Cardiff send Fulham into drop zone

Cardiff ramped up the pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic by recording their first league win of the season and sending Fulham into the relegation zone after an end-to-end contest at the Cardiff City Stadium.

The Whites failed to build on going in front thanks to a long-range thunderbolt by Andre Schürrle and were left to rue familiar failings as more wretched defending allowed Neil Warnock’s men to leapfrog them and climb out of the drop zone. A new-look back four, which Jokanovic admitted included ‘four centre halves’ and was designed to introduce more solidity at the back, crumbled under the weight of the task in front of them and, at times, it looked as if Cardiff, who had only scored two league goals all season, could score at will.

It looked as if the trip to Wales might bring some relief for Jokanovic, whose side were thumped 5-1 by Arsenal last weekend. The visitors went in front through a sensational strike from Schürrle , who may have been given far too much time to advance in a central position 35 yards from goal, but nobody would have expected him to curl a goal of the season contender past former Fulham keeper Neil Etheridge and into the top corner. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, but it proved a false dawn as the Bluebirds hit back twice in the space of five first half moments.

Calum Chambers, who endured a nightmare 45 minutes at right back, was caught horribly out of position going for an expansive one-two with Schürrle in the centre circle and Josh Murphy had the freedom of the city to race onto a searching through ball from centre back Sol Bamba. The former Norwich winger ran at Denis Odoi and finished clinically into the bottom corner with Marcus Bettinelli having little chance as the strike took a deflection off the covering Belgian defender. Five minutes later, it was 2-1 and again it proved a calamity of Fulham’s own making.

The Londoners’ looked to have dealt with the danger from a Cardiff free-kick which Gunarsson blasted into the wall but Schürrle attempted to take an extra touch rather than clear his lines and was robbed of possession outside his own area. Aron Gunnarsson’s tackle ricocheted past Tim Ream, who was slow to react, and Bobby Reid pounced to slide a finish under the advancing Tim Ream. It might have been worse for Fulham had Chambers been dismissed for pulling back his tormenter Murphy when he seemed set to race through on goal. The on-loan Arsenal man was shown a yellow card instead, before being substituted at half-time.

The Whites did at least go in level courtesy of Ryan Sessegnon’s first top-flight goal. The teenager, who has now scored five times in five appearances against City, produced an excellent finish to a flowing move to level the contest after Aleksandar Mitrovic – horribly isolated for most of the afternoon – beautifully flicked a through ball from Chambers into the winger’s path. Fulham might have been fortunate to have restored parity by the break, but the second half was a much more even and cagey affair until Jokanovic made the decision to replace Jean-Michael Seri with Floyd Ayite, unbalancing a midfield that was dominating possession until that point.

Both sides had chances to win it, but Fulham’s defence caved in with 25 minutes to go. Cardiff worked an opening down the right with the excellent Gunnarsson and Bruno Ecuele Manga involved before makeshift centre forward Calum Paterson beat both Ream and Mawson to the ball, turned and shot into the far corner, with Bettinelli seemingly going down in slow motion. Mawson had a header from a corner brilliantly palmed away by Etheridge but Fulham’s soft underbelly was underlined when Ream slipped on the halfway line allowing Victor Camarasa to surge into the area and cross for substitute Kadeem Harris, who made sure of the points with a low finish. No wonder Jokanovic admitted Fulham have ‘so many defensive problems to fix’ afterwards.

CARDIFF CITY (4-4-2): Etheridge; Ecula Manga, Bennett, Bamba, Morrison; Gunarsson (Richards 77), Arter (Damour 86), Camarasa, J. Murphy (K. Harris 82); Paterson, Reid. Subs (not used): Smithies, Cunningham, Hoilett, Zohore.

BOOKED: Gunnarsson, Morrison, Bamba, Richards.

GOALS: J. Murphy (15), Reid (20), Paterson (65), Harris (87).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Chambers (Mawson 45), Odoi, Ream, Le Marchand; McDonald, Seri (Ayite 58), Johansen (Vietto 82); Schürrle , R. Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Anguissa, Kamara.

BOOKED: Chambers, McDonald, Johansen.

GOALS: Schürrle (11), R. Sessegnon (34).

REFEREE: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

ATTENDANCE: 29,681.

