Palace push Fulham closer to the drop

A limp surrender at Selhurst Park stood in stark contrast to the rousing revival against Brighton and Hove Albion. All the hope rekindled by that blistering comeback on Tuesday night evaporated after the needless concession of a penalty by Cyrus Christie. Fulham were in the game until that point, but showed very little after half time to suggest they were capable of redeeming the situation. Seven points off survival with games fast running out, Fulham’s predicament looks perilous. Claudio Ranieri insists he still believes – but he might be the only one.

The high-pressure stakes seemed too much for a Fulham side that appeared unwilling to take the game to the opposition, even when they were on top during the early exchanges. The result could have been different had Aleksandar Mitrovic converted the visitors’ only clear opening instead of sending a free header wide from Joe Bryan’s cross – and that glaring miss seemed to weigh heavily on the Serbian’s shoulders.

Palace, content to sit deep and make themselves difficult to play through as per the Roy Hodgson handbook, had barely threatened before the 25th minute. There appeared to be little danger when James McArthur drove a crossfield ball towards Christian Benteke on the left corner of the Fulham box. The big Belgian forward might have pushed Christie as he jumped, but there was denying the Fulham full back’s hand was far too high when it made contact with the ball. To make matters worse, Sergio Rico dived the right way and got something on Luka Milivojevic’s spot-kick but couldn’t keep it out.

There was inevitability about how the rest of the afternoon played out. Fulham failed to lift themselves and were indebted to Rico for keeping the scoreline respectable. Benteke rattled the bar with a ridiculous overhead kick just before half-time and Rico saved smartly from Jeffrey Schlupp in the second half. Mahmadou Sakho glanced a header fractionally wide as Palace pushed for a second, which eventually came with three minutes left when Rico superbly stopped substitute Michy Batshuayi’s goalbound drive, but was powerless o prevent Schlupp from snaffling up the rebound.

Fulham failed to ask any serious questions of the Palace rearguard after the break, despite dominating possession. Late efforts from Luciano Vietto, introduced at half-time, and a frustrated Mitrovic were the visitors’ only answers. Ranieri’s men didn’t register a single shot on target – and the continued absence of Ryan Sessegnon, an unused substitute here, seems particularly baffling.

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Guaita; Wan-Bissaka, Tomkins, Sakho, van Aanholt; Townsend, McArthur, Milivojevic, Schlupp (Sako 90); Ayew (Batshuayi 82), Benteke (Meyer 72). Subs (not used):
Hennessey, Dann, Kelly, Riedewald.

BOOKED: Ayew, Wan-Bissaka.

GOALS: Milivojevic (pen) 25, Schlupp (87).

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream (Vietto 45); Christie (Fosu-Mensah 62), Bryan, Chambers, Seri; Cairney, Babel (Ayite 88), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Fabri, Cisse, R. Sessegnon, Kebano.

BOOKED: Le Marchand, Odoi, Babel.

REFEREE: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

ATTENDANCE: 23,355.

Fulham swoop for Markovic

Fulham have completed a deal to sign Serbian winger Lazar Markovic on a free transfer from Liverpool.

The 24 year-old, who played alongside Aleksandar Mitrovic at Partizan Belgrade, where he helped his boyhood club to back-to-back Serbian titles. He spent a treble-winning season at Portuguese giants Benfica before moving to Liverpool, but Markovic struggled to establish himself at Anfield, despite making 34 first-team appearances in his first season in English football.

Markovic, who has won 22 caps for Serbia, has since spent time on loan with Fenerbahce, Sporting Lisbon, Hull City and Anderlecht. His new club suggested that Mitrovic had ‘highly recommended’ the tricky winger to the Whites. Fulham’s director of football operations Tony Khan said:

Lazar Markovic is a gifted young player; we’re pleased to welcome him from Liverpool for the remainder of the season. Lazar is known as a great teammate, he has the support of our Manager, and he has the talent to strengthen our attack.

