Tom Cairney: 150 Not Out

Lost in all the euphoria of last night’s epic comeback against Brighton and Hove Albion was the fact that Tom Cairney’s introduction as an early substitute marked his 150th appearance for Fulham.

Cairney’s class on a football field has never been in doubt. He flickered brightly with Hull City as a teenager and his capture from Blackburn Rovers for little more than £3m in 2015 seems a steal in hindsight. With such a smart football brain and crisp passing ability, it was no surprise that he flourished under Slavisa Jokanovic’s tutelage and, when he was switched into a playmaking central midfield role, the classy midfielder became the fulcrum around which an unassailable team was built. Cairney’s partnership with Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald comprised the most complete midfield in the Championship, with Fulham’s domination of possession appearing almost absolute at times.

The Scottish international, who has also matured markedly as he assumed the captaincy following the retirement of Scott Parker, has also had to show serious resilience as he has battled back from two troubling injuries over the past couple of seasons. It was noticeable that Fulham’s indifferent start to the last campaign ended with Cairney’s return to the side and, despite another injury-troubled season this term, there is no doubt that he makes such a difference to the side. Last night’s turnaround only served to underline the point, with Fulham able to impose themselves on Brighton only once Cairney had come off the bench to replace Tim Ream on 26 minutes.

The difference in Fulham’s patterns of play and assertiveness with Cairney able to protect possession and set the Whites moving forward alongside the outstanding Jean-Michael Seri was massive. Although Claudio Ranieri has so far sought to play only one of the pair having opted for a back five, I’m hoping that he can tweak the system to fit Fulham’s two best passers of a ball into the same side. The momentum garnered from last night’s revival is massive – and, with a number of away wins needed to secure survival, it would make sense for Ranieri to become a little more adventurous.

Without Cairney, Fulham suddenly seem primitive and predictable in possession. His composure on the ball in tight spots is a real asset for a defence that has suffered so regularly this season and his eye for a pass provides a greater threat going forward. Ranieri might have correctly identified that Cairney doesn’t score enough goals for a player of his calibre, but you could hardly quibble with his effectiveness last night. He was incredibly unfortunate not to mark his landmark with a goal, curling two sumptuous efforts against the crossbar, even if one did rebound kindly for Luciano Vietto.

Cairney has already served up so many special moments in his time at the club. His tears at Reading following the play-off defeat were followed by his desire to lead the team back to the promised land and he delivered in such fine style on that magnificent day at Wembley. That outstanding injury-team equaliser at Leeds that propelled the Whites’ late charge into the play-offs will live long in the memory as well his wondrous strike at Wolves. He’s already etched his name into Fulham folklore – and you wouldn’t bet against Cairney carving out a few more memories between and now and the end of this campaign.

Fulham’s fabulous fightback restores belief

I don’t mind admitting that I was flagging a bit last night. The monotony of the Premier League was beginning to wear me down. It has been something of a traumatic season. The loss of Slavisa Jokanovic was keenly felt because of the identity and sumptuous football that he got Fulham playing and, of course, the magical run towards the end of the season and an unforgettable day out at Wembley. The realisation that this squad was plucky and determined rather than properly equipped to be competitive at this level meant that grim gallows humour has been the order of the day for a few weeks now.

It was no surprise that the gut-wrenching defeat by Spurs was followed by the quick concession of a couple of goals to Glenn Murray last night. Whatever Claudio Ranieri does – and the defence has become a lot better since he took charge – our back line seems keep on making damaging mistakes. Murray could have had a first-half hat-trick and it wasn’t as if Brighton played us off the park or he was making magnificent runs. The basics of getting goalside and shutting down crosses from the flanks are honed at a young level: it is as our defenders have forgotten everything they have been taught.

The comeback was as glorious as the weather was icy. There was simply no inkling of it coming. Jean-Michael Seri has had his detractors since that summer move from Nice but he was outstanding in the middle of the field. Some of the one-touch stuff Fulham played in the second half was reminiscent of that Jokanovic side at its silky best. I am still firmly of the belief that our best side includes Tom Cairney, whose cameo on the right side of midfield injected some class into proceedings, but whether Ranieri will be willing to jettison his back five to fit Fulham’s two best passers into the team remains to be seen.

