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Why Fulham fans shouldn’t give up hope

Friday night wasn’t pretty. Scott Parker’s side chose what felt like a glorious opportunity to escape the drop zone as the time to put in their worst display since November as Leeds finally ended their capital curse with a 2-1 win at Craven Cottage. The performance sparked memories of the way the Whites started life in the Premier League and, coming hot on the heels of the fifteen minutes of madness that allowed Manchester City to ease to victory last week, was particularly deflating. Parker himself called for calm afterwards and, despite the disappointment, no Fulham fan should give up hope, especially given Newcastle’s present predicament.

The Leeds defeat should serve as a sharp wake-up call to Parker’s charges. Fulham have been on an upward trajectory since the difficult start to life in the top flight but improved performances alone won’t guarantee survival, especially if they don’t translate into wins. Drawing has been particularly painful – Fulham share the prize for the highest number of stalemates in the division with Brighton on eleven – and Friday’s defeat at the hands of Leeds, wasting an opportunity to apply pressure to both the Seagulls and Newcastle, was undoubtedly a missed opportunity.

But the nature of the Premier League means that there are surely plenty of twists and turns ahead. Steve Bruce’s Magpies looked utterly bereft of ideas on the south coast and, the strong suggestion that Mike Ashley is not about to pull the trigger on his beleaguered manager, might just give Fulham another bite at the cherry. After an international break that might allow Parker to consider his best plan of action, there are winnable games against Wolves and Aston Villa offering a second chance to leapfrog the Geordies or at least close the gap.

Both sides have a fairly similar run in, both facing three ‘big-six’ sides in their remaining fixtures, as well as a side that has exceeded expectations thus far and that poses a major threat on their day – Aston Villa for the Cottagers and West Ham United for the Geordies. However, Newcastle also face Leicester, who embarrassed Manchester United in the FA Cup yesterday and are determined to finish the season strongly, and the mood music coming out of the north east is far from encouraging at the moment.

Fulham have largely been consistent since early autumn, looking much more competitive and picking up points but struggling to find the finishing touch. I felt the reaction to a defeat by Manchester City was a little overblown – there’s no shame in being beaten by arguably the best side in Europe, who are still on for a remarkable quadruple. The Leeds defeat was disappointing, but Parker has proven adept at putting poor displays aside and concentrating on the job at hand. He was tactically out-thought by Marcelo Bielsa – and there are plenty of more season managers who can relate to that.

Parker has pointed to parallels with Fulham’s famous great escape in 2008. Thirteen years ago today, Fulham were comfortably beaten by Newcastle United at St. James’ Park – leaving them four points from safety with eight games to go. Birmingham, just above the relegation at zone at that point, and Reading – in fifteenth with an eight point cushion – both went down with Roy Hodgson’s heroes surviving on the final day courtesy of Danny Murphy’s memorable header in the Fratton Park sunshine. All is not lost.

Belief and determination has got Fulham this far. Both Joachim Andersen and Tom Cairney have spoken in recent weeks about tuning out the noise from outside and controlling the controllables, which are our own performances. Parker has imbued this side with serious resilience and has already proven himself capable of tactical tweaks to bolster a leaky defence. One more, at the other end of the pitch, could prove decisive. Eight cup finals remain and Parker will ensure Fulham are up for the fight.

We can do this! Come on you Whites!

Bamford and Raphinha flatten feeble Fulham

Patrick Bamford and Raphinha punished some sloppy Fulham defending to set Leeds’ season back on track as Marcelo Bielsea recorded his first win in London at the sixteenth attempt. The defeat was particularly damaging to the home side, desperate as they were to put pressure on their relegation rivals Newcastle and Brighton, who meet tomorrow night in a high stakes clash at the foot of the table, but Scott Parker’s side couldn’t make the most of a lifeline handed to them just before half time by Joachim Andersen’s first goal for the club.

The Danish defender’s instinctive finish from a corner – which exposed Leeds’ own vulnerabilities from set plays – gave Fulham hope after they had been completely outplayed in a frantic first half hour at Craven Cottage. They struggled to cope with the visitors’ relentlessly pressing and looked utterly bamboozled by the swift start made by Bielsa’s men. It was something of a surprise that it took until the 29th minute for Leeds to go in front. The Yorkshire outfit had two goals disallowed by the video assistant referee – Luke Ayling’s far post header was chalked off when the technology determined that Tyler Roberts had tiptoed beyond the Fulham defensive line before putting in a cross, whilst Raphinha was comfortably offside before firing home from the right angle of the box.

Fulham failed to heed those warnings and, in truth, this disorganised defensive display harked back to their horrific start to the season. Leeds finally grabbed the lead their dominance had more than merited when Jack Harrison fizzed in a low cross from a quick throw-in and Bamford fired his fourteenth goal of an outstanding campaign past Alphonse Areola after he had darted between Antonee Robinson and Tosin Adarabioyo. That the hosts had been denied the opening goal moments earlier when Illan Meslier’s instinctive reaction save and an Ayling goal-line clearance prevented Josh Maja’s shot-on-the-turn from crossing of the line only served to emphasise the fine margins that exist in the top flight.