Johansen joins West Brom on loan

Fulham midfielder Stefan Johansen has moved to West Bromwich Albion on loan for the remainder of the season.

The Norway captain has found his first-team opportunities limited at Craven Cottage this season following Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League and hopes to win a second successive promotion from the Championship under Darren Moore at the Hawthorns, with the Baggies sitting fourth in the table at present.

Johansen quickly became a fans’ favourite at Fulham after signing from Celtic for around £3m in August 2016, despite being hauled off after just 32 minutes on his debut. His energetic displays quickly saw strike up a superb understanding with Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald in the Fulham midfield as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side reached the Championship play-off semi-finals before going one better and beating Aston Villa to reach the top flight last May.

The 28 year-old midfielder, who has made 46 senior appearances for Norway and scored five goals, has made 104 appearances for the Whites, scoring 21 goals. Johansen has only made three starts for Fulham this season – having been a regular in the first-team previously. His current contract at Craven Cottage expires at the end of this campaign, although Fulham have the option of triggering a one-year extension.

Nordtveit signs for Fulham

Fulham have signed Norwegian international defender Håvard Nordtveit on loan from Hoffenheim until the end of the season, the club have confirmed this evening.

The 28 year-old, who has had two previous spells in English football with Arsenal and West Ham United, helped Hoffenheim to a third-place finish in the Bundesliga last season but has found his first-team opportunities limited this term. Nordtveit had made just eight league appearances for Hoffenheim and jumped at the opportunity to try and help Fulham avoid relegation from the Premier League.

Nordtveit told Fulham’s official website tonight:

I’m really happy to have the opportunity to come back to the Premier League and hopefully help Fulham to a safe place. That would be a something that I would put high on my list in my career.

The situation Fulham is in now, it’s more or less the same that Borussia Mönchengladbach was in when I went to them from Arsenal. They were down the bottom of the table, a much worse situation, eight points off a safe place, and we made it. It’s a feeling that I want again because it’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else, just on a football pitch.

I haven’t spoken to Brede [Hangeland] about coming here but he is a good friend of mine. Of course, nothing would make me more happy than if I could fill half of his boots. He had a great career here. That’s a guy to look up to. Hopefully, I can make some good moments, like he did in a Fulham shirt.

Nordtveit, who can also play as a defensive midfielder, burst onto the scene in his native Norway as a teenager by making his first-team debut with FK Haugesund at the age of 16. He moved to Arsenal, having been watched by Arsene Wenger a year later, but couldn’t make the grade with the Gunners and left four years later without having made a senior first-team appearance in north London. He joined Borussia Mönchengladbach and helped his new club finish in the top four on three occasions, including a third-place finish in 2014. He started all six of Mönchengladbach’s Champions’ League games the following year and, after making 187 appearances, left to join West Ham.

His single season with the Hammers was something of a disappointment as Nordtveit made just 21 appearances, before Hoffenheim came calling in June 2017. The versatile 6ft 2in Norwegian has won 45 senior caps for his country, scoring two goals.

Fulham’s director of football operations Tony Khan said:

Havard is a talented defender, he’s versatile and intelligent, has extensive international and top-tier league experience, and he comes recommended as an excellent teammate. His scouting profile and his data profile are both excellent, and he arrives with the support of our manager. I believe this is a smart loan for Fulham, and we look forward to welcoming Havard to our squad

Kamara joins Malatyaspor

Fulham forward Aboubakar Kamara has completed a loan move to Turkish side Yeni Malatyaspor on transfer deadline day.

The French forward always looked certain to leave Craven Cottage during the January window following an eventful month where he missed a penalty against Huddersfield having refused to hand the ball over to Aleksandar Mitrovic, was embroiled in a fight with the Serbian striker at Motspur Park and was arrested on suspicion of actual bodily harm following an altercation with a club employee at Fulham’s Motspur Park training ground.

