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Lemina replaced after ‘feeling hamstring’

Fulham will monitor Mario Lemina’s fitness tomorrow morning after the midfielder felt his hamstring in tonight’s win over West Bromwich Albion.

The Gabonese international, on loan at Craven Cottage from Southampton, enjoyed an excellent first half at the base of Fulham’s midfield, providing an energetic presence to cover the back four and begin plenty of promising attacks. It came as a surprise when he did not reappear for the second half, having been replaced by Harrison Reed, but manager Scott Parker told his post-match press conference that Lemina was withdrawn as a precaution:

“He’s struggling a little bit. He felt his hamstring a little bit in the first half, so we didn’t want to take any risks. We’ll have to see how he is”.

Parker pleased with Fulham’s first win

Fulham boss Scott Parker admitted there was an element of relief at Craven Cottage tonight – after the Whites recorded their first Premier League win of the season against West Brom and moved out of the relegation zone.

The hosts were comfortable winners over fellow strugglers Albion courtesy of first half strikes from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Ola Aina, who struck a superb second from just outside the box. Parker professed himself pleased with Fulham’s attitude and intensity and believes his side can build a morale-boosting first victory.

He told his post-match press conference:

“We sat on one point after six games, not won a game, so of course there’s a relief amongst the team and amongst the players. I think I’ve said it many a time this year – we’ve won the game tonight – along the journey we’re going to have this year, there’s going to be many bumps.

“Overall a very, very good performance… I think for for everyone in the team, in the club, they needed the win and we got that. I thought we had a real endeavour about us, showed our quality tonight and were well worth the two goals.

“The processes [that] are in place, in terms of coming onto the training field, keep learning from our errors – which we’re going to make, coz that’s where we are this year – but good group, [that] come in every day in training, working hard, understanding where we are and where we need to keep improving. And that’s going to be the same moving forward. There’s going to be many more bumps for us this year, as long we adopt an attitude which is one of wanting to improve, wanting to get better, I’ve no doubt we’ll be ok.”

Aina blockbuster beats the Baggies

The relief around Craven Cottage was palpable. If Fulham were written off at the start of the season, plenty of pundits seized on their continued defensive vulnerability to write their Premier League obituaries. Scott Parker, lauded as one of the brightest British managers having masterminded a Championship play-off final victory over Brentford, was suddenly considered well out of his depth. The pressure, having gone six games without a win, was palpable. Beating fellow strugglers West Brom was a necessity if only to block out the noise.

Parker, an affable but quietly confident character, professed his belief in both his charges and his personal ability even after the disappointment of last week’s defeat by Crystal Palace. He only made a couple of changes, introducing Joachim Andersen in central defence a couple of weeks ahead of schedule after an ankle injury, and recalling Bobby Decordova-Reid on the right flank. Fulham had to survive an early scare, when a mishit cross from Conor Townsend wrongfooted Alphonse Areola and came back off the crossbar, and intially appeared hesitant in possession, but the tigerishness of Maria Lemina, who knitted things together nicely in midfield, gradually garnered the hosts a foothold.

Ademola Lookman, a livewire from the left in his early outings since his deadline day loan move from Leipzig, provided Fulham’s first threatening moments. The tricky winger drifted into dangerous spaces in front of the West Brom defence and drove a right-footed effort just wide of the far post. The Whites began to play the pretty passing football they prefer and went in front with a goal of real quality. It owed much to Andre Frank Anguissa’s adventure from central midfield as he carried the ball to the edge of the box before finding Antonee Robinson in an advanced position on the left wing. The American international produced a quality cross that Aleksandar Mitrovic nodded unselfishly back across goal for Decordova-Reid to head home, despite Branislav Ivanovic’s desperate efforts on the goal-line.

The goal galvanised Fulham, but even they would have been surprised at how swiftly a second one arrived. It came from an unlikely source, with Ola Aina starting and finishing a flowing move down the right, collecting a cushioned pass from Mitrovic, and rifling an unstoppable left-footed strike into the top corner from 20 yards. The former Chelsea trainee had only scored twice in 121 senior appearances before tonight – and neither were anywhere near as spectacular as that sublime finish.

West Brom did spurn a glorious opportunity to pull a goal back before the break, when Conor Gallagher pinched possession from Anguissa and played in Karlan Grant, who lacked the composure he showed against Brighton last week, lashing a rushed effort well wide of the near post when he had time to take the ball on into the penalty area. Indeed, it was Fulham who could have put the game to bed before half-time when another purposeful run from Anguissa culminated in a venomous shot that stung the palms of Sam Johnstone.

Lemina, who had screened the back four impressively, was withdrawn in favour of Harrison Reed at the start of the second half but Fulham managed their lead professionally. The Baggies’ only genuine chances came courtesy of a Matheus Pereira free-kick that was smashed into the wall and when a tame Grant header from Darnell Furlong’s inviting cross looped safely into Areola’s arms. The hosts were comfortable enough to keep the ball, occasionally injecting pace and drive, especially in the form of a rampaging Robinson down the left flank.

