Marek Rodak is set to return in goal for Fulham’s trip to Preston on Saturday having missed last night’s draw with Derby County are coming into contact with someone who had contracted coronavirus when he flew back from international duty.
Paulo Gazzaniga, who had started the season as the Craven Cottage number one, stepped in for Rodak against the Rams but the Slovakian international will be available at Deepdale this weekend. Fulham head coach Marco Silva told his pre-match press conference this afternoon:
“Marek’s situation is strange. Even the day before, we had some information that everything would be okay and not a problem. “Then the next day, we were told it would be impossible for him to play. It’s a bit strange because we are talking about a player who played some days before. These are the protocols, I don’t want to talk about it, it’s in the past but he will be available for the next match.”
Silva is far from certain who else will be available for selection as the Whites look to get back to winning ways this week, with several players still feeling the aftereffects of a norovirus bug that swept through the squad earlier this week.
“It is something that we will have to check tomorrow. Not just Tom [Cairney] and Mitro but all the others as well. Of course, after the game, they will be even worse. Some of the players weren’t in the best condition. It is up to us to check again, tomorrow. We will have a conversation with the doctor to check them and take the decisions for the match. It wasn’t a perfect scenario with how we had to prepare. Even on the matchday, we had the situation of Marek and Mitro. There are no excuses because I think what Paulo did is a good example of what I want them to do.”
Silva is certain that Preston North End will prove tough opponents in front of the Sky cameras on Saturday lunchtime.
“It will be tough to play Preston. They won their last game, and it is a tough place to play. We are in a very good moment, even if yesterday we didn’t score but we created a lot of chances. We never find excuses for anything, even if something disturbs our preparation. We must look forward for the next one and try to go there to finish off the week on a high with three points.”
Tim Ream admitted that his Fulham team-mates were frustrated after being held to a goalless draw by bottom club Derby County at Craven Cottage last night.
The Whites were missing several first-team regulars, including Marek Rodak, Tim Ream and Tom Cairney through illness, and struggled to match their fluent recent displays as their seven-match winning run came to an end. Ream, who was outstanding again at the heart of the Fulham defence, told FFCTV after the final whistle:
“Frustrating is probably the best way to describe it. First half we were a little bit sloppy, especially in the final third. A few half chances not fall our way and in the second half we were in and around their box pretty much the entire second half. It just seemed that the half chances and the little bounces didn’t fall our way. Sometimes that happens. We’re frustrated, but at the end of the run of the fixtures it’s no change and I think we take that going into the weekend.”
Ream didn’t use the absence of the likes of Mitrovic and Cairney as an excuse for why the Whites were unable to break down a resolute Derby defence.
“We work so much together within the squad every single day. We understand everyone’s strengths and it’s not really an issue. It is more of a surprise when you first come to the training ground and you see who’s not there. Everyone was prepared. Guys need to step up.”
The American international is now focused on returning to winning ways at Preston on Saturday – although he recognises that coming away from Deepdale with three points won’t be an easy task.
“We’ll regroup, look at a few things and we know what Preston do. It’s always a tough one up there. We’ll recover, look at their strengths and we know it is going to be a tough game because they got a good result last night.”
The Fulham head coach told his post-match press conference after tonight’s stalemate:
“In the first half we were a little slower than normal, in our build-up, but we created more than enough to win the game. We hit the post, someone cleared it off the line, big saves from the goalkeeper, but unfortunately, we didn’t score.”
Fulham were without top scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic and captain Tom Cairney through illness, Silva explained.
“Mitrovic and Cairney are both ill. Even some of the others like Harrison, Bobby, Antonee and Harry had some problems these past few days. Bobby was on the bench, just because if we needed him, he’d try and help. We had six or seven players in this situation.
Rodák is in a really strange situation. They said he had contact on the plane with someone who had COVID. If the game was two days later, he could’ve played, but there’s a protocol, and we respect the situation.”
Silva refused to blame Brazilian forward Rodrigo Muniz for Fulham’s failure to break Derby down.
“Muniz had some moments, some not so good. He’s a young boy, but hungry to learn and improve. We know he can score if our game from out wide is good enough. He had some chances in the second-half, sometimes he should’ve made a different decision, but that’s football. He did everything and tried everything and we go again.”
A combination of dogged Derby County defending and ultimately illnesses that had robbed Marco Silva of the core of his starting line-up meant the Rams ended Fulham’s seven-match winning streak and came away from Craven Cottage with a richly deserved point. Wayne Rooney’s troops battled to the last, throwing bodies in front of the ball, and successfully blunting the most potent attack in English football to earn a result that will only increase his belief in the sort of ‘miracle’ Derby require to avoid the drop.
