Never give up, says Fulham hero Kebano

Neeskens Kebano is the best example of the importance of keeping the faith. The Congolese winger’s sensational form towards the end of the season powered Fulham through to the play-offs and he made a vital contribution as the Whites beat Brentford to secure promotion to the Premier League.

Kebano scored five goals in five games – doing enough to earn a new two-year contract at Craven Cottage having only started a single game before the coronavirus lockdown. The turnaround was remarkable and a fitting reward for the 28 year-old’s impressive work ethic and unstinting belief in his own ability.

Kebano told the BBC:

Prior to the lockdown, I was just entering games for four or 10 minutes or so but since the restart, I began more games. So obviously with more time on the pitch, you have more chances to score.

Maybe he [Scott Parker] felt that it was my moment, that I deserved it for my effort. I never gave up, I always worked hard and I took the opportunity when I had one. This is how I earned my place.

The winger shared his delight at sealing an instant return to the top flight.

We are so proud of getting a promotion right after going down. Our season was far from perfect but we fought like animals and we got what we deserved. This is why we had crazy celebrations. Fulham is back to the place it belongs. In this club, I have my habits here, my family is happy. This is why I feel great in this club.

He also agreed with the assertion that Fulham’s previous Premier League woes, when they were relegated a year after winning promotion, was partially caused by a summer of splashing the cash, something both Parker and chairman Shahid Khan have pledged to avoid this time around.

I think one of the mistakes was to include too many new players in a team already in place. “I am not a football teacher but it’s definitely the mistake to avoid. Last time, it could have worked but it didn’t.

Leeds poised to complete £1m Drameh deal

Leeds are poised to complete a deal to take promising Fulham defender Cody Drameh to Elland Road for a fee that could rise to around £1m, according to a report in the Daily Mail this morning.

The young full-back is in his final year of his current deal at Craven Cottage and, after starring for Fulham’s under-23 side, had been linked with Manchester City and several European sides. The Londoners appear resigned to the fact that the 18 year-old would not sign a new contract and entered into negotiations with Leeds over a permanent transfer, although the two sides were initially some way apart in their valuation – with Leeds offering around £400,000 for the England under-18 international.

Marcelo Bielsea rates Drameh, who remains behind Cyrus Christie, Denis Odoi and Steven Sessegnon in Scott Parker’s pecking order, highly and is prepared to offer the youngster an opportunity in the first team rather than sending him out on loan. Leeds had an approach turned down in January and have returned to try and complete the deal, which will also include a 20 per cent sell-on clause.

The rise of Marek Rodak

Looking in from outside, the choice of Fulham’s player of the season would appear obvious. The talismanic Aleksandar Mitrovic has been a goal machine throughout a torturous Championship season, keeping the Whites’ flagging promotion push alive seemingly single-handed at times with his potency in front of goal. The Serbian’s 26 goal haul earned him the division’s golden boot and he returned, half-fit, to provide a clever assist for Joe Bryan’s second at Wembley as Fulham saw off Brentford in the dying embers of extra-time on Tuesday night.

The case for Mitrovic is compelling, but there should be other names in the frame. Michael Hector’s introduction to the heart of the defence undoubtedly made Fulham much more miserly and his outstanding interventions to deny Robert Glatzel an opening goal as Cardiff started the play-off semi-final first leg brightly look crucial in retrospect. But arguably the pivotal piece of Fulham’s promotion jigsaw was not Mitrovic up front or Hector in the back four, but Scott Parker’s decision to switch his goalkeeper.

Marek Rodak has always been highly rated at Motspur Park, but for a while it seemed like a susbtantial Fulham career could pass him by. The Slovakian’s misfortune appeared to be starring for Rotherham on loan whilst his parent club’s attention was elsewhere. He helped the Millers’ to promotion from League One via the play-offs, an experience that would undoubtedly have eased any nerves heading into this week’s Wembley showdown, and produced a string of outstanding displays the following year as Paul Warne’s side battled bravely – although ultimately unsuccessfully – against the drop.

If Rodak was disssatisfied at remaining understudy to Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal, he didn’t show it. A determined pre-season impressed the Fulham coaching staff and his patience paid off when Parker became concerned at the number of eminently preventable goals his side were considering. It wasn’t plain sailing from the off, however, as Rodak had to bounce back from the early disappointment of being sent off at Middlesbrough seventeen minutes into his first league start having made a rash dash from his line. He overcome that setback to keep a clean sheet as Fulham clung on for victory at Birmingham and then kept the Whites in the local derby against QPR, who had taken the lead at Craven Cottage, with a string of fine saves before Aboubakar Kamara’s brace turned the tie around.

Rodak was sensational in front of the Sky cameras at Swansea as Fulham clinched a vital victory against their promotion rivals and firmly established himself as the club’s number one. He produced several stellar stops to keep out league leaders Leeds in another important win before Christmas, made another fine save in injury time to deny Stoke a point, and helped a much-changed Fulham eleven knock Aston Villa out of the FA Cup.