Five-star Arsenal rip Fulham to shreds

By the end, it was a massacre. Arsenal accelerated to their ninth straight league win and there seemed to be an ocean between the Gunners at Fulham by the time that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rolled in a fifth at the Putney End seconds into stoppage time. The sight of Ryan Sessegnon, disconsolately on his knees after the final whistle in the centre circle, showed just how much this defeat hurt.

It was yet another reminder of how defensive vulnerabilities can be brutally exposed in the top flight. Fulham had began feistily, with plenty of spirit and tempo, penning Unai Emery’s side deep in their own half during an opening twenty minutes that saw Slavisa Jokanovic’s side dominate possession and create a couple of clear chances. They even had the momentum going in at half-time following Andre Schurrle’s sumptuous finish to a flowing move and were arguably in the game until Jokanovic opted to replace Tim Ream with Aboubakar Kamara. Had the French forward directed a header on goal with his first touch instead of it drifting harmlessly wide, who knows what the outcome might have been?

Instead, Arsenal’s formidable football, explosive pace in the forward areas and the sort of supreme confidence that comes with winning nine league games in a row took hold. Alexandre Lacazette had underlined his devastating ability in front of goal with two wondrous finishes before a sweeping move that began in the Arsenal right back position after Schurrle’s untimely slip ended a promising Fulham attack, led to an impudent flick from Aaron Ramsey completing a contender for goal of the season. The game might have been effectively out of Fulham’s reach from that moment on, but Jokanovic would not have been enamoured with the way his charges wilted after that. The Whites appeared to have run horribly out of gas in the final twenty minutes, with Aubameyang slotting home clinically from close range before adding that late fifth. Fulham have a reputation for being welcoming hosts, but this was unforgivable generosity.

Jokanovic’s solution to a horribly shaky defence was to deploy three centre backs and give Sessegnon and Christie the license to roam forward from wing-back. The teenage Sessegnon did it effectively, arguably bettering Hector Bellerin in the first 45 minutes, but Christie’s limitations at this level were horribly exposed during a chastening afternoon. With Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s return from a serious shoulder injury probably more than a month away, right back appears to become another problem position. Most of the problems came down the Arsenal left in the first half and, with Denis Odoi frequently dragged out of position to cover, it was inevitable that the Gunners would eventually fashion a goalscoring chance. Maxime Le Marchand had already produced two last-ditch interventions before Lacazette took the first opening that came his way clinically, spinning inside the box and firing a low shot beyond Marcus Bettinelli, to make light of Fuham’s encouraging start, which saw Bernt Leno produce an excellent save from Luciano Vietto’s deflected shot and Aleksandar Mitrovic have a strike blocked behind.

As it turned out, Fulham’s equaliser just before the break only delayed a deflating second half collapse, but at the time it felt significant. Vietto gleefully seized on a poor Arsenal pass, galloped into space just outside the box and measured a lovely ball through for Schurrle. There was a still a lot for the German to do, but he brilliantly lifted a clever finish over Leto and the home side were level. It was the least they deserved for the spirit and resolve demonstrated in shaking off going behind once again, but Jokanovic will be alarmed at how devastatingly his side fell from that high-octane start for the second week running. The Whites had no answer to Everton stepping up a gear at Goodison Park last Saturday – and you never really felt they were likely to mount a comeback once Lacazette lashed home from distance after Danny Welbeck had flicked on a hopeful long ball from the impressive Lucas Torreira.

Ramsey’s first touch was an artful back flick from close range that left Marcus Bettinelli with no chance and capped a mesmerising length of the field move that hinted at the sort of football Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles put together in their sleep. You can feel the belief drain away from Fulham’s shell-shocked players – and Jokanovic now has a real job on his hands. The Serbian head coach, no closer to knowing his best eleven and with injuries sidelining key performers, has to lift his team ahead of their return to domestic action following the international break, which includes three possibly pivotal fixtures against Cardiff City, Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town. Aside from fashioning a functioning back line, the Fulham boss needs to add more bite to the midfield, especially ahead of that trip to south Wales. The confidence of last May already looks a thing of the past.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Ream (Kamara 54), Le Marchand; Christie, R, Sessegnon, Zambo Anguissa (McDonald 62), Seri; Vietto (Johansen 83), Schürrle, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Mawson, S. Sessegnon.

BOOKED: Vietto, Schürrle.

GOAL: Schürrle (44).

ARSENAL (4-4-2): Leno; Bellerín, Monreal, Mustafi, Holding; Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Xhaka, Iwobi (Ramsey 67); Welbeck (Aubameyang 62), Lacazette (Guendouzi 80). Subs (not used): Martínez, Sokratis, Lichtsteiner, Kolasinac.