The 23 year-old joined Fulham from Amiens in July 2017 for a fee believed to be in the region of £5m and scored seven times in 32 league appearances as the Whites won promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs. Kamara scored five goals in 15 appearances this season for the Whites, but will remain in Turkey until 30 June.

Keep Believing

It’s remarkable how 45 minutes of football can change your whole attitude about things. I’ll admit that after the miserable defeat at Burnley that I thought that there was no hope that this squad could drag themselves out of this relegation battle. It’s the first time in years were I have genuinely lost hope in our team and it felt awful. My mood didn’t change after the Spurs game, despite a decent performance, and at half time against Brighton I was one of the many who considered it season over.

But then something changed. While our defence is still a considerable worry, we showed a bit of fight for the first time in ages. I have said for ages that I thought the turning point in our season was the draw away against Brighton where we were seemingly cruising only to end up with a 2-2 draw, so perhaps it is fitting that a possible comeback could come off the back of us coming from 2-0 down against the same team.

It has been a frustrating January so far in terms of the transfer window, with just one player through the doors of Motspur Park. While the signing of Ryan Babel looks like a very positive one, we all know that it is in defence were we really need personnel. With just a matter of hours left in the window, I’m hoping that our business isn’t done yet, but I’m beginning to get a little fearful.

Next up we have a trip to Selhurst Park to take on Roy Hodgson’s Palace, and for once we have already had some fortunate news with a Wilfred Zaha red card meaning their star man is unavailable. It’s mad to think that they apparently haven’t won a Premier League game without him while he has been with them, so hopefully we don’t go all Fulhamish and allow them to turn this unwanted record around. I’m gutted that I can make Saturday as Selhurst Park has been on my football to-do lists for some time, but I’ll be stuck following from afar because of work. I fully expect the Fulham faithful who are there to be making a real racket, especially after Tuesday night’s result. As a fanbase we really can make a difference to what happens on the pitch, and continuing to be behind the boys can help get them over the line.

We still have so much work to do to get us out of this mess, but there have been some positive signs recently. I really hope Ranieri goes with the team that finished on Tuesday night against Palace as we were so much better then than how we started the game. I thought Cairney was sensational, and I hope it puts to bed some of the doubts about his attitude! He was very unfortunate not to score himself, but it was his shot that allowed Vietto to score after it had cannoned off the bar. Shout out to Sergio Rico as well who made an unreal save from a Murray header when the score was 2-2. Chambers, Babel, Mitro and Seri all had great matches in the second half. We have the players who can turn this around, so we need to keep believing.

Great Escape II anyone?

#COYW

Chambers says Fulham ‘have stomach for the fight’

Calum Chambers believes Fulham’s incredible fightback against Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday night shows that they ‘have the stomach for the fight’ as they battle to stay in the Premier League.

The Arsenal loanee’s first goal for the club sparked a remarkable comeback as the Whites scored four second-half goals without reply, having trailed to an early Glenn Murray brace. Chambers feels that the precious victory could serve as a turning point in their season and gives Fulham belief heading into Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace.

He told the Mirror after the final whistle:

We have shown we have the stomach for the fight. We were 2-0 down, conditions weren’t nice, we could have easily crumbled — but we didn’t.
We showed fighting spirit, we showed character and we showed a bit of pride. I think that’s what we are capable of and that’s what we need to do every game from now on. That’s going to be crucial. We have got to look at that second-half performance and what we did well. We have got to learn from that and take it into the next game.

That is the important thing – to try and build a bit of momentum. I think we can take a lot of positives from the second-half and go into the next games knowing we are capable of that.

Chambers also praised the impact of Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who grabbed a double to rock Brighton back on their heels.

Having him in the team can help you. He is a fighter, he is strong, and he scores goals. Having a player like him is crucial. That is why we need to use him. We need to use him as a player, know what his qualities are, and use them to our advantage.

He is a great character. He is a fighter. To have someone like that in the team is brilliant. He leads from the front. So having someone like that in the team is what we need.

