Fulham join Fraser race

Fulham have joined the race to sign Scottish international winger Ryan Fraser on a free transfer after he opted to leave Bournemouth earlier this summer.

The Whites are eager to bolster their attacking options as they prepare for a Premier League return and see the 26 year-old winger as an appealing low-cost option with considerable top flight experience. Fraser, who refused to sign a short-term contract with the Cherries ending a seven year spell at Dean Court, had been hoping to attract interest from Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, but an offer from either north London outfit has not materialised.

As well as Premier League new boys Fulham, who beat Brentford to win last night’s Championship play-off final at Wembley, Crystal Palace are known to be keen admirers of Fraser’s talents. Roy Hodgson is keen to bring the winger to Selhurst Park and Palace have reportedly made an offer to Fraser’s agent. He scored just once in 32 appearances for the south coast side as they slumped to relegation this year, a disappointing ending to a fairytale spell at Bournemouth, which included winning promotion from League One in his first season and then going up from the Championship in 2015.

Fraser has made 120 Premier League appearances and would provide competition for the likes of Anthony Knockaert, Aboubakar Kamara and Neeskens Kebano, who have all filled the right wing spot in the closing weeks of the season for Fulham. His potential wage demands – rumoured to be around £100,000 a week when he turned down a proposed short-term deal at Bournemouth – could be the only serious stumbling block for any suitors.

Kebano signs new Fulham deal

Neeskens Kebano has signed a new two-year contract with Fulham – with the club retaining the option of another year’s extension.

The Congolese international winger starred to keep Fulham’s automatic promotion hopes alive until the very end of the season, scoring four goals in five games, including three free-kicks in successive fixtures. Kebano’s outstanding form earned him a starting place in the play-offs, where he scored in both legs of the semi-final against Cardiff City, and won his second promotion in three seasons after Fulham beat Brentford at Wembley last night.

The 28 year-old winger was delighted to cement his future at Craven Cottage, telling the club’s website:

“I’m delighted for the team, the staff and the supporters, we’ve remained together which has brought us to where we are now. I have a lot of affection for this Club, for the fans, so it’s natural this decision to sign a contract when this opportunity was offered to me, and I’m very happy to be here for a couple of more seasons.”

Fulham’s vice chairman and director of football, Tony Khan, added:

“Neeskens has been at Fulham for four seasons, joining the Club in my first season as Director of Football, and he’s made great contributions for Fulham in two Premier League promotions, particularly during our great run since the restart these past several weeks, scoring five in four matches including a wonderful pair of goals in the Play-Off Semi-Final, one in each leg, to help the Club reach the Final again, where he started yesterday in our incredible win at Wembley.”

Keeping dressing room together is key, says Cairney

Captain Tom Cairney says Fulham must learn the lessons of their last failure in the Premier League and preserve the team spirit that has powered them to promotion.

The Whites went down after spending more than £100m on new players in the summer of 2018 – something that manager Scott Parker has already warned the Fulham hierarchy not to repeat this time around. Cairney, whose influence was key as the Cottagers saw off Brentford in a tense play-off final at Wembley last night, wants to keep the togetherness that proved so crucial during such a rollercoaster season.

The Scottish international told Sky Sports News:

We need to keep the dressing room and the team spirit together – I think we lost that a little bit too early the last time we went up. I think we’ve got to add quality. We’ve got to add Premier League players because it’s a tough league. It’s a different ball game. So hopefully we can learn a little bit from last time.

The main objective is to stay in the league. We haven’t got long to enjoy it really – I think the season starts next month, which is a bit scary. But I’m excited.

Fulham line up move for Walker-Peters

Fulham could hijack Southampton’s plans to sign Tottenham full-back Kyle Walker-Peters with a late move of their own, according to the Evening Standard.

The Saints are reportedly keen close to concluding a £12m deal to make Walker-Peters’ loan switch to the south coast permanent, but Fulham are considering joining the race to sign the former England under-21 international. The Whites are set to make defensive reinforcements a priority during the five weeks they have to supplement their squad before the start of the new Premier League season and right back is a position they would be keen to strengthen.

