Slavisa Jokanovic was pleased with what he described as ‘a positive night’ as Fulham reached the fourth round of the League Cup after recording a 3-1 win at Millwall.
The Fulham head coach told his post-match press conference that he was encouraged by the way his side shrugged off the defensive setbacks against Watford at the weekend and how a number of players took their opportunity to demonstrate their talent against combative Championship opposition. He was also pleased by the way in which a new-look Fulham side adapted to a 3-4-3 formation.
Today we played well. In the last game against Watford, we had a defensive problem in the first half and in the second half we fixed it. I always try to find a solution. We tried to prepare well for this game, and in the end the team interpreted the situation both offensively and defensively. It’s something different, but sometimes you need to change things. This is one way to play football, so why not try it?
Jokanovic reserved special praise for American midfielder, Luca de la Torre, who scored his first goal for the club, and left back Joe Bryan, who rifled home the opener having been left out of recent starting elevens.
Luca’s a really great lad and he played well – two assists and one goal. He’s worked a long time with me. I haven’t had space to give him many chances, but he has never stopped pushing forward, has shown personality and professionalism in training. He’s never given up and he’s never surrendered. I can’t promise anything, but he’s showed many positives. He enjoyed scoring his first goal for the team, as did Joe Bryan, who played well too. It has been a positive night for us.
We’ll try and find a solution, and think how we can use different players, in different moments, or different formations. The shape today worked well enough and we are open to variation. We’ll check whether we can play with this shape in the future.
He was inevitability asked about the game’s most eye-catching debutante, fifteen year-old Harvey Elliott, who enjoyed his first ten minutes of senior football as a late substitute.
Harvey’s trained with us a few times. He’s definitely a talented kid, whose shown some kind of quality and we believe this was an opportunity how we performs at a senior level. He moved the ball with quality and speed. I didn’t want to put him in trouble. When the game started to look comfortable, I gave him a chance. In the end, it was a great opportunity for him. The future’s bright, but he must go back to school tomorrow!
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).
Slavisa Jokanovic has warned his Fulham side that they won’t be able to survive in the Premier League if they continue to make the kind of sloppy starts that have gifted goals to the opposition over the past two weeks.
Fulham conceded a second-minute opener to Leroy Sane at Manchester City last weekend and a horrible defensive mix-up gave Andre Gray the opportunity to put high-flying Watford in front at Craven Cottage this afternoon. Jokanovic was heavily critical of his side’s disorganised start in his post-match press conference and is demanding an immediate improvement.
We started really sloppy and soft, and gave them so much space to do damage. We encouraged ourselves and in the second half we showed we can move the football, showed attitude and showed character. In the end, we must be satisfied with a point today, and push forward, be brave and improve.
There’s a huge gap for improvement. We must be available to work hard and improve. To start the game the way we started today, or how we started against City, it’s not easy to survive this situation. We must be focused, concentrate – this is the Premier League, the most competitive league in the world. These mistakes and sloppy starts can make it complicated to fix. We must be available to work. We must be available to step up. I need my players to be brave and confident.
The Fulham head coach admitted he still hasn’t settled on his best side but is confident that his summer signings are beginning to gel.
We must be satisfied with one point, but I’m not completely satisfied with our 90 minutes. The satisfaction comes from the second-half. There’s space for improvement, as the gap is huge. It’s my sixth game with 12 new players. Today’s situation is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today. We are in some kind of process and the players are gelling.
Jokanovic was full of praise for centre forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who grabbed Fulham’s equaliser, and could have pinched all three points in the closing stages.
He’s great, he played well. It wasn’t easy for him, fighting against two Watford centre-backs – [but] he’s strong. He didn’t find the space for many chances, but in the end he had two chances and scored one and hit the crossbar. He did his job and we’re satisfied with his level. He’s a brave man and I know he’s never really satisfied.