There were obviously words from the manager at half time. We all spoke among ourselves as players. It was just a case of, we know it wasn’t good enough and we knew had to go out in the second-half and turn it around, show a bit of pride and character. That is what we did.

Fulham working on Nortdveit deal

Fulham are working on a deal to sign centre back Havard Nordtveit from Hoffenheim, according to reports from Norway this evening.

The 28 year-old Norwegian international, who can also play as a holding midfielder, has had two previous spells in English football with Arsenal and West Ham United and is reportedly keen on returning to the Premier League. Nordtveit has spent the past two seasons with Hoffenheim since leaving the Hammers, but has made just eight Bundesliga performances this season.

Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri has been desperate to bring in a centre back for much of the January transfer window, but talks over a potential move for Chelsea defender Gary Cahill broke down earlier this month. The move to sign Nordtveidt, who has won 45 caps for his country, has earned a thumbs up from former Fulham captain Brede Hangeland, who himself made a January move to Craven Cottage with the club deep in the relegation mire back in 2008.

Hangeland, who now works as a television analyst, told TV2 tonight:

I can’t see any other reason why Fulham should sign him than to go straight to the team. They have no need to get someone who cannot start and reinforce the base. Håvard also has no interest in sitting on the bench in the Premier League.

Fulham has a defence that is definitely not good enough. If he is intended for a defender role, he will be an upgrade on Odoi who plays on the right of the back three right now.

Mitrovic revels in ‘magical night’

Aleksandar Mitrovic revelled in what he described as ‘a magical night’ at Craven Cottage after Fulham roared back from two goals down to breeze past Brighton and Hove Albion last night.

The Cottagers breathed new life into their battle against the drop with a storming second half display that stood in stark contrast to their abysmal first half showing. Mitrovic scored two goals and came out on top in a real battle with Brighton’s two centre backs, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, after a display of classical centre forward play.

The Serbian striker told Fulham’s official website that he relished the physical battle with the Brighton centre halves:

They are tough, tough guys, really strong, tall guys, like every Premier League defender.

I enjoy competing with different defenders every week, and against Brighton I scored two goals.

I had good service second half and we played unbelievably. We got four goals, and could have scored a few more, so it really was an unbelievable night. After a very bad first half, we tried to give everything second half. We wanted to go out and do everything we could.

We scored nice and early with the first goal, then the second goal, third goal, and the fourth goal finished the game. We didn’t concede any goals at the end.

It was really a joy to play in, and the fans were unbelievable. They believed as well, like we believed, and it was a magical night, and hopefully there are more wins to come.

It was a big game, a big three points. We had an unbelievable second half. We believed, and we fought until the end, and I think we deserved this.

Cairney eyes another ‘great escape’

Tom Cairney says last night’s stirring fightback against Brighton and Hove Albion shows that Fulham can pull off another ‘great escape’ and stay in the Premier League.

The Cottagers are still five points from safety, but Cairney feels that coming back from two goals down to record their first win in a month has boosted morale around the club. The Scottish international, who was introduced as an early substitute after Glenn Murphy’s double inside the first twenty minutes, also believes that passing football is the way to get Fulham out of trouble.

Look, we have got players to play football. I just feel like we have got to pass the ball. I think that is what we did in the second-half. That is what I came on and tried to do to the team. I mean it is tough, we can’t really outfight teams.

We aren’t big enough, we aren’t strong enough. But we have got good footballers in the team with Ryan Babel coming in, Jean-Michael Seri who can play football, myself. With Aleksandar Mitrovic up top, we have always got a chance to score. That is our best way; playing to feet.

I think that is the only way we can do it. We tried to fight, we tried to scrap a little bit, go a bit more direct. But I think we have our most success and look most dangerous when we play football.

Obviously it is still going to be the great escape if we get out of the situation we are in. I think to have any chance we have got to go back-to-back wins for the first time.