Fulham are known to be long-term admirers of the 23 year-old’s potential, having failed to bring Walkers-Peters to Craven Cottage on loan during the January transfer window. Instead, the Edmonton-born full back went to Southampton, where he made ten league appearances but the chance of working with Scott Parker and Matt Wells, who oversaw his development during their team at Tottenham’s academy, could prove tough to resist.

The attacking full-back will be keen to gain regular first-team football to further his career after making just twelve league appearances in five years at Tottenham. He was part of Paul Simpson’s England under-20 squad that won the World Cup in 2017.

Fulham eyeing Sessegnon return

Ryan Sessegnon could make a sensational return to Craven Cottage as Fulham are considering taking the young winger on loan from Tottenham following their Premier League return.

Scott Parker is known to be a huge admirer of Sessegnon, whose meteoric rise through the youth ranks at Motspur Park, culminated in assist at Wembley as the Whites beat Aston Villa to win the Championship play-off final two years ago. Fulham’s subsequent relegation from the top flight saw the former England under-21 international move to north London for a deal thought to be worth £25m plus Josh Onomah.

But Sessegnon’s career has stalled in a disappointing first season at Tottenham, where he originally struggled to overcome a knee injury and saw Mauricio Pochettino sacked. He made just two appearances under Pochettino, who was reportedly a big factor in persuading Sessegnon to move to Spurs, and didn’t feature at all under Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho is apparently keen to keep Sessegnon at Tottenham for the forthcoming campaign, with Barcelona’s rumoured speculative interest swiftly rebuffed, but a loan back to his boycott club could help the young winger resurrect both his career and confidence at the highest level. Sessegnon, who made his senior debut for Fulham at just sixteen, made 120 appearances for Fulham and could provide competition for the club’s latest Wembley hero, Joe Bryan, at left back as well as featuring further forward.

Fulham ready to activate £8m Reed option

Fulham are poised to activate the clause in Harrison Reed’s loan deal that will allow them to make the Southampton midfielder their first Premier League signing for £8m.

Reed, who admitted in the run-up to the play-off final that he was interested in making a permanent move to Craven Cottage having spent the last three seasons away from St. Mary’s on loan in the Championship, has been a key figure in Scott Parker’s midfield since the resumption of the season following the coronavirus lockdown. The 25 year-old made 27 appearances as the Whites bounced back to the top flight at the first attempt, adding steal and defensive solidity in front of the back four.

The tigerish midfielder, who came through the youth ranks at Southampton, made his senior debut as a substitute in the League Cup at Barnsley in 2013. He followed that with a Premier League bow against Manchester City in December, but has found first team opportunities tough to come by with Saints in recent years, playing just thirty senior games in total. He has spent time on loan at Norwich, Blackburn and Fulham in successive seasons – and may look favourably on the prospect of finding a new home.

Reed has flourished alongside Tom Cairney of late in a reshaped Fulham midfield, with Josh Onomah operating in an advanced midfield role, and completing a deal for his services would be a real coup for the newly promoted club as they strive to assemble a squad good enough to compete at the highest level.

Parker leads Fulham to the promised land

Many a modern manager would have interpretation last night’s glorious victory as a personal vindication, but Scott Parker’s first words to the television cameras last night were about his backroom staff and his family. It is difficult to overstate just how completely he has turned Fulham’s fortunes around in little more than a year. Handed a poisoned chalice for his first chance in manager, Parker inherited a broken, rubble bereft of spirit and quality, who were dropping like a stone out of the Premier League. To return his charges, with renewed energy and desire, at the first time of asking is a magnificent achievement.

Parker has taken far more than his fair share of criticism over the course of a long and challenging season. When the setbacks came – and there were plenty, from that opening defeat at Barnsley to home reverses against the same opposition, Hull and Reading – there were a throng of critics, assailing a lack of tactical acumen, the apparent absence of a Plan B and concluding he was too passive to make changes. All along the way was the drumbeat that an expensively assembled squad should have been seriously in the automatic promotion equation – even though Fulham were in the shake up right up until the final ten minutes of the season.

