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Parker pledges to turn it around

Scott Parker remains confident that he is the man to keep Fulham in the Premier League, despite another damaging defeat against Crystal Palace this afternoon.

The Whites have picked up just a single point from their first six fixtures and were beaten at Craven Cottage this afternoon even though they enjoyed the overwhelming share of possession in the London derby. Fulham had started brightly but went behind to Jairo Riedewald’s first Palace goal and Wilfred Zaha doubled the visitors’ lead in the second period. Captain Tom Cairney’s late consolation did little to lift the mood afterwards.

Asked if he will get enough time to turn things round, Parker told his post-match press conference:

“I can’t control that. What I can do is what I have normally done throughout my career and life, during these hard times, it is the time to front up and keep working as hard as I can to get the rewards that I deserve. It is out of my hands but I will keep working hard.”

“We are a young team, still trying to gel but there were some big positives today and this is when the chips are down you have to face up and keep working hard and I am sure we will come out of the other side. I felt we need to learn from exactly how this game panned out. We had a dominance but at times in the final third lacked a real intensity about us.”

Zaha runs Fulham ragged

This was the classical Roy Hodgson away performance that Fulham fans came to love during his three years at Craven Cottage. Soak up early pressure, remain compact and hit a punch drunk opposition on the break. It requires commitment, work ethic and a ruthless instinct in the final third – but it rather encapsulated the difference between an established top flight side, in Crystal Palace, and Scott Parker’s Fulham, who will quickly be cut adrift at the foot of the table if they are not careful.

Palace were workmanlike rather than flashy, but that was enough for the Eagles to record a comfortable victory. Wilfred Zaha was to the fore again, with flashy skills, pace and an appetite to take on defenders, having already fired a warning shot before the visitors went ahead in the ninth minute. Alphonese Areola saved well after Zaha had escaped the attentions of Ola Aina, a regular occurrence throughout the afternoon, but Fulham failed to clear their lines. Zaha played a delicious no-look pace through the centre of the defence and Jairo Riedewald, untracked by anyone in white, crept in behind the back line to slot his first Palace goal past the stranded goalkeeper.

The scoreline felt harsh on Fulham, who had began brightly and at a high tempo, and that conclusion only seemed more justified as the home side made all the running as the first half went on. Ademola Lookman looked dangerous cutting in from the left, with one gorgeous touch almost freeing Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose shot was blocked on the edge of the box, and Antonee Robinson provided plenty of width from full back. Fulham’s best chances fell to Lookman, who twice hit the post with instinctive low drives. The first was helped onto the woodwork by an alert Vitor Guaita, but the goalkeeper had no chance of reaching the second, and the hosts’ afternoon was summed up by the fact that the rebound fell perfectly for Mitrovic, whose effort was deflected over by Scott Dann, an important defensive touch that the referee missed.

Palace might have been disciplined in defence and far from adventurous themselves, but they looked threatening every time they got into Fulham’s final third. Their likeliest source of a second was Zaha, who frequently left a chastened Aina trailing in his wake, and might have doubled the Eagles’ lead with a header, but guided Andros Townsend’s inviting cross wide. Michy Batshuayi did find the back of net, but was correctly ruled offside, whilst Luka Millivojevic’s stoppage time free-kick flew fractionally over, although that would have been an injustice after a generous award from referee Graham Scott.

The second half followed a similar pattern. Fulham were more urgent in their play, dominated possession but created precious little. Mitrovic’s best chance was a header he mistimed from a Tom Cairney free-kick, whilst when the Whites went a bit more direct, Cairney found Guaita’s gloves with a speculative effort that lacked conviction from just outside the area. But just as Fulham looked to build up a head of steam, they were caught cold at the other end. Batshuayi was afforded far too much room to roam down the right and his low cross gave Zaha a simple tap-in. The talismanic forward found the far post more tricky to navigate than Fulham’s defence, colliding with it as he finished – and the game felt up.