GOALS: Lacazette (29, 49); Ramsey (67); Aubameyang (79, 90+1).

REFEREE: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 25,401

Out Gunned but Still Standing

 

It’s not long after the final whistle brought the misery to an end at Craven Cottage. It’s never nice losing at home, especially when another second half collapse saw us go from being in the game at 1-1, to being simply humiliated. It’s very easy to succumb to all out negativity after that sort of defeat and I’m not going to shy away from the bad parts of today, and our season so far, but I’ll also not ignore the positives.

Negatives

  1. Relying on Christie is asking for problems – He tries really hard, but Cyrus Christie is just so out of his depth. He is so focused on attack (and often doesn’t even get that right), that he leaves massive gaps behind him which welcomes opportunities for the opposition. Le Marchand bailed him out a few takes at 0-0 with some last-ditch tackles when Christie hadn’t even slightly gotten back to defend. I worry about playing him going forward, but maybe Fosu-Mensah will be back after the international break.
  1. One half team – There have been so many games this season were we have looked awful one half, but really good the other and today was a prime example of that. We did really well in the first half, but collapsed in the second. It was the same against Everton, while it was the first half were we barely showed up against Watford only for us to save it in the second. No team anywhere in the world will be able to get away with only showing up for one half of football. We have to be able to stay in games or else teams will just pick us off like Arsenal did today and like Everton did last week. I don’t know if it is a fitness thing or what, but whatever it is, it needs addressed.
  1. Slavisa’s subs – Today the decision to bring Kamara on was mind boggling. Ream I honestly think would have come off anyway as we need to ease him in after a back injury but to bring him off for Kamara was strange. I get that we then changed formation, but surely Floyd Ayite is a better option? I can’t criticise too much as I think Slav’s substitutions this year have been good (think Odoi at Watford as a prime example) but today there isn’t really any justification.
  1. Questions over Bettinelli – I have always been a firm defender of Marcus Bettinelli, but I can’t do that today. While some of the goals he couldn’t have done much about, a few certainly should have been handled better. It’s also getting to the stage that I’m questioning his organisation of the players in front of him as we don’t seem to learn from our mistakes. He has to take some responsibility for that. However, the responsibility can’t land at his feet and his feet only. It must be a nightmare trying to organise different players every week, and when your right wing back is nowhere to be seen, the gaps were like the splitting of the Nile at times. Hopefully his time with England this week will give him some confidence going into the games after the international break.

Positives

  1. Sessegnon is adjusting – One of the things I was most excited about this season was seeing what Sessegnon was able to do in the Premier League. The expectation on the youngster’s shoulders was carried very well last season, but he started this season quietly. However, I’ve been very impressed with him recently, and I think today was his best performance all season. That might sound daft considering the scoreline, but he coped very well, for the most part, in the attacking threat Arsenal had on the left. He won a number of foot races with the dangerous Hector Bellerin, and his decision making on when to go forward, go inside or stay back was right nearly every time. I’m not sure if Slavisa Jokanovic will go for a back three again, but if he does I think we can be quite optimistic about Sessegnon playing at LWB.
  2. We are still giving teams something to think about – There is no doubt that we were in the game at half time and at times during the first half we were playing the better football. It was the same at Wembley against Spurs when after we scored our goal we looked more likely to be the team taking the lead, but for Trippier to score a trademark free kick. And against Palace I thought we were very unfortunate to come away with nothing. While the rate of conceding is alarming, it wouldn’t be fair today that teams are better than us man to man. With defensive improvement we could push up the league.2. So many players are due back from injury – We have played a different back line in every game this season, and that is simply not OK, but we haven’t been helped by injuries to the defence particularly. I don’t believe for a second that Ream’s withdrawal at 2-1 down today was tactical, as he needs to be eased back in after a back injury. While I think the decision to bring Kamara on was flawed, I think Ream would have been coming off anyway. Alfie Mawson has a lot of potential, but also clearly isn’t ready. He really should be our main CB, but it won’t happen until he is fit. Then last week we lost both Joe Bryan and Timothy Fosu-Mensah and there is just nothing we can do about that other than nurse them back to health ASAP. While some of the chopping and changing has been a choice, a great deal of it has been injury induced. We also badly need Tom Cairney to get fit. It is so evident that when he is missing we lack a leader in midfield who has a bit of discipline about him.
  3. While our rate of conceding is bad, we have played Spurs, City, Everton and Arsenal this season – Conceding 21 goals in eight games is never going to be OK, but I don’t believe that it requires a meltdown considering who we have played. Teams are going to concede goals to Spurs and City away, while Arsenal are lethal going forward. Yes, I’d rather we kept it down, but we have to be realistic and remember that an injury ridden defence is going to be delicious prey for attackers like Kane, Moura, Sterling, Silva, Lacazette and Aubameyang. We may have helped them along the way, but it takes something special for a full 90 minutes to keep them out.