There were those who felt Parker would be found out in the play-offs, especially against Brentford, who have helped the upper hand in that most curious of rivalries for the best part of a decade. The Griffin Park grapevine gurgled with confidence as Emiliano Marcondes’ ill-advised assertion that Fulham were ‘scared’ in the run-up to Wembley – on the back of two derby defeats in the regular season – looking more than a little foolish now. But Parker kept a laser like focus on the finish line and delivered a tactical masterclass when it mattered most.

Not many of the talking heads felt Fulham were fit to surprise Brentford on the biggest stage, with the in-vogue Thomas Frank portrayed as a touchline innovator in spite of the Bees’ Devon Loch-like collapse when automatic promotion was in front. But reputations count for little in one-off encounters and Parker’s players delivered a performance full of commitment and composure, sticking to a meticulously-devised tactical plan that nullified Brentford’s crisp and inventive football, restricting their lauded front three to a single shot on target before what turned out to be a late consolation.

All of Parker’s key decisions paid off handsomely. There was some debate towards the end of the season about Joe Bryan’s position in the side. He was dropped after Fulham’s collapse at Elland Road seemed to end any hope of catching the drop two, but his restoration to the starting can’t be questioned now. The moment of magic that caught David Raya unaware at his near post might have come from Fulham’s eagle-eyed analysts, but the execution of an audacious plan from fully 35 yards out in a deadlocked promotion decider at Wembley was magnificent. Bryan’s second showed all of his attacking qualities, a desire to get forward, break beyond the last line of defence and – after a delicious one-two with Aleksandar Mitrovic, on whose fitness Parker gambled for extra two – a finisher’s instinct not often found in left backs.

On the other flank, three right backs have been tried during a long season. You sense Steven Sessegnon’s time should come eventually, but Cyrus Christie has put in a terrific shift over the past few weeks – and did again last night when he came off the bench. You felt for the Irish international when he was left out, but the more defensively-minded Denis Odoi was the perfect choice to nullify Said Benrahma, who only once eluded the Belgian’s clutches in a mature performance. Indeed, it was Odoi who popped up in the final third regularly – emphasising just how conclusively he had won that individual battle. Of course, Denis ended up on the crossbar afterwards – paying homage to that glorious victory against Aston Villa two summers’ ago.

In midfield, there was a slight tactical tweak that seemed to really flummox Brentford. Tom Cairney, so often the orchestrator of Fulham’s fluid football, played in a much deeper role and played his part to perfection, winning tackles, distributing possession and covering every blade of grass to keep the Whites on top. He was still adventurous enough to feed the vital pass through to Bryan that gave the full-back a chance to break into the Brentford box with three minutes to go, but his match awareness was magnificent.

Harrison Reid wasn’t as pivotal as he has been during the run-in but his combativeness alongside Cairney created two distinct advantages: there was amble protection for the magnificent Michael Hector and Tim Ream, but it is also freed up Josh Onomah to operate in the sort of advanced role that allowed him to display all of the characteristics that flickered so brightly in his early Tottenham days. You can sense the confidence surging through Onomah now after that brilliant goal at Cardiff, but his purposeful running, both with and without the ball, clearly unsettled Brentford as he pressed high up the pitch from the outset.

In the absence of Mitrovic, Parker made a big call in playing the unpredictable Aboubakar Kamara as a lone forward, with Bobby Decordova-Reid out wide. It was the right decision, as with Neeskens Kebano recovering to operate on the other flank, Fulham’s front three were interchangeable and their movement gave the Brentford defence plenty of problems that wouldn’t have encountered against a more direct striker. Kamara’s individual performance, crammed full of ceaseless running and a selfless work ethic, is worth extra praise. His development since he arrived at Craven Cottage a couple of years ago has been incredible.

Parker also had the confidence to address what Fulham’s summer should look like in his post-match remarks, insisting that there will be no repeat of the post-Wembley largesse that disrupted the harmony within a close-knit squad as Slavisa Jokanovic prepared for the top flight. He will know what he needs to try and mount a survival mission – no easy feat in the modern game – with defensive reinforcements clearly the priority, but Parker should also take some time to savour the enormity of an outstanding success.