Fulham toiled manfully, but never seriously looked like retrieving the situation. Lookman persevered with those jinking runs from the left, shooting over as space opened up briefly, but it was Palace who came closest to extending their lead with Tyrick Mitchell drawing a save from Areola. Parker shuffled his pack, but any late revival was doomed by substitute Aboubakar Kamara’s wild lunge at Ebere Eze, which was correctly punished by a straight red card. Cairney did provide a consolation in the fifth minute of injury time, with a stunning curler into the top corner from distance, but the fact that it proved only a mere footnote shows just how much work Scott Parker has ahead of him.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Lemina (Reed 79), Anguissa (Kamara 66); Lookman, Loftus-Cheek (Decordova-Reid 74), Cairney; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, Odoi, Bryan.

SENT OFF: Kamara.

GOAL: Cairney (90+5).

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-4-2): Guaita; Clyne (van Aanholt 72), Mitchell, Dann, Kouyate; Milivojevic, Riedewald (Sakho 85), Townsend, Schlupp (Eze 76); Zaha, Batshuayi. Subs (not used): Henderson, Kelly, van Aanholt, Sakho, Meyer, Eze, Benteke.

BOOKED: Guaita.

GOALS:
Riedewald (9), Zaha (64).

REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).

Fulham U23s fall to late defeat at Newcastle

Fulham’s under 23s fell to a late defeat at Newcastle this afternoon as they failed to hold onto an early advantage handed to them by the in-form Jean-Pierre Tiehi.

An experienced Newcastle side, including first-team stars Ciaran Clarke, Paul Dummett, Matty Longstaff and Achraf Lazaar, made the early running at St. James’ Park but struggled to gain a reward for their adventure with a combination of dogged Fulham defending and wayward finishing letting them down. Clark created the game’s first chance with a surging run from the back but Yannick Toure dragged a finish wide of goal. Former Arsenal youngster Stan Flaherty was next to go close firing an effort wide wide from just outside the box before Lazaar also shot off target after a promising move.

Peruvian youngster Rodrigo Vilca pulled the strings in midfield on his first appearance in a Newcastle shirt and sent a speculative shot over the bar from distance, but it was Fulham who took the lead on 27 minutes. Terry Ablade, who had fired a couple early warnings with dangerous raids down the right, saw his shot saved by Dan Langley but the rebound fell kindly for Tiehi, who rolled a simple finish into the net. The Magpies might have levelled matters before the break but George Wickens made smart stops to deny Ludwig Francillette and Longstaff in quick succession.

The second period followed a similar pattern. Dummett and Clarke carved out a chance down the left only for Lazaar to lash wide having wriggled free in the area and the hosts went even closer when the lively Flaherty smashed a drive off the inside of the post before Wickens and his defenders scrambled the ball to safety. A goal did appear to be in the offing and Fulham’s defence finally caved in with eleven minutes left, when Flaherty picked out Toure after a fine run down the left and the forward’s finish cannoned in off the woodwork.

It was all Newcastle now. Vilca and Flaherty combined before the latter brought another reaction save from Wickens. Fulham’s reprieve was short-lived though, as Flaherty clinched victory for the Magpies with a wonderful long-range finish that left the young goalkeeper grasping at air. Wickens did make an excellent save from another Vilca drive from distance as time ticked down, but Fulham were unable to force an equaliser.

NEWCASTLE UNITED U23s: Langley; Rounsfell, Dummett (Gamblin 61), Francilette, Clark (Cross 61); M. Longstaff (Oliver 45), Scott, Lazaar, Vilca, Flaherty; Toure. Subs (not used): Brown.

GOALS: Toure (79), Flaherty (87).

FULHAM U23s: Wickens; Murphy, J. Aina, McAvoy, Ameyaw; Harris, De Havilland, Pajaziti (O’Neill 65), Davis; Ablade, Tiehi. Subs (not used): Schwarzer, Lanquedoc, Biereth.

