Arsenal Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

#COYW

Hammyend Player of the Month – September

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

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

Marcus Bettinelli

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

Aleksandar Mitrovic

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

Luciano Vietto

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

Luca De La Torre

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

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

Has Stuart Gray’s departure irrevocably harmed Fulham?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigurdsson double extends Fulham’s barren run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFEREE: Roger East (Wiltshire).

ATTENDANCE: 38,778

Plotting an end to Goodison Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#COYW

Jokanovic pleased with ‘positive night’

Slavisa Jokanovic was pleased with what he described as ‘a positive night’ as Fulham reached the fourth round of the League Cup after recording a 3-1 win at Millwall.

The Fulham head coach told his post-match press conference that he was encouraged by the way his side shrugged off the defensive setbacks against Watford at the weekend and how a number of players took their opportunity to demonstrate their talent against combative Championship opposition. He was also pleased by the way in which a new-look Fulham side adapted to a 3-4-3 formation.

Today we played well. In the last game against Watford, we had a defensive problem in the first half and in the second half we fixed it. I always try to find a solution. We tried to prepare well for this game, and in the end the team interpreted the situation both offensively and defensively. It’s something different, but sometimes you need to change things. This is one way to play football, so why not try it?

Jokanovic reserved special praise for American midfielder, Luca de la Torre, who scored his first goal for the club, and left back Joe Bryan, who rifled home the opener having been left out of recent starting elevens.

Luca’s a really great lad and he played well – two assists and one goal. He’s worked a long time with me. I haven’t had space to give him many chances, but he has never stopped pushing forward, has shown personality and professionalism in training. He’s never given up and he’s never surrendered. I can’t promise anything, but he’s showed many positives. He enjoyed scoring his first goal for the team, as did Joe Bryan, who played well too. It has been a positive night for us.

We’ll try and find a solution, and think how we can use different players, in different moments, or different formations. The shape today worked well enough and we are open to variation. We’ll check whether we can play with this shape in the future.

He was inevitability asked about the game’s most eye-catching debutante, fifteen year-old Harvey Elliott, who enjoyed his first ten minutes of senior football as a late substitute.

Harvey’s trained with us a few times. He’s definitely a talented kid, whose shown some kind of quality and we believe this was an opportunity how we performs at a senior level. He moved the ball with quality and speed. I didn’t want to put him in trouble. When the game started to look comfortable, I gave him a chance. In the end, it was a great opportunity for him. The future’s bright, but he must go back to school tomorrow!

Fulham cruise past Millwall on night of firsts

It was a night of Fulham firsts at the New Den as Slavisa Jokanovic’s much-changed side cruised into the fourth round of the League Cup with a comprehensive win over Millwall. There were first Fulham goals for Joe Bryan, American youngster Luca de la Torre and Cyrus Christie – who scored a thirty-yard screamer with his wrong foot – as well as a first start for 15 year-old midfielder Harry Elliott, the latest teenage sensation off the Motspur Park conveyor belt.

There was also a welcome return for Tim Ream, who made his first start of the season after being sidelined by a troublesome back complaint as part of a reshaped defence. Jokanovic deployed the American defender, who was Fulham’s player of the season last term alongside two other central backs, in an innovative 3-4-3 system that gave Christie and Bryan license to roam forward from wing-back roles. It didn’t take long for Bryan, making his first appearance since being dropped following Fulham’s win over Burnley last month, to remind Jokanovic of his offensive qualities with a beautifully-taken opener.

De la Torre, who shone brightly throughout, found a pocket of space just outside the Millwall box and slipped a lovely ball into the area for the onrushing Bryan, who swept home a finish across Ben Amos and into the far corner from an acute angle. it was just the sort of attacking contribution that Jokanovic seeks from his full-backs and the type of goal that Bryan scored in this competition last year as Bristol City went on a remarkable run to the semi-finals.

The goal galvanised an experimental Fulham side, who could have put the contest to bed well before half-time. Floyd Ayite did well to retrieve a floated cross and tee up de la Torre, who was denied by a smart save from Amos. The midfielder was once again denied by the Millwall keeper later in the half. Then Kevin McDonald, making his hundredth appearance for the Whites, went close to repeating his feat of scoring a spectacular goal against Millwall, as he did last April. The Scottish international took aim from 20 yards and his powerful drive flashed inches wide of goal.

The energetic de la Torre and Bryan combined again just after the half hour to nearly double Fulham’s lead. The tricky Californian midfielder drove at the Millwall defence after seizing on a loose ball, committing a couple of Lions defenders before again freeing Bryan down the left flank. This time the marauding Fulham wing-back went for power and his shot flew high over the bar.