For many years, people within football have whispered encouragingly about his football intelligence and he was widely regarded as one of the young coaches to watch when he completed his coaching badges whilst still on Fulham’s playing staff. Last night, on the biggest stage of all, we saw those coaching credentials come to the fore. Another English young manager in the top flight can only be good for the game and, after all the debate about his methods and inexperience, you can only conclude that Fulham’s future is in good hands.

Parker: Promotion is ‘my proudest moment’

An emotional Scott Parker described Fulham’s play-off victory over local rivals Brentford as his ‘proudest moment’.

The former Fulham captain, in his first job in senior management, has achieved what few thought possible and returned the Whites to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Parker, who appeared to be in tears after the final whistle, spoke movingly to Sky Sports about the emotional rollercoaster of being a football manager and just how impressed he has been with the resilience of the squad he has nurtured at Craven Cottage.

It’s my proudest moment by a long way. I’m proud of my players and proud of my team – I’ve seen the team grow along a journey which has been tough this year. I’m the one that goes and fronts it up and the players are the same.

But underneath it all there’s a support mechanism. I’m speaking about my family and closest friends. At times this year it’s been difficult – very tough. I couldn’t do what I’ve done for the last year – there were times I definitely would have broke – without them.

And I’ve got an amazing staff and an amazing network around me that make me feel strong when I’m at my weakest. That’s why I’m emotional and proud. I hope this is something for all those people that makes them realise it was worth it.

Parker admitted that Joe Bryan’s audacious opener – a 35-yard free-kick that surprised David Raya at his near post – was a pre-planned move that he urged the full back to try in a brief touchline discussion before the set piece was taken.

We did our due diligence on the goalkeeper. He has got a very aggressive high starting position on free-kicks. We brought it up in a set-play meeting. I called Joe over because I felt when we brought Mitro on Joe was probably going to cross it in. I tried to bluff it a little bit and I told him to commit to it, to give it a real go and see what happens. He’s executed it well. We tried this in the last game, and it went nowhere near the goal, but thankfully it has worked. My staff deserve full credit for that and the planning they did.

He also assured Fulham fans that wholesale changes would not be the order of the day after the Whites secured promotion – a change in approach after Fulham’s free-spending two summers ago disrupted the heart of the side that had gone up and resulted in a rather gutless capitulation in the top flight.

You can’t build teams with drastic changes, drastic swings of players. This team has been around myself now for the best part of 15 months and they have improved and improved and improved. I’m happy with where we are. We are going to need additions – we are going into the biggest league there is – but no real drastic changes.

Some clear errors were made last time and we will learn from that, we need to learn from that. We are going into the best league in the world, the best players, it’s a brutal league and I realise the challenge ahead. I want to try and enjoy what we have done so far but we need to learn from those mistakes. What we’re trying to build and ingrain in the players and this football club is some core foundations. If you’re not building your club on concrete but sand, it will be that rollercoaster ride.

Bryan brace sends Fulham back up

If you had to nominate a man to bag the brace at Wembley to secure Fulham’s return to the Premier League at the first attempt, nobody would have picked Joe Bryan. The likeable left back has had his critics since enduring a difficult start at Craven Cottage, but he wrote his name into Fulham folklore with a tremendously inventive free-kick that broke the deadlock deep into the first period of extra-time and, incredulously, followed that with a beautifully predatory finish that put the biggest game in English football beyond the bookies’ favourites, Brentford.

It was Bryan’s first double in senior football and it highlighted his attacking prowess, which it is a pivotal part of the modern game. Bryan’s first goal owed much to Scott Parker’s preparation – with the Fulham backroom staff noting that David Raya often straying high off his line at defensive free-kicks. After Raya had almost been embarrassed by a fluffed clearance way out of his penalty area, Christian Nørgaard’s professional foul on Josh Onomah presented Fulham with a set piece on the left flank 35 yards out. Noone expected Bryan to go for goal, least of all Raya who was stationed in the middle of his goal, but after a touchline discussion with Parker, the former Bristol City full-back bent a cheeky finish in at the near post.