It does give Fulham’s previously rather forlorn fight against the drop a real shot in the arm. There’s no question that Aleksandar Mitrovic is one of the best strikers in the division and it is clear that he relishes a scrap. His first goal last night was a throwback to goals strikers snaffled in the 1940s and 1950s and the second was a great illustration of his desire and aerial ability as he beat Mat Ryan when Lewis Dunk was blatantly backing into him. He clearly has a great understanding with Ryan Babel, who continues to look a smart acquisition, and Luciano Vietto built on an encouraging cameo at Brighton with probably his most complete display in a Fulham shirt.

I do hope there is a change of emphasis in Ranieri’s strategy going forward. It is clear that he is the archetypal Italian coach who wants his teams to be cautious and hard to beat, but barring a phalanx of defenders arriving at Motspur Park in the closing days of the transfer window, I don’t think this Fulham squad has the personnel to play the way he would like. Instead, we are packed with ball-players and attacking talent – the route to safety could well be found by allowing our artisans to express themselves.

The last time the Whites came back from 2-0 down to win a Premier League fixture was that incredible revival against Manchester City that sparked the Great Escape under Roy Hodgson. Last night, reminded me a bit more of that feverish fightback against Tottenham at Loftus Road capped by Sylvain Legwinski’s injury-time winner. Momentum is vital in a relegation run-in – we can’t afford to waste ours now.

Ranieri salutes Fulham’s ‘fighting spirit’

Claudio Ranieri hailed Fulham’s fighting spirit after the Whites roared back from two goals down to beat Brighton and Hove Albion and breathe new life into their battle against the drop.

Fulham found themselves 2-0 down to a pair of Glenn Murray goals inside seven minutes and Ranieri was forced to abandon his back five by introducing Tom Cairney from the bench with less than half an hour played. The Italian replaced Andre Schurrle with Luciano Vietto at half-time and the impact was immediate with goals from Calum Chambers, a brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Vietto’s first Fulham goal securing a priceless win.

Ranieri told his post-match press conference:

“It was a very strange match. After 17 minutes we were down 2-0 and at that moment I said to myself it is much better to concede now rather than at the end, where you don’t have time to react.

It was good because we reacted immediately, even in the first half despite not scoring a goal. The Chambers goal was very important as it gave all the other players more confidence, which allowed them to think we can win tonight. We deserved to win and we played very good football. Tonight we provided Mitrovi? with good crosses, and with crosses Mitrovi? is a very dangerous player. Calum’s goal was also very good as we had very good build-up play leading up to it.

At half-time I gave my players positivity and let them know that we are still in the match. We had to move the ball very quickly and try and find a solution to break the lines with Mitrovi?, Cairney, Vietto and Babel. Babel gave us some experience and leadership, every time he received the ball he was very calm and did something good for the team, the other players also followed him.

These three points mean that we are alive, we can see a little light but it is only a little step forwards. I want to keep seeing this fighting spirit shown this evening.For us every match is tough but they are crucial because we are in the relegation zone. We are confident – this match and result tonight was very important for us. We believe always but tomorrow we have to restart because we have another tough match ahead of us on Saturday.

Mitrovic’s brace breaks Brighton

In September surrendered a two-goal lead at Brighton and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side never rediscovered the swashbuckling football that had characterised their rise to the Premier League. Tonight, at Craven Cottage, in a strange reversal of that glorious sunkissed afternoon at the AMEX Stadium, Claudio Ranieri’s men breathed some life into their stagnant relegation battle by storming back from a two-goal deficit. The villain on the south coast Aleksandar Mitrovic, who conceded a late penalty that day, was the hero tonight – proving pretty much unplayable as Fulham scored four goals without reply whilst playing a brand of football that would have had Jokanovic purring.