Both Anguissa and Cairney, who produced an excellent display in the middle of the park, showcased some fancy footwork to fashion half chances for themselves inside the West Brom penalty area and Robinson produced another excellent cross for Mitrovic, although the Serbian couldn’t quite provide a telling contact at the far post having outmuscled Semi Ajayi. Cairney almost caught Johnstone wandering into no-man’s land with a delicious chip, but Townsend scrambled it off the line before Ajayi blocked Decordova-Reid’s follow-up. At the other end, West Brom’s night was summed up when substitute Callum Robinson spotted Areola off his line but his effort from halfway line was well off target and only just dribbled over the line for a goal-kick.

Perhaps the most pleasing element of the evening was Fulham’s first league clean sheet of the season. Areola was not seriously stretched in goal and, although there will be far sterner tests ahead, the early impressions of a rejigged back four, of whom Andersen is the eldest at only 24, were positive. A relatively comfortable victory lifted the Londoners out of the relegation zone and within one win of Manchester United. That should ease the pressure on Parker for a while.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Areola; Aina, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Andersen; Lemina (Reed 45), Anguissa, Cairney; Decordova-Reid (Cavaleiro 84), Lookman (Bryan 90), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Ream, Loftus-Cheek.

BOOKED: Decordova-Reid, Lookman, Reed.

GOALS: Decordova-Reid (26), Aina (30).

WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-1-4-1): Johnstone; Furlong, Townsend, Ivanovic, Ajayi; Livermore (Sawyers 56); Krovinovic (Phillips 70), Gallagher, Pereira (C. Robinson 56), Diangana; Grant. Subs (not used): Button, Bartley, Gibbs, Edwards.

BOOKED: Gallagher, Sawyers.

REFEREE: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).

Final Orders

Rightly or wrongly, it looks as though Scott Parker is entering a perilous stage in his young managerial career. Just one point won from a possible 18 in the Premier League so far has left us rooted to the bottom of the table. Let me make something clear from the very start, I don’t believe that Parker should be sacked right now. It would be incredibly harsh to give a relative rookie a job, see him take us up (even if we made very hard work of it) and then sack him only a few months after. I’d personally rather that we stuck with him for now. The transfer window has barely slammed shut so he is working with a group of players only recently fully put together and the recent performances have at least looked more positive than what we saw in the first 3 games.

I’m not saying that I’m happy with how things are going. Of course I’m not. But I also don’t believe that sacking Parker right now would help us in the long term. Our problem is much more than what we see on the pitch right now. In fact, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. For me Fulham as a club are reactive and not proactive. One of the biggest lessons my old school hockey coach taught me was that if we are constantly being reactive, we will never get to press on towards our own ultimate goals. If we only focus about what the opposition are going to do at a particular moment in time then we aren’t focusing on our own game. To be successful in sport, you cannot be just focusing on the next fire to put out. No, to be successful you have to ensure that the fires don’t get lit in the first place. I’m not talking about Parker and his tactics here, I’m talking about the thoughts and processes that went in to putting together this particular squad. Now I know that’s perhaps an oversimplified way to think about it, but I believe that the point stands. We need a proactive approach that is built on planning and sacking Parker right now would once again highlight the reactive and not proactive approach of our owners right now when it comes to matters on the pitch. If we were proactive, the planning into our squad would be much better. If we were proactive we wouldn’t have left it until the last minute to do business. But instead of doing that our DoF has reacted to the poor opening performances and scrambled to bring players in at the last minute and has needed them to perform like a well oiled machine instantly.

This has been the approach at Fulham for years and it has resulted in managers losing their jobs and often a poor choice of candidate being brought in. The Slavisa Jokanovic to Claudio Ranieri change still baffles me. You can’t turn a squad build for free flowing, attacking play into a defensively rigid, play on the counter side overnight The tactics of the two managers were the complete opposite. If we were going to replace Jokanovic we needed to have a better version of him really, not someone with the polar opposite footballing philosophy. Then if we look back further to 2013/14 we became a real laughing stock with our approach to managers. Martin Jol had until December, Rene Meulensteen had until mid-February and then Felix Magath saw us relegated. Magath himself was then sacked after a disaster of a start to the Championship campaign and then we had Kit Symons in charge as caretaker before eventually getting the job itself. In less than two years at the club, we had went through 4 managers and every appointment was unsuccessful and made with what looked like no planning.

Six managers sacked under Shahid Khan. Is this the fate for Parker?

I’m annoyed at how things are going right now. While I think Parker was always going to be a risky appointment given how inexperienced he is, I think it would be a crying shame if he became the latest managerial casualty at Fulham when the problem lies further behind the scenes. We need planning at Fulham, not firefighting. For now Parker can only do his best. It’s clear that he maybe needs a change of tactics or more than one trick up his sleeve. This is a huge test for him but he also needs to rise to the occasion. Just because I’m frustrated at things off the pitch at Fulham, it doesn’t mean that he gets off completely scot-free. Time for everyone at Fulham to up their game and give survival a real go.

