovic blasted home the ensuing spot-kick with the minimum of fuss.

Six minutes later and Fulham had four. Cairney’s impudent chip was perfectly weighted for Cavaleiro to surge away from a tiring Millwall defence and the on-loan Wolves winger took one touch to round the goalkeeper and a second to double his tally for the night as blue shirts toiled in vain to try and quell the danger. The Whites were rarely tested defensively, with Smith denied a late consolation on his return to the Cottage by an offside flag.

Fulham will face fiercer tests this term – perhaps even on Saturday against Nottingham Forest – but the poise and penetration of Parker’s side suggests that they could be a force to be reckoned with in this division once again.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter (McDonald 75), Johansen, Cairney (Decordova-Reid 69); Knockaert, Cavaleiro (Kamara 79), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, Christie, Reid.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Knockaert.

GOALS: Cavaleiro (15, 63), Knockaert (32), Mitrovic (pen 56).

MILLWALL (4-4-1-1): Bialkowski; Romeo, M. Wallace, Pearce, Cooper; Mahoney, Williams (Smith 45), Leonard, Skalak (Ferguson 39); Thompson (Molumby 75); Bradshaw. Subs (not used): Steele, Hutchinson, O’Brien, Bodvarsson.

BOOKED: Cooper.

REFEREE: Darren Bond (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 17,066.

Arise, Sir Steven

I’m sure many of you had a brother or sister growing up- but if you didn’t, let me describe it to you. I was one of four, and EVERYTHING was a competition in my house. Particularly with my younger brother as we were only 18 months apart, everything from tying shoe laces to eating dinner was completed with a highly competitive edge. It was carnage at times! I’d imagine that the rivalry between siblings is only intensified when you are a twin, so I’m sure there were some battles inside the Sessegnon house when Ryan and Steven were growing up. I reckon the twins loved getting one over on the other in a friendly way, but I also reckon that both boys spurred each other on, encouraged each other and essentially made each other better players.

However, while I think that the twin dynamic has benefitted the boys, I’d imagine that sometimes it must have been tough for Steven when he was watching Ryan take steps in his career at a quicker pace. What we have seen in public has been a real mutual respect and love between the boys, but I’m sure it wasn’t always easy, even if Steven has never shown it! He maybe felt in his twin’s shadow at times, but now it’s time for him to step out and make his own mark in the footballing world.

Many of us have been calling for Steven’s inclusion in the team for a year or so but apart from a few cup appearances, we were left frustrated. But finally, on a cold and windy night in the North West, exactly two years on from Ryan’s debut in the same league, we got to see Steven in action- and what a league debut he had. I was massively impressed with what I saw from him, particularly in aiding the attack. He maybe drifted to the left a bit more than we would want from a right back, but I don’t think that’s the position he has played most in so it’s OK to take some time to adapt. Like Ryan, he is a very hard worker, and also had to confidence to pass the ball around with pace. In attack he had the Huddersfield defence worried on several occasions and was very unfortunate not to come away from the match with an assist. Without his endeavour to get the ball into the box, we wouldn’t have clinched our second goal so he had a rea;;y positive impact on the result. He looks much more able in that position than Denis Odoi and Cyrus Christie so he should soon cement his place there.

It may have came two years after Ryan, but we all take our own routes in life and there is absolutely no shame in that. This is Steven’s time, and I’m buzzing to see what he has in store for us.

#COYW

Cavaleiro’s cracker clinches Fulham win

A moment of magic from Ivan Cavaleiro clinched back to back wins for Scott Parker as Fulham recorded an impressive 2-1 win at Huddersfield Town tonight.

The Portuguese winger settled the contest with a stunning curler from the edge of the box that left the outstanding Kamil Grabara clutching at thin air with ten minutes to play. Cavaleiro’s first goal for the Whites was enough to secure an encouraging away win from a contest that Fulham had dominated, but were pegged back when Karlan Grant’s second half header threatened to punish the Londoners for their profligacy.

Parker had made one change from the side that had recorded their first win of the season last weekend against Blackburn, handing teenage defender Steven Sessegnon his first league start at right back. The visitors were indebted to the youngster’s quick thinking when he bravely blocked a venomous drive from from Lewis O’Brien. Huddersfield were after a quick start, but instead they grew gradually into a contest that began with patient Fulham probing.