The transformation from a ragged side that seemed resigned to relegation at half-time was quite something. Fulham were fitful in the first half and Albion appeared likely to score every time they mounted an attack down the right flank. Chris Hughton’s side went ahead with their first serious attack in the third minute. Martin Montoya, a summer transfer target for the Whites, was afforded far too much time to advance into a dangerous position and whip over a dangerous cross for the seasoned poacher Glenn Murray, who stole ahead of Maxime Le Marchand and steered a fine finish into the far corner.

The veteran’s instinctive finishing doubled Brighton’s lead after seventeen minutes. The goal was unorthodox in its creation with Pascal Gross’s ambitious overhead kick causing consternation in the Fulham back line – Murray was the quickest to react and flicked another impudent finish past the helpless Sergio Rico. The 35 year-old hadn’t scored in eight league games prior to his visit to west London and should have had a hat-trick before the interval. He snuck clear of Denis Odoi but headed the wrong side of the far post. Rico was totally beaten by a thumping drive from Davy Propper that rattled the crossbar – and Fulham, whose only serious openings fell to the lively Ryan Babel and the otherwise anonymous Andre Schurrle, were unsurprisingly booed off at half-time.

The home side’s lethargy had forced Ranieri into an early reshuffle as he introduced Tom Cairney in place of Ream with just 26 minutes on the clock and the Scottish playmaker at least established a foothold in the contest for Fulham. Luciano Vietto came on for Schurrle at the back and produced his liveliest display of the season, roaming infield from the left wing to great effect. You felt an early goal was necessary and it arrived from the unlikeliest of sources when Calum Chambers, outstanding again in the holding midfield role he has made his own, displayed magnificent technique to fire an unstoppable effort into the top corner from 20 yards after Mitrovic’s knock-down.

That goal galvanised Fulham. The Hammersmith End’s boos had now turned to exhortations of encouragement. Against all the odds, Ranieri’s men pulled themselves level just before the hour mark. A corner sparked pinball in the Brighton box and the ball was only half-cleared. The impressive Babel whipped over another dangerous ball and Mitrovic fought off the attentions of two Brighton defenders to reach the ball before Mat Ryan and head into the net. Pandemonium ensued in the stands.

The gravity of Fulham’s situation meant a draw would change little. They had to go for the win and, in doing so, left themselves open at the back. Rico made a splendid reaction save when Murray seemed certain to score from another Montoya cross and the white shirts continued to pour forward. A wonderful move that saw Babel and Vietto link intelligently culminated in Jean-Michael Seri, who probably had his best game into a Fulham shirt, striking the base of the near post with a low drive from the edge of the box.

Fulham kept on asking questions of a creaking Brighton defence and finally Joe Bryan, who looks far more comfortable going forward than defensively, prized it open with a wonderful goal. Mitrovic outjumped Lewis Dunk and planted a header beyond the despairing Ryan to complete the most incredulous of turnarounds. Given how porous their defence has been for most of the season, Fulham weren’t about to sit on their slender lead. Cairney was denied a deserved goal when his lovely curler came back off the crossbar but Babel was alive to the rebound prodding back into the danger area, where Vietto guided home his first Fulham goal to give Ranieri’s men a bit of breathing space.

A guttural roar enveloped Craven Cottage. They might have had a fifth, with Cairney again denied by the crossbar as he sought to bend home a finish after Mitrovic and Babel had pulled the Brighton defence from pillar to post. The effervescence with which Fulham finished the game suggests that they have both the spirit and the quality to make a decent fist of their survival bid but Ranieri will know they need to back up these three points with another strong showing at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream (Cairney 26); Christie, Bryan (R. Sessegnon 77), Chambers, Seri; Schurrle (Vietto 45), Babel, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cisse, Kebano, Ayite.

BOOKED: Seri, Babel.

GOALS: Chambers (47), Mitrovic (58, 74), Vietto (79).

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION (4-3-3): Ryan; Montoya, Bong, Duffy, Dunk; Groß (Andone 77), Stephens, Propper; March, Locardia (Knockaert 71), Murray. Subs (not used): Button, Bruno, Burn, Kayal, Bissouma.

BOOKED: Stephens, Duffy, Dunk.

GOALS: Murray (3, 17).

REFEREE: Lee Probert (South Gloucestershire).