BOOKED: Harris.

GOAL: Tiehi (27).

Lookman lights up Fulham’s forward line

Ademola Lookman’s outstanding goal capped a fine first start for the new Fulham winger

Until yesterday, you’d have been hard pressed to find any real bright spots from Fulham’s return to the top flight. The closest thing to a positive was probably the arrival and emergence, via two encouraging cameos off the bench, of Ademola Lookman that made the lively winger’s introduction to the starting line-up a sure thing. Having perked up Fulham’s attacking play against Brentford and Wolves, the on-loan Leipzig wide man was rewarded with a start at Sheffield United – and he marked the occasion with the sort of goal that he’s been threatening to score since he made the switch to Craven Cottage.

The stunning individual goal will win all the plaudits – as it should – but it is Lookman’s mentality and desire that have impressed me since he first feratured for Fulham. In a side that has proven predictable because of a preoccupation with possesion and a predilection for sideways passes, the nippy winger is ambitious and direct. He’s not bothered by the prospect of getting clattered by defenders and, in a system that has previously seemed to shackle the creativity of our wide players, Lookman wants to take people on at every opportunity. It’s a refreshing change – and one that is already reaping rewards.

The goal itself showed the limitations of Scott Parker’s set up in the final third, in a perverse way. Lookman made it all himself, darting inside Sander Berge with real purpose and a turn of pace, before riding the challenge of Chris Basham and, crucially, gathering himself as the ball might have wriggled out of his control and firing an unstoppable shot high into the roof of the net. Watching his exploits again, it was notable that had he decided to head for the byline and cross for a team-mate, no other yellow shirt had made a move from the edge of the box. That static element of Fulham’s play in the last third needs to change and Parker can’t rely of moments of individual magic to deliver it.

Lookman’s potential has never been a secret. He burst onto the scene so impressively as a teenager at Charlton and started well having earned a big move to Everton before his career rather fizzled out under Sam Allardyce. Harnessing his willingness to roam infield from a wide left position will be crucial to transforming Fulham’s threat to the opposition, which has hitherto largely come from a horribly isolated Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbian striker had a day to forget yesterday – but there were still elements of the pair’s link-up play to admire, especially when Lookman lifted in a peach of cross that Mitrovic headed wide in the closing stages.

There are things that can improve as his Fulham career progresses. The understanding with Antonee Robinson down the left flank might be one of the most exciting parts of his inclusion in this side, particularly when you consider how adventurous the former Wigan full-back is in his own game. Lookman rather ignored the American international at times in the second half as Robinson offered a promising overlap, preferring to plough his own furrow or shift the ball inside, but a partnership can be forged by a bit of hard graft and exploration at Motspur Park in the weeks ahead. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek now able to pull the strings from a number ten position, Lookman should have even more opportunities to terrorise top flight full backs in Fulham’s upcoming fixtures. Keeping him fit and firing could pay real dividends.

Assured Adarabioyo makes flawless start

Being disappointed that Fulham failed to keep a clean sheet marks significant progress during what has been an underwhelming start to the Premier League campaign. The concession of a late penalty that denied the Whites a first league success might have taken the shine off Tosin Adarabioyo’s top flight debut somewhat, but the former Manchester City defender shouldn’t allow it to detract from a commanding display at the heart of a rejigged back four that belied his tender years. Calm on the ball, confident in his decision making and a commanding presence in the centre of a defence that suddenly appeared much more secure, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Adarabioyo had been a regular fixture in the Fulham backline.