Parker’s side spurned several good openings in the first half. The lively Anthony Knockaert posed Huddersfield problems throughout and when Grabara clawed away a dangerous low cross, Stefan Johansen teed up Cavaleiro, who steered a shot disappointingly wide of the far post. A lovely one-two between Johansen and Joe Bryan sent the left back surging into the Huddersfield area but he opted to try and beat Grabara at his near post when the better option might have been a pull back for the unmarked Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Huddersfield had ended the first period the stronger with a number of threatening raids down the right from full back Florent Hadergjonaj but, after a stern half-time talking to from Parker, Fulham emerged full of intent. Both Mitrovic and Knockaert spurned decent chances before the Serbian striker was denied by a smart block from Christopher Schlinder and drove the rebound over the crossbar.

Fulham’s pressure was building, but when the breakthrough came it owed much to a mistake from Juninho Bacuna. The Huddersfield midfielder was trying to prevent a through ball from reaching Cavaleiro by the byline but he ended up hooking the ball inviting across his own goal, allowing Mitrovic to outjump Tommy Elphick and head home from three yards out.

But Fulham contrived to throw away their advantage just six minutes later. Hadergjonaj powered down the right and sent over a dangerous cross which former Charlton forward Grant met with a powerful header from eight yards. The ball ricocheted off the post and over the line via Marcus Bettinelli’s body – and belief suddenly surged through the John Smith’s Stadium.

Parker has built his side to attack and Fulham went straight back to it. A beautifully weighted pass through the heart of the Huddersfield defence sent Knockaert scampering clear but Grabara surged his line to block the French winger’s finish and preserve parity. The Fulham manager certainly wasn’t settling for a point – sending on Bobby Decordova-Reid to add to his side’s attacking arsenal and the red shirts began to swarm around the Huddersfield box.

It needed a moment of real quality to beat the inspired Grabara and Cavaleiro, who had been largely anonymous in a diffident first half, provided it. Taking advantage of the extra yard provided by Bryan’s decoy run on his outside, the on-loan Wolves winger bent a beautiful finish around Grabara and into the top corner to restore Fulham’s lead. They might have stretched their advantage when Decordova-Reid found some space in the penalty area, but the Huddersfield goalkeeper pulled off another smart save.

Town piled on the pressure in the closing stages, but the only moment of real alarm came in stoppage time when Terence Kongolo muscled his way onto a long ball from O’Brien at the back post but his attempted cross lacked the power to reach Grant and was gratefully smothered by Bettinelli. This defeat meant a brittle Huddersfield side have managed just four wins in 51 competitive games, but an early sacking would be exceptionally harsh on the likeable Jan Siewert, who inherited a thankless task in the second half of last season.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (4-3-3): Grabara; Hadergjonaj, Kongolo, Elphick, Schindler; Bacuna (Chalobah 54), Hogg, O’Brien; Kachunga (Mounie 83), Pritchard (van La Parra 84), Grant. Subs (not used): Schofield, Bockhorn, Diakhaby, Quaner.

BOOKED: Kachunga, Hogg.

GOAL: Grant (57).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter, Johansen (Decordova-Reid 76), Cairney; Knockaert (Le Marchand 90), Cavaleiro (Reed 84), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, McDonald, Kamara.

BOOKED: S. Sessegnon, Mawson.

GOALS: Mitrovic (51), Cavaleiro (80).

REFEREE: James Linington (Newport).

ATTENDANCE: 20,775.

Parker praises Fulham’s response

Scott Parker was pleased with Fulham’s response to their opening day defeat at Barnsley – praising his side’s bravery for sticking to their style of play during today’s 2-0 win over Blackburn.

The Whites recorded their first three points of the Championship campaign with a home victory that was without a few sloppy moments – but Parker insisted his team should stick to playing in the manner he has drilled them in throughout pre-season.

There was a bit of edginess and nerves at the beginning from us, but at same time the boys were also very brave. The way I want us to play comes with a certain risk and a world-class strike from Tom [Cairney] eased things for us. Last week at Barnsley, we took the easy option at times. As a team we‘re not going to win football matches that way.

Of course Blackburn caused us one or two problems with some big balls into the box, but we had control of the game after Tom’s goal. We were a bit short in terms of physicality and the basics of the game last week, so we spoke all week about giving ourselves the foundation by doing the basics well.

We did the dirty side well and that gave us the platform to go and produce through the individuals we have. We have got a lot of experience in this team with Tom, Mitro and Tim Ream in this team. And Harry Arter has come in who had a promotion with Bournemouth. We all realise how tough this league is, but we’re expecting a big season here.