Parker’s men are nothing if not resilient, however. They barged their way back into a contest that appeared to be well beyond them when Andersen won a tug of war with Ayling at a Lookman corner and guided a volley home from ten yards. Suddenly, the home side had the momentum and it took another terrific Meslier save to prevent Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa from firing Fulham in front. Aleksandar Mitrovic was sent on for the second half and the Whites began on the front foot, forcing a couple of corners, and then – after Mario Lemina had marauded his way along the byline – Ademola Lookman somehow contrived to miscue wastefully right in front of the target.

It was to prove a costly miss. Half a minute later, Leeds were back in front. Kalvin Phillips stripped Lemina of possession in midfield, Andersen sold himself by going to ground as Bamford brought the ball forward and his measured pass sent Raphinha into the penalty area. The winger didn’t have a lot of space in which to operate but he slipped between Adarabioyo and Robinson and sneaked his shot past Areola and the near post at pace. It was a poacher’s finish that could have huge ramifications at the foot of the table.

Fulham kept throwing bodies forward but they created precious little – with Lookman’s tame shot at Meslier their only serious chance – whilst leaving themselves open to a sucker punch. Bielsa’s side, whose sparkling approach play was impressive throughout, should have sealed the game on the counter-attack in the closing stages with the rapid Raphinha laying on good chances for both Stuart Dallas and Ezgjan Alioski, who was denied by a splendid save from Areola. The worry for Parker, who probably got his tactics wrong this evening, is that games are beginning to run out – however spirited Fulham’s fight against relegation has been so far.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Areola; Aina (Tete 72), Robinson, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed (Loftus-Cheek 63), Anguissa, Lemina; Cavaleiro, Lookman, Maja (Mitrovic 45). Subs (not used): Fabri, Hector, Odoi, Ream, Kongolo, Bryan.

BOOKED: Lemina, Loftus-Cheek.

GOAL: Andersen (38).

LEEDS UNITED (4-1-4-1): Meslier; Ayling, Alioski, Llorente, Strujik; Phillips; Dallas, Roberts (Koch 90), Raphinha, Harrison; Bamford (Klich 77). Subs (not used): Casilla, Berardi, Shackleton, Jenkins, Poveda, Costa, Gelhardt.

BOOKED: Bamford, Phillips.

GOALS: Bamford (29), Raphinha (58).

REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).

Two changes for Fulham against Leeds

Fulham face Leeds United under the lights at Craven Cottage tonight in the first of three games that offer an opportunity for Scott Parker’s men to pick up some vital points before facing Arsenal and Chelsea.

Parker has made two changes from the side that lost to Manchester City 3-0 last weekend, with Kenny Tete dropped to the bench having just earned a recall to the Dutch national side. American international Antoneee Robinson takes his place in the starting eleven, with Ola Aina set to switch to right back in order to accommodate him. Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek also finds himself starting on the bench underneath the ongoing Riverside development, with Josh Maja regaining his spot up front.

Here is the Fulham line-up:

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That line-up suggests that Fulham will play a 4-3-3 as they look to battle Leeds for possession and control of the game. Fulham start with the almost ever-constant goalkeeper and centre-back combination of Alphonse Areola and Joachim Andersen, who have both also been called-up to his national side, alongside Tosin Adarabioyo. With Aina and Robinson at full back, Fulham will look to exploit Leeds’ high pressing system with explosive, overlapping full-backs.

Parker has picked a midfield trio of Anguissa, Lemina and Reed. This is a hard-working combination designed to take on Leeds’ lauded pressing exploits whilst also trying to cut off the passing triangles for which Marcelo Bielsa is famed. Parker has once again rotated his front three, with Lookman on the left wing, Cavaleiro on the right wing and Maja in the centre. Despite lacking Bobby Decordova-Reid, Fulham’s top scorer with seven goals, these attackers should offer pace and power and pose a threat to the visitors’ high defensive line.

Bielsa has named an unchanged side from the eleven that started in Leeds’ 0-0 draw with Chelsea on Saturday. The Argentinian has successfully implemented his high-octane, furious pressing and passing style into the top flight and it won’t come as too much of a surprise to Fulham, having been regular opponents of Bielsa in the Championship.

Here is the Leeds United line-up:

Leeds are without several key names – with Liam Cooper, Pablo Hernandez and summer signing Rodrigo all missing – so there’s very little rotation in the line-up. They should start with the same 4-1-4-1 formation as last weekend, as hot prospect Meslier starts between the posts, with Llorente and Struijk starting ahead of him in central defence. Alioski will start at left back with the dependable with Luke Ayling on the right and the pair will have instructions to try and push forward from the off – aiming to pin Fulham’s own offensive full back deep into their own half.