ATTENDANCE: 22,008.

From defence to midfield: The rise of Calum Chambers

Sunday 11th November 2018. A daunting task faced the Whites. A trip to Anfield. Jurgen Klopp’s title hopefuls against relegation contenders.

When the team was released at 11am, most of the travelling Fulham faithful were baffled by the line-up. One name stuck out on the list. Calum Chambers. Was Slaviša really playing the on loan Arsenal defender as a central midfielder? Does Slaviša really want to keep his job? Has he given up completely? The feeling of doom and gloom around the concourse at Anfield was all-consuming. ‘We’re going to lose, 100%, mate’. Of course, Fulham did lose as it turned out. But it could have been very different.

We all knew what happened that day, but Chambers starred in his new role. He provided some ballast in front of a shaky defence, offering grit, determination and he definitely wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. It was a masterclass in a ball-winning role that showed the Fulham fans something they hadn’t seen before during Chambers’ unconvincing start to his loan spell at Craven Chambers. The one-time England international hadn’t pulled up any trees at centre back and was utterly dreadful when tried at right back in the desperate defeat to Cardiff.

Having arrived amidst much fanfare as Fulham bought in a host of players towards the end of the summer transfer window, Chambers couldn’t establish himself at his new club. He was rejuvenated in a new role, however, although the battling performance at Anfield wasn’t enough to save Slavisa Jokanovic’s job. Replacing the Serb was a man who knew all about building from the back: a far more defensive coach in Claudio Ranieri. Chambers would have been forgiven for wondering whether he would have to prove himself all over again.

As it turned out, Chambers have been one of the mainstays of Ranieri’s side, retaining his defensive midfield role even after the Italian switched to a five-man defence. He has been unfortunate not to open his goalscoring account for the Whites, forcing a splendid save out of Kasper Schmeichel and going close with a number of efforts in the SW6 derby at Chelsea. It is workmanlike displays in front of the defence that have caught the eye – Chambers simply never stops running  Nobody would have predicted that the Arsenal would become a regular in midfield, especially after Fulham decided to supplement their promotion-winning quartet with the likes of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Jean-Michael Seri. Anguissa has had to play second-fiddle to Chambers, who must surely be playing some of the best football of his career.

His energy, bravery and a desire to work his socks off for the cause have quickly won over the Fulham faithful. Chambers covered almost every blade of grass in an outstanding display against Tottenham last weekend, where the Whites deserved more than that gut-wrenching last-gasp defeat. In the unlikely event that the Whites manage to pull off another great escape, then Chambers would surely have to be one of the Khans’ first signings. Even if Ranieri’s side drop through the relegation trap door, Chambers’ attitude and determination won’t be forgotten. His tireless running has shown every player who finds themselves on the sidelines how to get back into the action – there’s no substitute for hard work.

Time to get Seri-ous! Fulham v Brighton – Preview.

Fulham welcome Chris Hughton’s Brighton and Hove Albion to Craven Cottage tomorrow night in what is now unmistakably a must-win game.

Despite the desolation of the last-gasp defeat to Tottenham, there would have been plenty of positives for Claudio Ranieri to take from a battling performance. The Whites created a number of good chances in the first half and certainly should have been in front by more than a single goal at the break. Eyebrows were raised when Fulham brought in Ryan Babel, a 32 year-old winger with shocking red hair, during the transfer window but, on the basis of his powerful display against Spurs, it was clear that the former Liverpool winger offers something different. Babel showed determination, fight, an ability to link up with Aleksandar Mitrovic, and all that was missing was a deserved debut goal.

Results certainly haven’t gone for Ranieri since the new year. Now’s the time for Fulham to be brave, play with some spirit and treat our remaining games like Cup finals. Draws at home won’t be good enough any more – especially when you look at the fixtures that our relegation rivals have in the weeks ahead. Brighton are brilliantly drilled by Hughton and their continued survival in the top flight is a story in itself. Albion will be tough to breakdown but pose a real threat on the break as well as set pieces, with their tall centre halves Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy likely to cause problems. There is also the ex-Fulham contingent with David Button, who has been deputising for Matty Ryan in recent weeks, recently joined by Dan Burn.