So while today wasn’t pretty, there are still reasons for us to be positive. The three games after the international break are crucial, and maybe after them we will have a better idea of how this team is adjusting to life in the Premier League.

#COYW

Arsenal Thoughts

October is my favourite month of the year. I suppose it stems from the fact that my birthday is in October, but I have also always loved the colours of the trees at the this time of the year, and the fireworks at the end of the month. In Northern Ireland we don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes night, but we do have fireworks etc on Halloween night, so I always associate October with birthdays and fireworks. Last year Fulham really put a dampener on my normally high spirits in October with four lacklustre displays and therefore four disappointing results. We scrapped draws against Preston and Wigan at home, while we were beaten comfortably by both Aston Villa and Bristol City. It had already been a poor start to the season, and a fair few fans had already started to believe that promotion wasn’t a realistic target. Fast forward a few months, and Fulham were smack-bang in the middle of a push up the table, showing that a slow start isn’t the end of the world.

We have started slowly this season with just the one win so far from our seven games and 16 goals conceded. It doesn’t look great on paper, but it could also look a lot worse. We have to remember that Fulham have started the past few seasons relatively slowly, and have then ended up doing very well. We have had to deal with a massive jump up in quality as well as integrating so many new players into our club. I fully believe that we will have a good run of results soon and that the performances will improve as the players adjust to the league so we just have to hang in there and continue to support the team.

It would be amazing to start October with a win, but it will be extremely difficult against an Arsenal side who have won eight games on the bounce in all competitions. It’s a new era for Arsenal under Unai Emery, but the Spaniard seems to be settled in well at the Emirates with his side sitting 5th in the table after a real rocky opening few matches. They will have to overcome some European jetlag after their trip to Qarabag in Azerbaijan, but as it was a much changed side in the week, we shouldn’t count on the same levels of tiredness that Burnley had back in August.

We have a reasonably good record against Arsenal at home, with three wins, a draw and four defeats in our last eight games against them in the league. While this isn’t ground-breaking, it’s decent enough form for us against a traditionally much stronger club. Could Fulham repeat the wins of 2012, 2008 or 2006 this Sunday?

While Arsenal are on a rich run of form, we should note that they have only kept two cleansheets in the league this season. With Petr Cech looking like he might miss out because of an injury sustained last week, there could be a real opportunity for our front three to have a productive game. At the other end of the pitch, however, we will have to be weary of a side who have 14 goals already this season. Our defence has been our weakest point this year, and we will be without Joe Bryan and Timothy Fosu-Mensah for certain after the pair were forced off last week injured. I’d imagine that Ryan Sessegnon will revert to left back with Cyrus Christie on the right. I thought Christie was really poor last week, so hopefully we see some improvement this time around.

We have missed a fit Tom Cairney over the past few games, and I absolutely think that he makes the difference for us in midfield. While I agree that Seri is probably the best player to wear a Fulham shirt for years, I think we have missed Cairney’s awareness and knowledge of the English game in there. Hopefully we see him start on Sunday.

#COYW

Hammyend Player of the Month – September

As months go, September wasn’t particularly fruitful for Fulham. Five games played, two defeats, two draws and our solitary victory coming in a Carabao Cup match against Millwall at the Den. Before the season started I had been hoping for wins against Brighton and Watford (I hadn’t expected Watford to start quite as well as they did) while Manchester City was always going to be a bit of a free hit and Everton? Well, we never have a good time there, do we?

With the team not exactly covering themselves in glory it wasn’t easy picking out four players to even be nominated for September’s prize, but the team have come up with their suggestions, so here goes.