Fulham look far from the fearsome proposition that has terrified the second tier of late without Aleksandar Mitrovic leading the line. Serbia’s World Cup hero has been laid low by a fever and his understudy Rodrigo Muniz was unable to replicate Mitrovic’s rich vein of form missing two glorious chances as the Derby goal came under siege in the second period. Fulham were also without the services of captain Tom Cairney, who was also under the weather, and goalkeeper Marek Rodak, who is isolating after coming into close contact with someone who had contracted coronavirus during his international duty with Slovakia.
Fulham were far from their fluent best, but Silva could justifiably feel his charges created enough chances to have won this game. The tinkle toes of Fabio Carvalho fashioned the first opportunity, ghosting past three Derby challenges on his way into the box, before drilling an effort wide of the far post. Jean Michael Seri then curled a 25-yarder against the crossbar and fortune favoured Kelle Roos as the Ivorian’s shot cannoned off his back and away to safety. Derby weren’t merely interested in defending, though, and they opened up the home side’s defence with a move of real quality. Tom Lawrence, who starred in Sunday’s stunning win over Bournemouth, darted onto Curtis Davies clever through ball and almost squeezed a shot between Gazzaniga and the near post.
Roos reacted smartly to claw away Neeskens Kebano’s free-kick when he might have been stranded by a wicked deflection off Craig Forsyth, but that proved to be Fulham’s only shot on target before the break. The hosts enjoyed plenty of possession but found the final ball often lacking. Their frustration told late on with Muniz and Carvalho shooting wildly off target as space opened up in front of the them. Gazzaniga had to dash off his line to head a loose ball away from the onrushing Lawrence – and the visitors were more than a match for the league leaders at half time.
Fulham quickly reestablished the pattern of the first period, with Carvalho finding a pocket of space inside the area but Roos was equal to the teenager’s low shot. The excellent Phil Jagielka bravely blocked a snapshot from Kebano after the Congolese winger had swilled threateningly in the box and, in one mad penalty area melee, Carvalho sent a low shot through the crowd that struck the far post before Muniz headed wide.
Silva sent on Josh Onomah and, surprisingly, Anthony Knockaert as Fulham hunted a late winner but Derby continued to hold firm. Carvalho, by far the best player on the park, looked like their most likely source of a goal and his fancy footwork worked a yard of space in the area but Roos palmed away another shot. Just when Muniz seemed set to head home the follow-up, Davies arrived in the nick of time to clear from underneath his own crossbar. The former Flamengo forward was millimetres away from winning it with a spectacular scissor kick that flew just over – but by now Fulham appeared destined not to score.
Derby might even have conjured up a late winner themselves with Gazzaniga just about keeping out Jason Knight’s rising drive from an acute angle, but Rooney would take great pride in his side’s application. Derby have taken four points from the division’s top two – widely expected to be contesting the Championship title in the second half of the season – in the space of four days. For Fulham, Silva will need to assess his walking wounded and hope his team can find the killer touch at Preston on Saturday.
Fulham’s flawless recent form and a couple of favourable results from last night offer the Whites the tantalising prospect of extending their lead over the Championship’s chasing pack to eleven points tonight. Considering that West Brom were five points clear of the Cottagers very recently, that would be some margin. Standing in the way of the construction of such a commanding cushion are Derby County, who head to Craven Cottage this evening buoyed by their terrific victory over Bournemouth on Sunday.
A cursory glance at the table reveals that the Rams are rock bottom without a point to their name. But that scarcely tells the story of what Wayne Rooney has had to experience in his first managerial job. Mel Morris’ gamble on returning one of the country’s sleeping giants to English football’s top table finally caught up with Derby this summer as the club, already under investigation for breaching the EFL’s profit and sustainability rules, went into administration. The EFL announced another points deduction last week, bringing their handicap to a total of 21 points, and Rooney has had to rustle together a squad from the remnants of a side he strove to keep above water last term, bright youth prospects and experienced hands who were without a club at the start of the campaign.
By any measure, the former England captain is doing a remarkable job. His makeshift side, with three centre backs whose combined age easily passes a hundred, have lost just five games all season, which is some achievement since everyone had them as the division’s whipping boys in August. Derby have lost only three of their last twelve fixtures and they have rediscovered a scoring touch, finding the net in each of their last six matches. They were outstanding against Bournemouth, responding to both the off-field adversity and a bit of self-inflicted jeopardy when a disastrous goalkick routine gifted the Cherries a route back into the contest. Determined and dynamic, they refused to let one of the promotion contenders settle into their usual rhythm and dictate the terms of the contest – completing dominating the second half with a comeback inspired by the creativity of Tom Lawrence, who curled in a sensational equaliser before adding the winning penalty.