Given the sloppy nature of Fulham’s start against high-flying Watford this lunchtime, Slavisa Jokanovic would have been mightily pleased with the way he side ended the contest with a point. For the second week in succession, the Whites surrendered an all-too-avoidable goal inside the first ninety seconds and, just as at the Etihad last weekend, Fulham could have been dead and buried within the first half. That they produced a stirring second half recovery, and might have nicked all three points at the death, owed much to the predatory instincts of the inspirational Aleksandar Mitrovic, some real resilience and two decisive half-time changes from the head coach.
Jokanovic selected his sixth different back four of the season, but the hosts’ defensive frailties didn’t take long to come to the surface. From a straightforward throw in, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Calum Chambers, Alfie Mawson and Jean-Michael Seri all squandered opportunities to clear their lines, allowing Will Hughes to poke a ball through for Andre Gray, who gleefully tucked a finish past the stranded Marcus Bettinelli. Gray and the powerful Troy Deeney have struck up a potent partnership that has helped the Hornets surge towards the top of the Premier League table and they looked likely to secure another victory inside a first half that the visitors thoroughly dominated.
Only a combination of the brilliance of Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal and some careless finishing kept the deficit down to a single goal. Bettinelli, who was outstanding in the 3-0 defeat by champions Manchester City last week, made himself big to deny Deeney at his near post and alive to the danger when a woefully short back header from Mawson gave Gray a glorious chance to grab his second – spreading himself to repel the former Brentford forward’s snapshot. In between those two blocks, Fulham escaped unharmed when Christian Kabasele’s bullet header bounced off Ryan Sessegnon’s back and away to safety at a Watford corner.
Mawson and Chambers looked all at sea at the heart of an overworked Fulham defence. Mawson was hauled off at half-time having been booked for a wild hack at Roberto Pereyra, whilst Chambers had donated the ball to Watford in dangerous positions with concerning regularity. Fosu-Mensah was more than fortunate to escape a red card midway through the first period after a late lunge at Deeney and Fulham could count themselves lucky to still be in the contest at the break, although Pereyra was only a yard away from curling in a splendid finish from an acute angle just before half-time.
Jokanovic’s change of shape and personnel proved pivotal at the break. Fulham had threatened only fleetingly in the first half, with Luciano Vietto twice denied by the alertness of Ben Foster, and referee Martin Atkinson waving away a penalty appeal when Mitrovic appeared to have been flattened in the box. They struggled to keep the ball – something that was rectified when the peerless Denis Odoi replaced Mawson – and Jokanovic also gambled by introducing Floyd Ayite for Kevin McDonald to try and give his side another outlet in attack.
It took just four minutes for Fulham to fashion an opportunity far more clear-cut than they had managed in the first half. Andre Schurrle, now operating off Mitrovic, darted into space down the left and delivered a teasing cross that the Serbian striker rose majestically to meet with his head. He was furious that he ballooned it harmlessly over the bar but it sounded a warning to Watford of Fulham’s attacking intentions. Vietto then blazed disappointing in the Hammersmith End after a lightning counter attack before Bettinelli got down sharply to deny Gray at his near post at the other end.
Fulham gradually began to work up a head of steam and stepped up the intensity when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa replaced the ineffectual Stefan Johansen. Patterns of patient possession football penned Watford back and Mitrovic, who had sent two headed half chances wide, flicked home his fifth goal of the season from close range after fine work from Vietto and Sessegnon down the left with twelve minutes to go. The lively Argentinian scampered away from Daryl Janmaat and had the composure to pick out Mitrovic, who got the deftest of touches beyond Foster at the near post to level matters.
A gripping and open finale ensued. Deeney robbed Chambers outside the Fulham defender’s own box but then lacked the conviction to go for goal himself, overhitting his intended pass for Isaac Success, before the substitute almost found a winner on his own, working half a yard of space beautifully with a shimmy, but Bettinelli blocked the Nigerian’s shot with his legs. It was Jokanovic’s side who almost stole the victory at the death with Foster producing a magnificent save to deny Mitrovic a winner before he thudded a header against the bar. The former England goalkeeper somehow clawed away a curler from 20 yards that looked destined for the top corner but could only watch as Mitrovic clattered the crossbar with a venomous header from the resulting corner.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah, R. Sessegnon, Mawson (Odoi 45), Chambers; McDonald (Ayite 45), Johansen (Anguissa 64), Seri; Schurrle, Vietto, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Le Marchand, Kamara.