Marcus Bettinelli

Our number one always seems to split opinion, but I consider us very fortunate to have a player who is playing for the club that he loves. It’s very telling that after the defeats away to Manchester City and Everton that it was the two players to come from the academy who spent the longest applauding the fans. But onto the football. You could argue that it hasn’t been a great month for Betts as he has had to pick the ball out of his net nine times, but he also arguably saved us from defeats in both the Brighton and Watford games. He saved a penalty at Brighton while it could have been game over by half time against Watford if it wasn’t for a number of key saves. Slav even handed him the armband in the absence of both Cairney and McDonald from the starting team on Saturday, and while I’m not a big fan of keepers as captains, it shows a great deal of faith in him from the gaffer.

Aleksandar Mitrovic

I would imagine that it will be hard to keep Mitrovic out of these nominations in any month. This time around Mitro has scored twice including the equaliser against Watford. He was the main threat throughout the second half and is constantly showing why it was a stroke of genius from Jokanovic to give him a chance with us. He has the most shots on target in the league, alongside Mo Salah, and is sitting second in the race for the Golden Boot with five goals to his name. The player snubbed by Newcastle on his own has more goals than his former club in the league. Championship player, will never make it in the Premier League, eh?

Luciano Vietto

What a breath of fresh air the Argentinian has been in a month of otherwise uninspiring displays from the team. At first I thought that he had been quite wasteful against Watford, but looking back on it it’s becoming a habit of his to be involved in pretty much everything about Fulham’s attack. Despite looking quite skinny, he has great strength that so often sees him surrounded by players but able to keep the ball and start an attack. I do think that his decision making in the final third needs improvement, but he is constantly causing headaches for defenders. He grabbed the assist for Mitrovic’s equaliser taking his total to three for the season, third overall in the league. I fully expect more to come from him in the coming months.

Luca De La Torre

Normally I’d rather have players who have played more than once at least for us in the Player of the Month nominees, but with it being slim pickings this month, there was space for players with just the one appearance. What a performance we had from Luca De La Torre against Millwall in the cup. An assist either side of his first goal for the Whites meant that he was involved in every goal that night. We don’t really have another player at the club who can play in that number ten role so it will be interesting to see if he can do enough to get a chance in the league. He has been at the club for quite a while now, but is one who many have been excited about, and with good reason. He has the vision and the energy to be a very useful player for us, and his performance against Millwall was enough to see him get a mention in these nominees.

So there you have it, your four nominees. The poll this month will be held entirely on twitter so make sure that you cast your vote.

Has Stuart Gray’s departure irrevocably harmed Fulham?

I only met Stuart Gray twice. One was in the Madjeski Stadium car park, when in a jovial mood, we celebrated the coolness of Lucas Piazon’s measured finish that had rescued a point for Fulham’s ten men at Reading at the start of last season. The other time was at Motspur Park where he spoke briefly about how he’d managed to make watching the Whites defend set plays a much less stressful experience. He was passionate, open to discussion with the fans and clearly a deep thinker about the game, who was enjoying his time at the club.

It came as something of a surprise therefore, considering the remarkable upturn in fortunes of Fulham during the two and a half years that Gray spent at the club, when he left during the summer. While all the focus was on the flowing football and attacking intent that had helped the Whites became something of an irresistible force in the Championship, Gray quietly got on with the job of turning a defence that had been shambolic into a miserly unit that complimented the way Jokanovic wanted his side to play.

It involved hard graft on the training ground, an emphasis on fitness and decision-making as well as communication across the back line. Kevin McDonald’s arrival as a holding midfielder – playing a deeper role than he had at any point in his career – made a decisive difference, both as an organiser and as an outlet to receive the ball of the back four. McDonald’s positioning was crucial, as was the recovery speed of the likes of Ryan Fredericks, Scott Malone and even Matt Targett, when the Southampton left back fitted so seamlessly into the back four after signing on loan last January.

The training ground drills weren’t quite as repetitive as the ones that Roy Hodgson employed to drag his embattled side away from the Premier League drop zone, but practice, partnerships and positioning were a hallmark of the hard graft at Motspur Park. Gray’s wealth of managerial and coaching experience throughout the Football League proved invaluable to a coaching staff that had largely cut their teeth on the continent, aside from Jokanovic’s canter to promotion from the Championship with Watford. The remarkable renaissance of Tim Ream and the emergence of Denis Odoi as a ball-playing centre half owed much to the first team senior coach’s tutelage and patient cajoling.