Adarabioyo’s potential has been discussed in hushed tones around Manchester for many years. A natural leader from a young age, he captain City’s youth side to the FA Youth Cup final in 2018 and was fast-tracked into the senior squad the following year, making his first-team debut against Chelsea in the FA Cup. City fought hard to prevent him from leaving for pastures new when the likes of Celtic and Spurs showed interest, but after honing his promise with Championship loans at West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers, the lure of regular top flight football proved too rich to resist. Seasoned observers were surprised that Fulham were able to snare Adarabioyo, who Pep Guardiola had spoken about as a potential first-team centre half, for as little as £1.5m up front in the closing hours of the summer transfer window.

The 23 year-old’s Fulham debut might have come a little quicker than envisaged after Joachim Andersen’s untimely ankle injury earlier this week, but you would never have guessed it. A consummate ball-player, he slotted successfully alongside Tim Ream into what had been a jittery Fulham defence previously, immediately offering assurance and the calmness of a man who had played far more than eighty senior games. What was most notable was that Adarabioyo was quickly organising his colleagues, offering instructions from the outset, and none of the chances that fell to Ollie McBurnie as the Blades cranked up the pressure could be considered to have come from an error by the new man.

Instead, Adarabioyo was almost flawless. The best defenders are largely unnoticed for much of a match, not needing to resort to a last-ditch tackle or an eye-catching interception that would be lauded as an excellent defending, because of their positioning and reading of the game. Adarabioyo certainly had an eye for danger, blocking an early shot from Sander Berge, but he rarely needed to go to ground – making just a single tackle throughout the contest – because he was regularly in the right place to take control of possession. Similarly, there was just a solitary interception in the whole game, as he glided effortlessly through his first Premier League outing.

It was easy to see why Fulham felt Adarabioyo would fit their system. Since Scott Parker has sought to build his side from the Jokanovic template, it was no surprise that he would want to find a centre half who was comfortable with the ball at his feet. Adarabioyo definitely fits that bill – completing 96.4% of his 56 passes successfully, the highest percentage of anyone who started the game and he didn’t fall short aerially either, winning five duels in the air against David McGoldrick and McBurnie, which is no mean feat. Such is his professionalism that he berated himself for failing to do better with a late headed chance from Tom Cairney’s corner that might resulted in a dream winner.

I’m always rather weary of reading too much into a debut, but Adarabioyo’s assured start has to be represent one of the biggest positives on an afternoon of mixed emotions in south Yorkshire. Fulham’s battle for survival hinges on a cohesive defensive unit bedding in quickly so as to ensure Parker’s charges don’t find themselves cut adrift at the foot of the table. On this afternoon’s evidence, Adarabioyo certainly won’t be lacking in application, while his attributes and calm demeanour can give Fulham a fighting chance of staying up.

Parker pleased with Fulham performance

Scott Parker felt his Fulham side could have claimed all three points at Bramall Lane this afternoon – and professed himself pleased with a much improved second half performance.

Aleksandar Mitrovic missed a penalty before Ademola Lookman gave Fulham the lead with a fine individual goal, but Sheffield United denied the visitors’ their first Premier League win of the season through Billy Sharp’s late penalty.

Parker told his post-match press conference:

When you analyse the game and look at the chances we had, we’re disappointed we haven’t won. First half we were a bit cagey.

I thought in the second half we were exceptional. In the first half, we came with a bit of plan, we needed to tinker things at half-time and the players responded very well. The second half, I saw a dynamic team, a team that could create chances and I was pleased overall in that sense. There is still plenty of learning and plenty of improvement to do – a young team with young players coming in and making their debuts.

The team is going in the right direction, not just today. The last performance as well was very pleasing. From where we were in the first three games where we had our struggles we appear to be coming out of that and pushing in the right direction.

Mitrovic misses cost Fulham first win

Aleksandar Mitrovic won’t have many worse days than this. He skimmed the top of the crossbar with a penalty and, after Fulham had taken the lead through a superb strike from Ademola Lookman, conceded the spot-kick that allowed Sheffield United to equalise with five minutes to play before missing a couple of glorious chances to grab the Whites’ first Premier League win in stoppage time at Bramall Lane. Given what the Serbian has produced during his time at Craven Cottage, it seems churlish to chastise this contribution – but his anguished look after the final whistle told you that the talismanic number nine knew he should have secured a precious three points.