He is a confident young goalkeeper and has evidently improved his distribtuon with the ball at his feet, as indicated by the monstrous kick that found Ivan Cavaleiro and led to the precious second goal against the Bees at Wembley. The assurance he has added to a previously jitery backline is probably unquatifiable – and he keeps coming up with critical saves, such as the ones that ensured Fulham didn’t blow a three-goal lead against Huddersfield.

There were more outstanding individual displays during the run-in as Fulham battled to narrow victories, after Rodak showed impressive fortitude to put a below-bar performance in the damaging defeat by Barnsley behind him. Still only 23, there remains real time for the goalkeeper to develop his craft, even if he has served serious notice of his credentials during an excellent breakthrough season. Rodak is Fulham’s most consistent goalkeeper since Mark Schwarzer and will now have his eyes firmly set on the Premier League. At his rate of development, international honours can’t be far away.

That Fulham can even be contemplating a top-flight campaign considering that regular defensive mishaps were undermining hopes of even a top six finish during an inconsistent autumn run is probably down to a few factors. Parker’s undoubted improvement as a manager, which has come to national attention during the play-offs, helped his side retain belief and, while Hector and Mitrovic were vital components of their continued excellence, Rodak deserves recognition for his consistency in goal that made the Whites such a difficult side to defeat.

Palace planning to scupper Fulham’s Reed deal

Roy Hodgson is mounting an audacious bid to hijack his old club Fulham’s pursuit of Harrison Reed and sign him for Crystal Palace instead, according to the Football Insider.

The Whites were believed to be favourites to sign the former England under-20 international after an impressive loan spell at Craven Cottage culminated in promotion to the Premier League. Fulham hold an £8m option to make the deal permanent and Reed is eager to gain first-team football for the good of his career, something which Southampton feel unable to guarantee at this point. But Hodgson, an admirer of how Reed has flourished under Scott Parker, is ready to test Reed’s resolve to move to west London by submitting a similar bid.

The impish midfielder, frustrated by being restricted to just thirty appearances since breaking into the Southampton first-team picture back in 2013, has spent the last hree seasons on loan in the Championship. He had a dramatic impact on Fulham’s fortunes after returning from a calf injury to star during the second half of the season, adding bite and defensive solidity to a previously porous midfield. It remains to be seen whether the Eagles’ interest could persuade Reed to switch his final destination at this late stage.

Leeds closing in on Drameh deal?

Leeds are closing in on a deal for the highly-rated Fulham full back Cody Drameh, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Marcelo Bielsa is keen on one of Fulham’s most promising talents to emerge from their Motspur Park academy and is reportedly willing to offer the teenage right back an opportunity in the Premier League for this coming season. Drameh has been linked with a whole host of top flight clubs over the past year on the back of a string of impressive displays for Fulham’s under-23s but none of the potential suitors have been willing to offer first-team football.

Fulham could be tempted to part ways with Drameh, who has less than twelve months to run on his current deal, but the Londoners may want to enter negotiations over a new deal having secured promotion to the Premier League on Tuesday night. The Telegraph suggests that Fulham value Drameh at around £400,000, but academy director Huw Jennings will want to see if there’s a chance of persuading the young starlet to remain at Craven Cottage.

Fulham enter Gallagher race

Fulham are one of a number of Premier League clubs who are considering taking Conor Gallagher on loan from Chelsea, according to Football London.

Chelsea are willing to send their promising midfielder out on loan again after his impressive performances for Charlton and Swansea City last term, but they want him to make the step up to the top flight. Gallagher is keen to taste more first-team football, which remains unlikely at this point if he were to stay at Stamford Bridge, and there will be no shortage of suitors. Crystal Palace, Southampton and Leeds are among the leading sides interested in taking the England under-21 international on loan, although Chelsea’s preference is believed to be for a team that plays in a similar style to their own.

That may open the door to Fulham, who are managed by former Blues midfielder Scott Parker, who has largely stuck to his patient, passing game as the Whites secured promotion from the Championship via the play-offs. Gallagher caught the eye during his loan spells, with one superb performance in Charlton’s 2-2 at Craven Cottage in September. The twenty year-old scored six times in his 26 appearances with the Addicks and, whilst he didn’t find the net for Swansea, he contributed six assists as the Welsh side were beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Brentford.

Parker is known to be keen to nurture young talent and, with Matt O’Riley and Luca de la Torre heading for pastures new this summer, there would be an opening for an attacking midfielder to put pressure on club captain Tom Cairney and Josh Onomah, who really came into his own during the second half of the season. Perhaps the biggest battle will be convincing Gallagher that his future prospects are best served by making the short journey along the Fulham Road.