There was a consistency to the Fulham back line that remained even once Odoi displaced the successful 2016/2017 partnership of Ream and Tomas Kalas. The Whites were comfortable holding a higher line than you might have expected given the centre halves’ lack of pace – and the extraordinary unbeaten run that almost carried them to automatic promotion was built not just on possession football but defensive diligence. The fact that the jittery, panic-stricken defending of corners and free kicks gradually became a thing of the past certain helped too.

Now, linking Fulham’s alarmingly leaky defence to Gray’s departure might be a bit of a stretch. His meticulous organisation and attention to detail could well be sorely missed, but Jokanovic has had other factors to deal with. Even setting aside the obvious step in class when it comes to the opposition in the Premier League, Fulham have had to integrate a whole host of new players and seen several signings beset by injuries. The early-season goalkeeping situation couldn’t have helped and the fact that Jokanovic has fielded six different back fours means the consistency that the best teams count upon hasn’t been obtainable.

It’s just a hunch, provoked by Fulham’s shambolic second half collapse at Goodison Park, but Gray’s surprising summer departure might have left a bigger hole than Jokanovic could have initially appreciated. Good defences make strong teams – and Fulham’s gung-ho style leaves little margin for error at the highest level.

Sigurdsson double extends Fulham’s barren run

If you’d read the script beforehand, then this Fulham defeat might almost have appeared made to order. The Whites have never won in the league at Goodison Park – losing their last 23 league games at Everton in a row – and the Londoners haven’t kept a top flight clean sheet in any of their last 22 away games, a miserable stat this is a Premier League record. It was all so depressingly predictable, but for at least 45 minutes Slavisa Jokanovic’s hinted at being able to rewrite the record books.

It is clear that the Serbian’s side remain very much a work in progress at this level. If the opening day defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace proved a lesson in the need to take your chances in the top flight, then this could have doubled as a timely refresher. Fulham produced a composed and patient display of possession football in a first half they gradually began to control, but had nothing to show for their endeavour having squandered the two best chances. A player of Andre Schurrle’s quality should have done better than to laconically sidefoot over the bar from the edge of the box after Ryan Sessegnon and Joe Bryan had unlocked the Everton defence down the left, before the teenage left winger rattled the frame of the goal from closer range having latched onto Jean-Michael Seri’s gloriously weighted through pass.

Jokanovic admitted his side had paid ‘an expensive price’ for failing to hit the target – the visitors didn’t manage to test Jordan Pickford at all – but their inability to match Everton’s energetic start after the half-time break will have been particularly disconcerting. They failed to heed the warning when Gylfi Siggurdson smacked the crossbar with a spot-kick, awarded after Dominic Calvert-Lewin took a tumble after a challenge from Denis Odoi, and eventually capitulated rather meekly as Seri and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa faded from their starring first half roles.

Sigurdsson stroked home a gorgeous first goal from the edge of the box, arriving to curl a low effort into the bottom corner after Odoi had half-cleared Jonjoe Kenny’s cross, although Icelandic international was only belatedly pressed by Luciano Vietto. The home side remained on the offensive – galvanised by taking a lead that appeared likely to restore order to this fixture – but it was Vietto’s failure to profit from a swift Fulham break that left you with the feeling it just wasn’t going to be their day. The Argentinian galloped onto a clever reverse ball from Schurrle, but his heavy touch as he bore down on goal allowed Pickford to pluck the ball from his toes. The England goalkeeper celebrated with a clenched first – and Fulham never truly threatened again.

Instead, Everton made their winning margin much more comfortable. Cenk Tosun headed home his first Everton goal since April from close range after drifting away from Odoi to nod home Theo Walcott’s lofted cross to double the Toffees’ lead. With time ticking down, substitute Bernard made an immediate impact – dribbling into the box down the left flank, and pulling the ball break for Sigurdsson, left all alone on the edge of box again, to pick his spot in the last minute of normal time. Everton’s first win since August was just the tonic for Marco Silva, whose delight on the touchline by the end stood in sharp contrast to frustration when Fulham had began so promisingly.

By the end, the visitors had been reduced to ten men as Joe Bryan headed straight down the tunnel having tweaked his hamstring after Jokanovic had already made his three substitutions. The first of those had seen Timothy Fosu-Mensah stretched off with a serious shoulder injury – and further defensive reorganisation, a consistent part of Fulham’s season so far, will be required before the Whites’ face Arsenal at Craven Cottage on Saturday. This defeat might count as a surprise, but it was particularly deflating.

EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Kenny, Digne, Keane, Zouma; Gueve, Davies; Richarlison (Bernard 88), Walcott, G. Sigurdsson (Schneiderlin 90+1); Calvert-Lewin (Tosun 55). Subs (not used): Stekelenburg, Holgate, Baines, Lookman.

GOALS: G. Sigurdsson (56, 89), Tosun (66).

FULHAM (4-5-1): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah (Christie 8), Bryan, Odoi, Ream; Anguissa, Seri (Ayite 81), Vietto (Cairney 64), R. Sessegnon, Schurrle; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Le Marchand, McDonald, Johansen.

BOOKED: Fosu-Mensah, Christie, Odoi, Mitrovic.

REFEREE: Roger East (Wiltshire).

ATTENDANCE: 38,778

Plotting an end to Goodison Grief

To say that Fulham have a poor league record against Everton at Goodison Park would be an understatement. We have had 26 league games away to Everton across the Premier League and the old Division One and Division Two and have managed no wins, four draws and an embarrassing 22 defeats. In that time we have also conceded a massive 62 goals and have only scored 17 ourselves. I’d imagine that we couldn’t possibly have a worse record against any other club on the road! We have beaten Everton at Goodison Park twice in the FA Cup but the last time that happened was on route to Wembley when we made the final back in 1975. There have been so many games without a win between then and now, so it doesn’t exactly bode well, does it?

But let’s not worry too much about the history side of things. Slavisa Jokanovic will probably be made aware of the dreadful run we are on at Goodison, but he will be ensuring that his players look forward and not behind. This past year we have ripped up the history books so hopefully we can do it again on Saturday.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Fulham at the minute. We play some brilliant stuff at times, but we also have moments of complete brain freeze, moments that have seen us concede in the opening two minutes of our last two league games, or going from 2-nil up to drawing 2-2 against Brighton. Last weekend against Watford it was like two entirely different teams turned up in each half, and if we continue like this we won’t last in this league. However, I don’t think we will keep that sort of form up. I fully believe that we are still adjusting to life in the Premier League and that a good run of form is just around the corner. We have players in our side who can change any game, we just need to sort the defence out and then I reckon we will be able to cause some upsets around the league.

A game away to Everton is never going to be easy, but it’s a good time to face them given their own defensive difficulties this season so far. Like Fulham, they are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league and have also chopped and changed their defence for every game. We know only too well what that is like, and I’d imagine that Mitrovic, Vietto and Schurrle are licking their lips at the prospect of facing a leaky defence. There doesn’t seem to be much between us in a lot of the stats; they have conceded 11 goals to our 13 and both have scored 8 goals. However, Fulham are 500 odd passes better off, so hopefully we can use that to good affect on Saturday.

Everton have a fair few danger men in their side too, with Richarlison the obvious one. There were a lot of eye brows raised across the footballing world when we left Watford for Everton in a deal worth £50million, but he already has three goals in four games this term. There is also the issue of Gylfi Sigurdsson. While the Icelandic midfielder’s move to Spurs back in 2012 might not have been massively successful, I still remember being at the game against Swansea just before that move and Sigurdsson was fantastic. He scored two that day and completely ripped us apart. At £50 a ticket to sit in the Johnny Haynes stand to watch a 3-0 defeat to Swansea, it was a head in hands moment for my Dad.

Both sides have been poor defensively but with a fair amount of joy going forward, so I think we can expect a really exciting game tomorrow. Fulham have to cut out the mistakes, especially at the start of both halves. Alfie Mawson is out, and I can’t see Tim Ream being thrown in to a Premier League game but it will be interesting to see whether or not MLM is recalled to the side. I’d expect Denis Odoi to be recalled after his game changing performance in the second half last week, while no one but Jokanovic will know whether Joe Bryan or Ryan Sessegnon will get the nod at LB. I can’t see Slav going for a 3-5-2 in the PL so expect us to revert to a 4-4-3, but with the RB and LB being given freedom to roam.

Can we put our Goodison curse to bed? Can our defence hold out for more than 90seconds? Who will play in defence for Fulham? So. Many. Questions. But one thing we can be sure of is yet more drama. I’m going to be bold with my prediction and say that the curse will end with a dramatic 3-2 win with Mitrovic bagging a brace and Ryan Sessegnon getting his first PL goal. Magic.

#COYW

Jokanovic pleased with ‘positive night’

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!

Fulham cruise past Millwall on night of firsts

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).

ATTENDANCE: 5.839