Ranieri’s team selections have been baffling for a while. I hope that he can reintroduce Ryan Sessegnon, who seems to have been treated a little shabbily in the past few weeks, especially with some of the criticism that has come the teenager’s way. Sessegnon is a prodigious talent who is still learning his way at the highest level, but his quality has been evident in the way he scored a vital goal against Wolves and then set up that last-gasp winner for Mitrovic against Huddersfield. I feel he offers far more than Andre Schurrle at the moment – and the pace of him and Ryan Babel could make Fulham’s front three a bit more formidable.

If Ranieri was being bold, he could also sacrifice a centre back to play both Jean-Michael Seri and Tom Cairney in front of Calum Chambers. The five at the back might have helped stabilise things defensively for a while, but it seems as though teams have been able to figure out the gameplan. Fulham need to score goals and take the game to the opposition, particularly at home. We have only scored more than goal under Ranieri once – and that was against Southampton, back in his first game in charge. The combination of Seri and Cairney have the guile to unlock even the tightest of defences and, if Sessegnon and Babel are raiding down the flanks, then Seri will have the runners that his passing game thrives upon.

The margin for error is now very slender: if we don’t pick up three points against Brighton tomorrow night, I fear the fat lady might be clearing her throat.

My match prediction: Fulham 2-1 Brighton!

COYW!

Winks shatters Fulham hearts

This match felt like a microcosm of Fulham’s miserable season. The Whites began with pace and purpose, taking the attack to a weakened Tottenham side with new signing Ryan Babel to the fore. They enjoyed a stroke of good fortune, taking the lead through Fernando Llorente’s own goal, and should probably have extended their lead during a concerted spell of first-half pressure. That failure eventually cost them as Dele Alli equalised with a far-post header, but the knockout blow arrived with 15 seconds of injury time remaining, when Harry Winks arrived to nod home a delicious cross from Georges-Kévin Nkoudou to steal all three points.

This setback, coupled with Fulham’s defeat at Burnley last weekend, feels terminal – even though there is plenty of football to play. Claudio Ranieri won’t countenance such talk, but the psychological impact of another damaging loss was etched all over distraught Fulham faces at the death. Seven points behind fourth-from-bottom Newcastle and, with a horrendous March of fixtures to become, Ranieri’s men need something to change and fast.

The Whites were workmanlike rather than wondrous, but their high-octane start certainly unsettled Spurs. Babel, who arrived earlier this week on a six-month loan deal from Besiktas, caught the eye from the outset and not just for his shock of red hair. The former Liverpool winger offered pace and power from a wide left position, immediately worrying the Tottenham back line. He linked well with Mitrovic and burst away from a ponderous Davinson Sanchez before drawing an excellent reaction save from Hugo Lloris.

Fulham proved unusually threatening from set-plays with Jean-Michael Seri’s swerving deliveries posing all sorts of problems for the Spurs defence. With the visitors preoccupied by Aleksandar Mitrovic, the hosts took the lead after a corner narrowly eluded Tim Ream’s near-post run and ricocheted in off the unfortunate Llorente, who endured another trying afternoon. The tall Spaniard should have made amends with a header from Jan Vertonghen’s floated cross, but Sergio Rico parried a poor header and Denis Odoi thumped the rebound to safety.

Babel spurned a couple of good chances to extend Fulham’s lead, heading narrowly over the bar after an electric run and cross from Cyrus Christie down the right. The Dutch international was then denied by a superb saving tackle from Vertonghen after an outrageous backheel from the energetic Calum Chambers. The home side had a second chalked off for offside when Lloris brilliantly parried an Andre Schurrle volley and Mitrovic was flagged as he forced home the follow-up.

Fulham were far more passive in the second half and were pushed deeper and deeper as Spurs controlled possession. Alli appeared to have more license to roam after the break and the England midfielder punished some more sloppy defending by poaching an equaliser six minutes into the second period. Tim Ream horribly scuffed an attempt to clear his lines and the ball dropped invitingly for Christian Eriksen, whose floated ball in was perfect for Alli to head home.