BOOKED: Mawson, Fosu-Mensah.
GOAL: Mitrovic (78).
WATFORD (4-2-2-2): Foster; Janmaat, Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart; Capoue, Doucoure; Hughes (Femenia 70), Pereyra (Sema 90); Deeney, Gray (Success 80). Subs (not used): Gomes, Mariappa, Chalobah, Masina.
GOAL: Gray (2).
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
The great thing about football is that there is always the next game. At City last week we spent the majority of the game chasing shadows, and while that will be the same story for may sides who visit the Etihad this season, it’s still a memory that I want to eradicate quite quickly! So we move on to Watford tomorrow, a match which both sides will feel that they can win and bounce back from their respected defeats last weekend.
Watford started the season unbelievably well, with the win over Spurs particularly impressive. They have scored ten goals already this season, bettered only by Liverpool and Manchester City. They will also count themselves very unlucky to have lost on Saturday evening against Manchester United, but their second half display just came too late having already been 2-0 down. They are a strong team, and one that shouldn’t be underestimated.
If there is one man who isn’t going to underestimate Watford, it’s got to be Slavisa Jokanovic. Having guided the Hornets to automatic promotion back in 2015, Jokanovic and Watford failed to agree on contract terms and the two parted ways in rather frustrating fashion for both parties. So maybe there will be an added sting (pardon the pun) to this game as Jokanovic faces his old side for the first time since leaving.
It’s fair to say that Jokanovic surprised us all with his team selection last weekend, and while none of Stefan Johansen, Ryan Sessegnon at left back and Denis Odoi played badly, I’m hoping to see some changes tomorrow morning. I have no idea what Joe Bryan has done to deserve to be put out of the team after his brilliant displays against Palace, Spurs and Burnley. Hopefully we see him back there tomorrow. In terms of centre backs, I’d like to see Maxime Le Marchand partner Mawson this week. MLM was my surprise package in the first few games, but it all fell apart a bit when he was moved to left back against Brighton. He is much better in the centre and until Ream is fit again, I think a Mawson-MLM partnership is the way to go.
With Cairney out again tomorrow, I’d have Anguissa alongside McDonald and Seri. I have no doubt that the midfield battle will be key tomorrow, so it’s important that Jokanovic makes the right call with his choices. Anguissa looked very impressive again against City last week when he came on and while Seri was at fault for the first goal, I have no doubt that he will bounce back from that against Watford.
I’m expecting a lot of chances for both sides tomorrow so it could come down to whose attackers are more on the ball. He was an isolated figure last weekend but I feel like this is the sort of game that Mitrovic absolutely thrives on, especially in front of a home crowd. His four goals this season have him joint second in the goal scoring charts, while his shot count is only bettered by Sergio Aguero. We have a player here who is hungry for goals and thankfully Fulham have given him the perfect platform to perform on. At the other side of the pitch our defender will have the difficult job of keeping Andre Gray and Troy Deeney quiet. Deeney reminds me a little bit of Mitrovic in terms of his tenacious attitude on the pitch, and he is a player who seems to always be in the middle of the action. While he only has two goals this season he is still a player to be wary of. Another player to watch out for is Jose Holebas. The defender has an impressive four assists and a goal already to his name this season so is without a doubt one of Watford’s danger men.
This won’t be an easy game but I think Fulham are due a performance tomorrow. Watford are dangerous, there is no doubt about it, but I think that we have the stronger midfield, and if we win that battle, then we will create more chances which Mitrovic is primed and ready to put away. I have a good feeling about this one.