The one-goal cushion, something Fulham have turned protecting into an art form this season, allowed Parker to switch to his favoured back five to soak up the inevitable Brentford pressure. He sent on Maxime Le Marchand and Cyrus Christie to shore up Fulham’s advantage, but the Whites actually looked the far more likely scorers. It was fitting that Aleksandar Mitrovic, who stepped off the substitutes’ bench to test his hamstring during extra time, laid on the assist with a gorgeous one-two on the edge of the box. Bryan kept his cool to slide home the second to kill the contest – capping a glorious move that started with a long kick from Marek Rodak that found Ivan Cavaleiro on the left flank. Tom Cairney, excellent from a deeper position all evening, released the onrushing Bryan who surged onto a cushioned lay-off from Mitrovic and slotted home his second.

That made Brentford’s last hurrah at the death when Henrik Daalsgard headed home from eight yards in the final minute of stoppage time almost academic. Fulham’s fortitude and Parker’s tactical acumen, derided at times by the armchair critics in his first full season in management, was rewarded as his side produced a defensive masterclass in shutting down one of the divsion’s most potent attacking outfits. They restricted Brentford’s much-vaunted three-man attack to a single shot on target – Rodak smothering Ollie Watkins’ close-range effort in the second half – making a mockery of Emiliano Marcondes’ pre-match suggestion that Fulham feared facing their local rivals on the big stage.

If anything, it was Brentford who suffered from the early stage fright. They struggled to cope with Josh Onomah’s athleticism at the top of the Fulham midfield, whilst Bobby Decordova-Reid’s ceaseless running dragged their centre halves right across the midfield. Onomah, a revelation in the second half of this the longest of seasons, started brightly – drawing a smart save from Raya in the fourth minute before the Brentford goalkeeper almost handed Fulham the lead with two casual clearances that put his team in trouble.

This was a cagey affair that lacked the bite of what is usually a tempestuous derby, although strong challenges from Harrison Reid and Cairney were punished by bookings from a lenient Martin Atkinson. Cairney crafted another opening for Onomah with a beautiful slide-rule pass down the side of the Brentford defence and the midfielder’s angled drive looked destined for the far corner had Raya not pushed it clear with a firm right hand.

Bryan Mbeumo was largely anonymous all evening but he had Brentford’s best sights of goal in the first period. A looping header was easily fielded by Rodak before Michael Hector produced another perfect piece of defending, stretching out a leg at just the right time to prevent Mbeumo from touching home Mathias Jensen’s cross at the near post.

Although Brentford saw much more of the ball in the second half, Fulham still fashioned the clearer openings. Kebano ruffled the side netting with another free-kick and the Congolese winger, who had made a miraculous recovery to start the final after coming off against Cardiff with a hamstring strain, dug out a delicious cross for Decordova-Reid, who probably should have tested Raya from thirteen yards out. Rodak pushed a rising drive from Watkins over the bar from the edge of the box whilst, at the other end, Reid and Onomah sent speculative shots over from distance.

Mitrovic and Anthony Knockaert were introduced in stoppage time at the end of normal time and a tight contest grew even more tense in extra time. Hector, immense at the back once again, instinctively snuffed out the danger when substitute Sergi Canos, a regular scourge of Fulham down the years, sought to link with Watkins in the box – and the Championship’s second top scorer could only screw a shot wide. Kamara, a willing runner all night, blasted an effort straight at the goalkeeper after seizing on another weak Raya clearance – and you wondered whether the stalemate would ever be broken.