It seemed for a while as though the equaliser might open the floodgates. The visitors did begin to lay siege to the Fulham goal and Ranieri’s men were indebted to an excellent challenge from Maxime Le Marchand as Eriksen drove an effort goalwards, but aside from a rasping drive from Danny Rose that rattled the crossbar, Fulham were untroubled. Tottenham struggled to create a clear opening right until the death, although the introduction of Ibrahima Cisse with ten minutes to go – perhaps a puzzling choice with Tom Cairney kicking his heels on the touchline – only invited further pressure.

It looked as Fulham would be able to collect a precious point, but they reckoned without Tottenham’s late show. The home side eschewed opportunities to run the clock with Sergio Rico punting the ball downfield in the direction of a shattered Mitrovic – and were punished for their naivete. Nkoudou, who had been expected to leave Spurs during this month’s transfer window, delivered the type of teasing cross that Tottenham had lacked for so long and Winks got goalside of Joe Bryan to direct his header home and spark joyous celebrations in the Putney End.

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream; Christie, Bryan, Chambers, Seri (Cisse 81); Schurrle (Kebano 72), Babel (R. Sessegnon 55), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Cairney, Ayite, Vietto.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Seri.

GOAL: Llorente (o.g. 17).

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (3-4-2-1): Lloris; Alderweireld, Sánchez, Vertonghen; Trippier, Rose, Eriksen, Winks; Lamela (Dier 79), Alli (Nkoudou 86); Llorente. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Foyth, Davies, Skipp, Sterling.

BOOKED: Sanchez, Rose, Alderweireld.

GOALS: Alli (51), Winks (90+3).

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (Sheffield).

Fulham have no identity.

When Fulham were promoted, it was with a reputation of swagger and of good football (proper football). They scored (and conceded) a lot of goals, were always entertaining and one of the best footballing sides to grace the second division of English football in a long time. There was a narrative that you can’t ‘play’ in the lower leagues; that it has to be rough and tumble and that group of players proved them wrong.

With today’s loss at Burnley, Fulham have won nine points from an available thirty and been knocked out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking in an embarrassing loss at home to Oldham Athletic. A squad that was built (rather poorly) with Slavisa Jokanovic’s footballing style in mind became pointless once Tony Khan made the decision to sack and replace with the antithesis in terms of coaching philosophy in Claudio Ranieri.

Ranieri’s Fulham has scored more than one goal just once in his first eleven matches (including League Two opposition) and have two clean sheets, that’s a bad recipe for success and it’s failure at both ends of the football pitch.

Despite having the likes of Tom Cairney, spending £30m on midfield conductor Jean Michel Seri and £20m on Alfie Mawson (who in 2017/18) was in the top 11 of centre backs for completed short passes (and also the top Englishman), possession based football was dead the moment the Ranieri appointment was made. We now have signings whose strong characteristics are to be wasted, Seri for example is a passer to the standard of Barcelona sniffing around for him a year previously is now put in a Ngolo Kante role of breaking up play. Fulham have been lucky to find that Calum Chambers, a ball playing central defender who put in some underwhelming performances at the back can be a productive defensive midfielder.

While Fulham have a pair of really good Championship full backs, it’s appeared early on that they may be just that. Though both Joe Bryan and Cyrus Christie are more suited to offensive responsibilities from the full back/wing back position than the team round defensive focus attempting to be instilled by Claudio Ranieri. We wasted a Premier League loan slot on Timothy Fosu-Mensah as he’s set to return to Manchester United and Tony Khan added no speed or athleticism in the final third for a Premier League that is notorious for the speed and power of the league.

A rant about the way the squad was assembled would need a post on its own, from the timing and urgency of players coming in, to the lack of investment in certain areas and considering the characteristics of top level Premier League football. The Khan’s were desperate for safety, and sadly it’s showing in the worst way. Another manager with circular glasses is tasked with taking a unbalanced squad currently unfit (in another way) for his style is facing relegation in the eyes and like a sad man desperate to get laid of Friday night, wrong decisions have been made and the club has the feeling of insecurity of a Saturday morning walk of shame.