Once the frustration subsides, there will be plenty of positives to take from this trip to Yorkshire for Scott Parker. Dealt a blow in the build up to this meeting between two of the division’s pointless sides by an untimely ankle injury to Joachim Andersen, the Fulham boss opted to hand a Premier League debut to Tosin Adarabioyo, who showed a composure beyond his tender years to display the sort of assurance that had many at Manchester City disappointed to lose him in the last hours of the transfer window. Fulham showed laudable fortitude to shrug off the disappointment of Billy Sharp’s leveller with five minutes to go and finish the more likely winners, qualities that will be needed as they continue to battle against the drop.

The visitors began brightly, with a snapshot from Tom Cairney forcing an early save out of Aaron Ramsdale, but it was the Blades who carried the greater attacking threat for much of the first period. Sander Berge gradually began to pose considerable problems by drifting into pockets of space in front of the Fulham back four and, after Chris Basham dragged his effort across the face of goal following a surging run from the Norwegian, Ollie McBurnie spurned a succession of good chances. He had a header clawed away from six yards out by Alphonse Areola in the Fulham goal and sent another effort wide, whilst Berge and a rampaging Enda Stevens also tested the goalkeeper’s handling with low drives.

Fulham, who had been restricted to speculative efforts with a rasping drive by Mitrovic from a well-worked free-kick fielded by Ramsdale, were much more progressive after the break. Lookman found plenty of space to influence proceedings down the left, even if the penalty that gave the visitors a golden chance to take the lead came out of nowhere with substitute Jack Robinson inexplicably using his hand to prevent Ruben Loftus-Cheek from connecting with Ivan Cavaleiro’s corner. The hosts’ got a huge reprieve when Mitrovic went for power from the spot and saw his rising effort clip the crossbar on its way over.

The visitors were beginning to shut down the acres of space that Sheffield United had enjoyed during the first half and should have gone in front when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, excellent again at the heart of the Fulham midfield, seized on a slack pass and burst down the middle before releasing Cavaleiro down the right flank. The winger’s cut back looked destined for Loftus-Cheek or Lookman but Jack Robinson made amends for his earlier mistake with a perfectly timed interception. Chris Wilder sent on Rhian Brewster for his top flight debut, it was Fulham who hit the front courtesy of a moment of magic from Lookman.

The lively winger darted inside Berge on the edge of the box and carried the ball past Basham’s attempted challenge at pace before firing an unstoppable finish past Ramsdale high into the net. It was the sort of individual brilliance that the former Charlton academy prospect has been threatening in a couple of impressive cameos since he arrived on loan from RB Leipzig earlier this month and was his first Premier League goal since his debut for Everton in January 2017.

Parker’s men weren’t able to hold on for the win, however. Mitrovic was penalised for bringing down Jack Robinson in the box as he battled to clear a Sheffield United free-kick, with Martin Atkinson awarding the penalty after viewing the pitchside monitor on the instructions of the video assistant referee. Sharp, thrown on just four minutes earlier, made no mistake with the spot-kick – driving his finish straight down the middle to level matters.

At that point, you might have feared the worse for Fulham given the way their return to the Premier League has gone so far. But it was Parker’s side who pushed more convincingly for the winner. Lookman had another rasping drive blocked bravely by Basham, before Adarabioyo headed wastefully over from the corner, and Mitrovic – now certain that it wasn’t going to be his day – failed to find the target with a pair of headers in injury time after inviting crosses from Lookman and Cairney.

SHEFFIELD UNITED (5-3-2): Ramsdale; Lowe (J. Robinson 18), Baldock, Stevens, Egan, Basham (Sharp 81); Norwood, Berge, Lunstram; McBurnie, McGoldrick (Brewster 64). Subs (not used): Verrips, Ampadu, Osborn, Burke, Sharp.