Lawrence has long been a proven performer at this level – with his vision, range of passing and eye for goal making him one of the Championship’s consistent players in recent years. But Derby’s resilience doesn’t just come from their gifted captain as Rooney has a midfield of skilled practitioners to choose from. Jason Knight, who headed the Rams into the lead against Bournemouth on Sunday, has come through the club’s academy to win full international honours with the Republic of Ireland and Liam Thompson looks like the latest talent off the conveyor belt after his mature league debut last weekend.
Rooney will need to rejig his side again this evening as the club’s injury crisis continues to bite. Full back Lee Buchanan will be out for between six and eight weeks after injury his knee in the dying embers of that brilliant win over Bournemouth, which means Craig Forsyth should come back in at right back. Sam Baldock also picked up a hamstring injury against the Cherries and Colin Kazim-Richards, who came off the bench on Sunday, should lead the line in SW6.
It is clear from the words of Harry Wilson, who enjoyed a stunning season on loan at Pride Park earlier in his career, and Marco Silva that Fulham won’t be taking Derby lightly tonight. The Rams have already shown how they are no respecters of reputations and the Whites have been caught cold by unfancied sides already this season – witness the defeats by Blackpool and Reading as well as the draw at Bristol City. But Fulham should head into this fixture full of confidence having dismantled Barnsley on Saturday and Silva has the luxury of strengthening his side should he wish.
You would expect Tosin Adarabioyo to return to the heart of the defence following his three-match suspension. That might be harsh on Michael Hector, who covered well in the former Manchester City man’s absence, but Adarabioyo and Ream remain Fulham’s most reliable central defensive combination and Adarabioyo’s confidence on the ball and towering physique make him an ideal fit for the way Silva wants to play. Denis Odoi is available again after his own ban, but the Belgian utility man will probably have to make do with a spot on the bench after Kenny Tete’s sumptuous cross unlocked the Barnsley back line for Aleksandar Mitrovic so efficiently.
Jean Michael Seri might have been rested against the Tykes, but he took barely a couple of minutes to remind us all of his enduring quality after coming off the bench by producing a sublime assist for Wilson. The fact that Fulham have such supreme strength in depth is one of the reasons why Silva has always been tipped to lead this side back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and it seems like Fulham’s established front three (Kebano, Wilson and Mitrovic) are striking genuine fear into Championship defences. Supplied by a midfield stacked with the creativity of Tom Cairney and Fabio Carvalho amongst others, you wouldn’t back against the Cottagers completing a century of league goals given the accent on attacking.
Derby will represent a stern test of whether Fulham can continue to pass their way around well-organised defences. They will be diligent, dogged and determined. It might require plenty of patience to wear them down – and, with the talent Rooney’s side possesses in the forward areas, they will be a threat to Marek Rodak’s goal as well. But maintaining focus by not getting carried away with recent results has been the hallmark of Silva’s side over the past month or so. Another three points would put the Whites in the perfect position before our trip to Preston on Saturday lunchtime.
Neeskens Kebano wasn’t exactly a household name when he joined Fulham in 2016. Football fans are now understandably wary of a well-put together Youtube highlight reel that can make anyone appear a world beater, but there is something about a tricky little winger that gets the pulse racing. The Congolese winger had a promising debut just days after arriving at Blackburn and contributed crucial goals as the Whites climbed the table in the second half of the season under Slavisa Jokanovic, but could never nail down a place in the side.
He had almost drifted out of the picture entirely when his energy, drive and some sensational free-kicks enlivened Fulham’s run to – and, indeed, through the Championship play-offs. His reward for injecting some life in what was a pretty predictable side was scant, though, becoming one of those laudable club servants who were jettisoned during another dismal Premier League campaign. Kebano ended the season on loan at Middlesbrough and you could have been forgiven for thinking the likeable winger’s Fulham career was over.
There’s no greater indication of the fact that Marco Silva offered a clean slate for everyone that the way Kebano has gradually become one of the key components of this adventurous side. He started the season in the side as injuries denied Fulham the services of some key players and a brilliant display at Millwall showed that he had the potential to deliver at this level. If there was ever any doubt about his value, Kebano proved he is more than just flicks and tricks on his way to terrorising countless full backs and seizing his chance to impress after Ivan Cavaleiro got injured.
It isn’t fanciful to suggest that a former Fulham favourite might have also helped this revival. Luis Boa Morte was also a character who added pace and excitement to a very watchable Whites side from the wide positions. A left winger by trade, Boa Morte is now Silva’s number two at Craven Cottage and it isn’t difficult to discern his own influence on Kebano’s more consistent displays. Where we once wondered about an end product, the Congolese winger has added four goals and five assists already – just two goals short of his best scoring return for Fulham, which came in his very first season by the Thames.
Such is the scale of the turnaround that Kebano has become one of the first names on Silva’s teamsheet. He is revelling in the freedom to express himself in a Fulham side that looks frightening each time they go forward and, should he stay injury free, there’s no reason why the cheeky chappy can’t put together a season to remember.