Whether you liked Slavisa or not, whether you enjoyed possession based football or not, whether you hated seeing us concede goals with such ease in the Premier League or not, Fulham at least had an identity. This club was going to try and play football and every player knew their role; the youngsters that come through at Fulham are largely talented with the ball at their feet and that’s stressed upon. This is all at risk with the decisions being made and the sooner Fulham return to a plan, identity and quality in recruitment, the better. I don’t really care if that’s in the Premier League or not.

Tony Khan’s new venture

Ok HammyEnd readers, I’m out of the closet. I’m the best person on the HammyEnd writing team to write this piece and I will not be ashamed of it anymore.

The noise has been around for months, but 2019 saw the official announcement of All Elite Wrestling. All Elite Wrestling is allegedly set to receive $100m worth of investment from Shahid Khan to support his sons’ new venture. Tony Khan will take up the position of president of the new company which is frequently utilising the term “by the fans, for the fans.” Listening to Tony on the X Pac 12360 podcast, I was impressed by his knowledge of the product and background information, if you listen to the ‘General Manager’ of Fulham FC speak about the art form of professional wrestling for even five minutes, you can tell that this guy just loves it.

Professional wrestling has had a gap for a while, the independent scene is booming but no company had the clout, finances or buzz to really whet the appetite for the wrestling community that is deep into the product. All Elite Wrestling merchandise is already number one of Pro Wrestling Tees: an online store that houses the merchandise for many a wrestling company, wrestler or wrestling personality that is not part of the giant that is WWE.
The buzz is largely thanks to Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) who take up the position of Executive Vice Presidents within the company. Cody was part of the WWE machine from a young age making his debut on television at the age of 21 (his father is the late Dusty Rhodes, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame for his long litany of work in the industry). Rhodes left the WWE, disillusioned with the mollycoddled and uncreative environment of World Wrestling Entertainment and became the hottest individual on the independent scene. He came together with the Jackson’s (all three are members of the wrestling stable: the Elite) to create a wrestling event called All In. All In became sold out in 30 minutes with over 10,000 people in attendance, becoming the first non-WWE or WCW event to do so in the United States since 1993.

If Tony Khan was to surround himself with three non-WWE members to create a wrestling company, these were likely the best three. The wrestling community is truly excited for what is to come from All Elite Wrestling as they promise the best to fans and wrestlers (Chief Branding Officer Brandi Rhodes announced at their rally in Jacksonville that both male and female wrestlers of a similar level will be paid exactly the same). There have also been mentions of a favourable schedule on the road which may help them attract stars from WWE, much like TNA did in its prime as they once held a roster containing the Dudley Boys, the Hardy Boys and Rob Van Dam to name but a few. AEW have also said that they will compensate their talent for any injuries and possibly long term a health care package. Tony Khan has also mentioned potential full time jobs in the office as well for wrestlers, it really sounds like an opportunity for people to be ‘All In.’ To add to all this positive press, at their rally in Jacksonville, the Executive Vice Presidents announced that the second show from AEW will be in the city with a “large portion” of the money to go towards victims of gun violence.

Trademarks were filed for all the branding months ago, but one of which is the name ‘Tuesday Night Dynamite.’ This potentially hints at All Elite Wrestling targeting a weekly television slot which would be a major boost should it come with a strong network. WWE programming does not currently have a cable slot for Tuesday night which is a positive for the initial growth of All Elite Wrestling’s fan base (of which is already has over 120,000 followers on Twitter).

At the rally in Jacksonville, a number of roster additions were announced which included British wrestler PAC (formally known as Neville in WWE), Hangman Page and most notably, Chris Jericho. Chris Jericho, a veteran of the business, is a superstar and like a fine wine is doing some of his best stuff as he gets older. Jericho spoke of not needing the money, but he “believes in doing something new and different.” The Canadian wrestler will bring eyes alone and is a huge pull for the company in its early days.