Kalvin Phillips starts in a deep-lying midfielder role, with Stuart Dallas playing as a playmaker ahead of ahead of him, whilst Tyler Roberts will likely become a second striker, running onto balls that Patrick Bamford, who has shaken off fitness concerns to start, may knock down to him. Bamford, the former Chelsea man who was very unlucky to not make Gareth Southgate’s England squad given fine form on his return to the top flight, will be flanked by Harrison on his left and Raphinha on his right.

This promises to be an exciting game and history suggests they might be plenty of goals, but what do you think of the line-ups? And, what do you think the score will be?

Fulham U23s slip to defeat at Stoke

Fulham’s under 23 side were narrowly beaten by promotion-chasing Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium with teenage striker Douglas Taylor grabbing the only goal of the game.

The Potters made it six wins in a row after Taylor pounced in the nineteenth minute, controlling a clever ball inside from D’Margio Wright-Phillips and finding the bottom corner with a composed low finish. The hosts had began brightly, seeing plenty of the ball, but had struggled to create clear chances before their front three isolated captain Conor McAvoy and took the lead. Stoke skipper Ethan Varian had sent their best opening wide when he headed past Taye Ashby-Hammond’s far post with the Fulham goalkeeper well beaten.

The visitors, who included several members of their under-18 side for the trip to the Potteries, recovered well from going a goal down. They thought they had grabbed an equaliser almost immediately through Tyrese Francois’s fine finish from just outside the box, but an offside flag against Jean-Pierre Tiehi controversially ruled out the goal. Mika Biereth and Ollie O’Neill combined cleverly but the Irish midfielder’s curling effort drifted agonisingly wide.

Ashby-Hammond did well to deny Stoke a second when Wright-Phillips appeared destined to double the home side’s lead – and Fulham stepped up their search for an equaliser after the break. It almost arrived early in the second half when Francois found Sylvester Jasper down the left wing and his low cross almost reached Biereth for a tap in, only for Connor Taylor to snuff out the danger with a brilliant last-ditch tackle.

Former Dundalk midfielder Gabby Adebambo struck the post with an effort from distance and, although Stoke enjoyed plenty of possession, they created little else to overly test Ashby-Hammond in the Fulham goal. Jay Stansfield continued his comeback from a lengthy ankle lay-off with half an hour as a substitute, but Colin Omogbehin’s youngsters couldn’t force an equaliser despite a concerted spell of late pressure. Jasper and Adrian Pajaziti both had shots blocked on what was ultimately a frustrating afternoon for the young Whites.

STOKE CITY U23s (4-3-3): Bursik; Coates, Jones, Macari, C. Taylor; Malone, Adebambo, Goodwin; D. Wright-Phillips (Jarrett 78), D. Taylor (Sy 69), Varian. Subs (not used): Hemfrey, Okagbue, Malbon.

GOAL: Taylor (19).

FULHAM U23s (4-3-3): T. Ashby-Hammond; Duru, Larkeche, Bowat, McAvoy; Pajaziti, O’Neill, Francois; Jasper, Biereth, Tiehi (Stansfield 63). Subs (not used): Borto, J. Aina, Odutayo.

BOOKED: Pajaziti.

Andersen earns Denmark call-up

Fulham defender Joachim Andersen has been called up to the Denmark squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Israel, Moldova and Austria.

Andersen, whose only previous international cap came in a 4-0 win over Luxembourg in 2019, has been rewarded following his fine form during his loan spell at Craven Cottage. The 24 year-old has been an ever present at the heart of Fulham’s defence since joining on loan from Lyon in October and has captained the side in the absence of Tom Cairney. The centre back has made 23 Premier League appearances, keeping nine clean sheets, as Scott Parker’s side have dramatically improved their chances of beating the drop.

Denmark have been drawn alongside Scotland in Group F of the UEFA qualifying. Their quest to reach the finals in Qatar next year begins with a trip to Israel on Thursday 25 March, with a home fixture against Moldova in Herning on Sunday 28 March and an away tie against the Austrians on the following Wednesday.

Sessegnon named in England U21 European Championship squad

Fulham full back Steven Sessegnon has been named in England’s under 21 European Championship squad this morning.

The 20 year-old, who is currently on loan at Bristol City, has been selected by England under 21 manager Aidy Boothrooyd for the finals, which get underway in Hungary and Slovenia later this month. Sessegnon, who has won three caps for England at under 21 level, has made eight first team appearances during an injury-hit loan spell at Ashton Gate. His twin brother Ryan, on loan at Hoffenheim this term, is also in the squad.

England have been drawn alongside Portugal, Switzerland and Croatia in Group D. Their campaign kicks off against the Swiss in Koper on 25th March.

Speaking to the Bristol Post, Sessegnon said:

“I found out about it [the call-up to the European Championship squad] a couple of days ago. Having been around the set-up before it wasn’t my first time but I’m still very proud and very happy. Throughout my recovery and the strengthening of my hamstring, it was an aim of mine.

Asked for his thoughts on England’s chances in the tournament, Sessegnon was characteristically positive:

“Always believe – my age group and the groups around us have got some really good players and as a group, we get on really well. I believe we can do a lot of great things.”