Bryan’s brilliant double settled matters with all the assurance of a seasoned goalscorer. His audacious first will live long in the memory – and caught Brentford like a bolt from the blue. The second, a classic counter-attacking goal, made a nervy last few minutes all the more tolerable. They might have made it three but Knockaert delayed releasing Cavaleiro a fraction too long, allowing Raya to race off his line. It wouldn’t be Fulham without a wobble, which came when Daalgard forced home a header and grabbled with Rodak for the loose ball, but it came so late as not to prove terminal. Parker, the recipient of heavy criticism from sections of the fanbase this term, deserves fulsome praise for righting a horribly listing ship and returning the Whites to the top flight at the first time of asking. Not too bad for a rookie.

BRENTFORD (4-3-3): Raya; Dalsgaard, Henry (Fosu 105), Pinnock, Jansson; Jensen (Dervisoglu 105), Nørgaard, Dasilva (Canos 83); Mbeumo (Marcondes 61), Benrahma, Watkins. Subs (not used): Daniels, Jeanvier, Rasmussen, Zamburek, Valencia.

BOOKED: Jensen, Nørgaard.

GOAL: Dalsgaard (120).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi (Christie 110), Bryan, Hector; Ream; Reed, Cairney; Kebano (Knockaert 81), Kamara (Cavaleiro 105), Onomah (Le Marchand 110); Decordova-Reid (Mitrovic 90). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, McDonald, Johansen.

BOOKED: Reed, Cairney, Hector, Knockaert, Mitrovic, Cavaleiro, Rodak.

GOALS: Bryan (105, 117).

The Big One

How are we feeling, Fulham fans? Ahead of the first Cardiff play-off I wrote that I was, “….uncharacteristically chilled…” about the whole thing, but that has very much went out the window one week on. Not only is tomorrow night a one game shoot-out for a place in the Premier League, it’s a West London derby. It’s much more than a derby game, and much more than a play-off final. It’s hard to express just how much this game will means to both sets of fans. It’s cruel that it has to be held behind closed doors. I honestly believe that it would be one of the biggest play-off games in history given the just 6-odd miles between the two clubs and the fact that we both finished level on points in the league. Having 85,000 people at Wembley for that would have been absolutely spinetingling.

I’ve watched each of the play-off finals at an empty Wembley this year so far and they are bizarre. The FA Cup final was also strange. No fans in Wembley way, no noise, no atmosphere. Instead we will have to rely on our boys to do the business without our backing.

As completely illogical as this may sound, I’m much more confident knowing that we will be playing in white tomorrow evening. The thought of us playing in blue brought back bad memories of our Europa League final against Atletico Madrid 10 years ago. I’ve never liked us playing in navy blue. It’s just so ‘un-Fulham’. Instead, it’s Brentford who will be playing in blue with a commemorative shirt to mark the end of their time at Griffin Park. In truth, what kit a team wears really doesn’t matter, but I still feel a bit better about playing in white regardless.

On the pitch it’s eleven v eleven and nothing else. Our boys v theirs. Scott Parker v Thomas Frank. All the distractions come to an end tomorrow evening at 1945hrs when the referee’s whistle blows, and then all we can do is stand back and hope for the best. I hate not being able to be at Wembley and because of the increased restrictions in Greater Manchester where I’m based, I’ll have to make do with watching the game at home, most likely from behind the sofa. While I’m nervous, I have full faith in the team that we have. We have the players who can devastate teams on their day, and an awful lot of this squad was with us when we played against Aston Villa at Wembley in 2018. Hopefully our experience will count for something. I’d actually argue that our squad, at full strength, is stronger than it was last time. While we are weaker in the full back positions, everywhere else is either the same or an upgrade, particularly in the midfield area.

There is absolutely no doubt that Brentford have a strong squad. They came very close to taking that second automatic spot off West Brom, but that end of season bottle ended their hopes. Hopefully this will play to our advantage, but they looked good against Swansea. We have to be on top of our game if we are to beat this team, but I believe that we will be. Parker announced today that we have a fully fit squad to choose from, which is hardly believable considering the worries around Mitro and the way Kebano was strapped up after the game on Thursday night. But if they are all fit, then what a boost to us. Kebano is on the form of his life, Harrison Reed has been exceptional since lockdown, Josh Onomah genuinely gets better every game and Marek Rodak continues to be a beast between the posts. We can absolutely do this.