Tony Khan on the aforementioned podcast said he spends his time working for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC but his free time was spent watching and taking in professional wrestling, all but confirming that the 36 year old has zero free time left in his life. “Wins and losses will never matter more” which suggests that All Elite Wrestling will display the product with a respect to the athletic art form that it is and not the wink of “we all know this isn’t real.” A tape trader and self confessed fan of ECW back in the day, Tony as a fan will have a vision of what he wants All Elite Wrestling to be and it does feel like it’s been a very impressive start as a budding promotion.

‘Double or Nothing’ is the first event to promoted by All Elite. It will take play at the MGM Grand Arena on May 25th with the first match all but announced, Hangman Page vs. PAC in a match that could carry a card on its own.

Professional wrestling has an injection of excitement that it’s missed for a long while, if you were previously a fan or grew up to appreciate the product, now is the time to get back in as All Elite look to assemble a roster of excellent wrestlers. I’m interested, no matter what my disagreements are with Tony Khan on a footballing basis.

Sunday Bloody Sunday…

Embarrassing and abject, Claudio Ranieri didn’t even really rest first team regulars as Fulham exited the FA Cup in a home tie to Oldham Athletic. You could argue that 8 of the 13 utilised by the Italian will be involved at Burnley on Saturday and yet still out of the cup in the second largest ‘giant-killing’ of the third round (though honestly, during the whole narrative of ‘giant-killing’ in the FA Cup is only time we’ll hear Fulham regarded as a ‘Premier League giant’ as by the BBC live feed this afternoon).

Sheffield United, who were knocked out by Barnet with a larger positional gap than today’s fixture at Craven Cottage, at least can say they made 10 changes to their starting eleven. Fulham’s six included the goalkeeping change, Cyrus Christie out for £30m man Jean Michel Seri as Denis Odoi slid out to the right hand side of a back four, Calum Chambers returned for the injured Alfie Mawson and was next to Tim Ream with Maxime Le Marchand in for Joe Bryan and going out to the left back position. Ibrahima Cisse retained his place as at Arsenal. The entire front three from the game at the Emirates were on the bench (although two game on to no – positive – impact for Fulham) and Atletico Madrid loanee Luciano Vietto, former Ligue 1 regular Floyd Ayite and Congolese international Neeskens Kebano starting up front.

Though Fulham retained and recycled the ball well, their creation of chances was lacklustre and mustered just the two shots on target, the opening goal from Denis Odoi (of all people) and Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty (which in all honesty, shouldn’t have stood). No youngsters – Ryan Sessegnon is a fully fledged first team squad member – were given a run out, it was simply a poor turn out from players that are to be charged with Fulham’s Premier League survival.

The change of system was probably unnecessary with Odoi, Ream and Le Marchand likely to start at Burnley anyway. Were we really that desperate to rest Cyrus Christie and Joe Bryan? Any more so than Tom Cairney, who appeared to pick up a knock to the ankle? Or Ryan Sessegnon or Aleksandar Mitrovic? Both of which may as well have stayed at home given their time played and contributions of a conceded penalty and a missed one. Steven Sessegnon could easily have slotted in at right wing back for Ranieri to see what he has long term, Joe Bryan on the left. Luca De La Torre could have been one of the three in the front three, or in the squad at least to show some intent of future of the football club.

This was a bad day for the club all round, it showed a worryingly lack of creativity, a lack of fight to see out a win at home to League Two opposition and some questionable managerial decisions. Fulham next travel to Burnley, and whilst it’s easy to wallpaper over some cracks and say ‘we can now focus on the league;’ never underestimate the power of a win, the power of a clean sheet. Fulham now face a tough trip to Burnley with our prime attacking threats playing a bad part in two penalties and a back four that conceded two to a team in the bottom division of the Football League pyramid, letting alone now having to face Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes.

Congrats to Oldham, a cup set is something to savour and something to enjoy. Their supporters took over Craven Cottage and it probably would’ve suited Fulham more to play this tie away and remove the effect of a ‘big day out.’

I’d love to end this talking about how the fringe players showed their not worthy of their spot, but sadly, there was a lot of first team regulars out there and business has to be done by Tony Khan and Claudio Ranieri to improve the quality at the top end of the depth chart at the football club.