GOAL: Sharp (pen 85).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Anguissa, Cairney; Cavaleiro, Lookman, Loftus-Cheek (Lemina 81); Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Le Marchand, Bryan, Decordova-Reid, Kebano, Kamara.

BOOKED: Anguissa, Cavaleiro.

GOAL: Lookman (77).

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (Birmingham).

Sanderson double sees Fulham U18s past Baggies

A brace from Olly Sanderson secured a comfortable 4-1 win for Fulham’s under 18s at West Brom this morning.

Fulham made a flying start when Sanderson converted a low cross from Mika Biereth, but were quickly pegged back from the penalty spot after young left back Stefan Parkes was penalised for handball. Sanderson notched his second with a composed finish at the back post after a swift Fulham back down the right flank and Irish youth international Ollie O’Neil went close to extending the visitors’ lead with a lovely curling effort that drifted just wide.

Steve Wigley’s side grabbed a third before the break from the penalty spot after a beautiful pass from Luciana D’Auria-Henry sent Biereth through on goal. The Polish forward was brought down by the goalkeeper and Adrion Pajaziti coolly converted the spot-kick.

The second period was devoid of clear cut chances until Matt Dibley-Dias unlocked the home defence with a clever pass and Biereth cut in from the right flank and fired clinically past the onrushing goalkeeper. The convincing win means that Fulham have won three of their first four league games this season and currently sit third in the table, with a game in hand on Tottenham and Aston Villa above them.

FULHAM U18s: Borto; D’Auria-Henry, Parkes, Antonsson, Araujo; Pajaziti, Dibley-Dias, O’Neill; Harris, Biereth, Sanderson. Subs: McNally, Lanquedoc, Olakigbe, Caton, Avenall.

Fulham sign Kongolo

Fulham have completed the permanent signing of Huddersfield Town defender Terence Kongolo for an initial fee believed to be around £4m.

The Dutch international defender, who can play at centre back or at left back, had a short spell at Craven Cottage last season, which was cut short after he broke his metatarsal during his league debut at Blackburn. Kongolo made just two appearances for Fulham, starting in an FA Cup defeat at Manchester City and then coming on as the Whites closed out a narrow victory at Ewood Park, but Fulham kept tabs on the defender as he recovered from his injury over the course of the summer.

After completing the move, Kongolo told FFCTV:

“I’m really happy. It’s been a while, been waiting the whole day, but the end result is I can play for Fulham! I’m proud to be here, and I will give everything for this club.”

Kongolo has Premier League experience having starred as the Terriers survived their first season in the top flight, finishing 16th. He made seventeen appearances helping to steady the Town defence before completing a club-record deal to make the move from Monaco permanent over the course of the summer. The 26 year-old was a regular in the side as Huddersfield went down in 2018/2019 and moved to Craven Cottage on loan last January having indicated he would like to move on.

The move for Kongolo, who has won four senior caps for his country and was part of the Dutch squad that finished third at the 2014 World Cup, became all the more critical after recent signing Joachim Andersen injured his ankle ligaments during training earlier this week.

Knockaert joins Forest on loan

French winger Anthony Knockaert has joined Nottingham Forest on loan until January, Fulham have confirmed this evening.

The former Leicester and Brighton wide man arrived at Craven Cottage from Albion on loan at the start of last season. Knockaert scored five goals in 39 appearances as Scott Parker’s side were promoted from the Championship via the play-offs and Fulham paid a reported £10m to convert his loan into a permanent move. The 28 year-old has not featured in the league at all so far this season with his only Fulham appearances coming in the League Cup.

Knockaert, who had previously worked with newly appointed Forest boss Chris Hughton at Brighton, will team up with Cyrus Christie, who is also on loan at Forest, at the City Ground. The deal includes an option for the Championship club to buy Knockaert permanently.