#COYW

Parker pledges to turn it around

Scott Parker remains confident that he is the man to keep Fulham in the Premier League, despite another damaging defeat against Crystal Palace this afternoon.

The Whites have picked up just a single point from their first six fixtures and were beaten at Craven Cottage this afternoon even though they enjoyed the overwhelming share of possession in the London derby. Fulham had started brightly but went behind to Jairo Riedewald’s first Palace goal and Wilfred Zaha doubled the visitors’ lead in the second period. Captain Tom Cairney’s late consolation did little to lift the mood afterwards.

Asked if he will get enough time to turn things round, Parker told his post-match press conference:

“I can’t control that. What I can do is what I have normally done throughout my career and life, during these hard times, it is the time to front up and keep working as hard as I can to get the rewards that I deserve. It is out of my hands but I will keep working hard.”

“We are a young team, still trying to gel but there were some big positives today and this is when the chips are down you have to face up and keep working hard and I am sure we will come out of the other side. I felt we need to learn from exactly how this game panned out. We had a dominance but at times in the final third lacked a real intensity about us.”

Zaha runs Fulham ragged

This was the classical Roy Hodgson away performance that Fulham fans came to love during his three years at Craven Cottage. Soak up early pressure, remain compact and hit a punch drunk opposition on the break. It requires commitment, work ethic and a ruthless instinct in the final third – but it rather encapsulated the difference between an established top flight side, in Crystal Palace, and Scott Parker’s Fulham, who will quickly be cut adrift at the foot of the table if they are not careful.

Palace were workmanlike rather than flashy, but that was enough for the Eagles to record a comfortable victory. Wilfred Zaha was to the fore again, with flashy skills, pace and an appetite to take on defenders, having already fired a warning shot before the visitors went ahead in the ninth minute. Alphonese Areola saved well after Zaha had escaped the attentions of Ola Aina, a regular occurrence throughout the afternoon, but Fulham failed to clear their lines. Zaha played a delicious no-look pace through the centre of the defence and Jairo Riedewald, untracked by anyone in white, crept in behind the back line to slot his first Palace goal past the stranded goalkeeper.

The scoreline felt harsh on Fulham, who had began brightly and at a high tempo, and that conclusion only seemed more justified as the home side made all the running as the first half went on. Ademola Lookman looked dangerous cutting in from the left, with one gorgeous touch almost freeing Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose shot was blocked on the edge of the box, and Antonee Robinson provided plenty of width from full back. Fulham’s best chances fell to Lookman, who twice hit the post with instinctive low drives. The first was helped onto the woodwork by an alert Vitor Guaita, but the goalkeeper had no chance of reaching the second, and the hosts’ afternoon was summed up by the fact that the rebound fell perfectly for Mitrovic, whose effort was deflected over by Scott Dann, an important defensive touch that the referee missed.

Palace might have been disciplined in defence and far from adventurous themselves, but they looked threatening every time they got into Fulham’s final third. Their likeliest source of a second was Zaha, who frequently left a chastened Aina trailing in his wake, and might have doubled the Eagles’ lead with a header, but guided Andros Townsend’s inviting cross wide. Michy Batshuayi did find the back of net, but was correctly ruled offside, whilst Luka Millivojevic’s stoppage time free-kick flew fractionally over, although that would have been an injustice after a generous award from referee Graham Scott.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Fulham were more urgent in their play, dominated possession but created precious little. Mitrovic’s best chance was a header he mistimed from a Tom Cairney free-kick, whilst when the Whites went a bit more direct, Cairney found Guaita’s gloves with a speculative effort that lacked conviction from just outside the area. But just as Fulham looked to build up a head of steam, they were caught cold at the other end. Batshuayi was afforded far too much room to roam down the right and his low cross gave Zaha a simple tap-in. The talismanic forward found the far post more tricky to navigate than Fulham’s defence, colliding with it as he finished – and the game felt up.

Fulham toiled manfully, but never seriously looked like retrieving the situation. Lookman persevered with those jinking runs from the left, shooting over as space opened up briefly, but it was Palace who came closest to extending their lead with Tyrick Mitchell drawing a save from Areola. Parker shuffled his pack, but any late revival was doomed by substitute Aboubakar Kamara’s wild lunge at Ebere Eze, which was correctly punished by a straight red card. Cairney did provide a consolation in the fifth minute of injury time, with a stunning curler into the top corner from distance, but the fact that it proved only a mere footnote shows just how much work Scott Parker has ahead of him.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Lemina (Reed 79), Anguissa (Kamara 66); Lookman, Loftus-Cheek (Decordova-Reid 74), Cairney; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, Odoi, Bryan.

SENT OFF: Kamara.

GOAL: Cairney (90+5).

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Guaita; Clyne (van Aanholt 72), Mitchell, Dann, Kouyate; Milivojevic, Riedewald (Sakho 85), Townsend, Schlupp (Eze 76); Zaha, Batshuayi. Subs (not used): Henderson, Kelly, van Aanholt, Sakho, Meyer, Eze, Benteke.

BOOKED: Guaita.

GOALS:
Riedewald (9), Zaha (64).

REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).