The visitors maintained a high tempo and their attacking intent after the break. After a frustrating first half, Aboubakar Kamara almost laid on a second goal just two minutes after the restart. The French forward fired an inviting cross all the way across for Christie, but the Irish international’s strike whizzed fractionally wide of goal. The Whites didn’t have to wait long to put a bit of clear water between themselves and their Championship opponents – with that crucial second goal coming five minutes later.

Following some patient keepball involving Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Bryan, Ayite was afforded far too much space to gallop into down the left and he produced the perfect cut back for de la Torre to pick his spot when left unattended around the penalty spot. It was a memorable moment for the 20 year-old, whose mature display fully vindicated Jokanovic’s decision to offer opportunities to the younger members of the Fulham squad.

What seemed a straightforward success for the Whites was soon thrown into doubt when Millwall raised their level and pulled a goal back with half an hour to play. The home side were briefly enlivened by the lifeline provided when Tom Elliott forced home Shane Ferguson’s corner from a couple of yards out and began to put the Fulham defence under a sustained aerial bombardment.

But the visitors weathered the storm and made sure of a place in round four courtesy of a thunderbolt from the most unlikely of sources. Christie is hardly known for his goalscoring – not least off his left foot – but took advantage of the invitation to cut inside from the right and curl a majestic finish into the bottom corner from the best part of 25 yards. That meant that the intensity of the contest waned a little towards the end, allowing Harvey Elliott, who stepped off the bench just hours after sitting school tests to become the club’s youngest-ever player, to display a few classy touches in a promising cameo as the Whites sauntered through the closing stages.

MILLWALL (4-4-2): Amos; McLaughlin, Wallace, Cooper, Ferguson (Wallace 88); Karacan (Williams 74), Skalak (Romeo 45′), Tunnicliffe, O’Brien; Gregory, T. Elliott. Subs (not used): Martin, Webster, White, Morison.

GOAL: T. Elliott (61).

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; S. Sessegnon, Ream (Odoi 62), Le Marchand; Christie, Bryan, McDonald, Anguissa; Kamara, de la Torre (O’Riley 85), Ayite (Elliott 81). Subs (not used): Fabri, Chambers, Cisse, Mitrovic.

GOALS: Bryan (7), de la Torre (52), Christie (68).

REFEREE: Darren Bond (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 5.839

Jokanovic urges Fulham to end sloppy starts

Slavisa Jokanovic has warned his Fulham side that they won’t be able to survive in the Premier League if they continue to make the kind of sloppy starts that have gifted goals to the opposition over the past two weeks.

Fulham conceded a second-minute opener to Leroy Sane at Manchester City last weekend and a horrible defensive mix-up gave Andre Gray the opportunity to put high-flying Watford in front at Craven Cottage this afternoon. Jokanovic was heavily critical of his side’s disorganised start in his post-match press conference and is demanding an immediate improvement.

We started really sloppy and soft, and gave them so much space to do damage. We encouraged ourselves and in the second half we showed we can move the football, showed attitude and showed character. In the end, we must be satisfied with a point today, and push forward, be brave and improve.

There’s a huge gap for improvement. We must be available to work hard and improve. To start the game the way we started today, or how we started against City, it’s not easy to survive this situation. We must be focused, concentrate – this is the Premier League, the most competitive league in the world. These mistakes and sloppy starts can make it complicated to fix. We must be available to work. We must be available to step up. I need my players to be brave and confident.

The Fulham head coach admitted he still hasn’t settled on his best side but is confident that his summer signings are beginning to gel.

We must be satisfied with one point, but I’m not completely satisfied with our 90 minutes. The satisfaction comes from the second-half. There’s space for improvement, as the gap is huge. It’s my sixth game with 12 new players. Today’s situation is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be better than today. We are in some kind of process and the players are gelling.

Jokanovic was full of praise for centre forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who grabbed Fulham’s equaliser, and could have pinched all three points in the closing stages.

He’s great, he played well. It wasn’t easy for him, fighting against two Watford centre-backs – [but] he’s strong. He didn’t find the space for many chances, but in the end he had two chances and scored one and hit the crossbar. He did his job and we’re satisfied with his level. He’s a brave man and I know he’s never really satisfied.

Mitrovic nicks a point for Fulham

Given the sloppy nature of Fulham’s start against high-flying Watford this lunchtime, Slavisa Jokanovic would have been mightily pleased with the way he side ended the contest with a point. For the second week in succession, the Whites surrendered an all-too-avoidable goal inside the first ninety seconds and, just as at the Etihad last weekend, Fulham could have been dead and buried within the first half. That they produced a stirring second half recovery, and might have nicked all three points at the death, owed much to the predatory instincts of the inspirational Aleksandar Mitrovic, some real resilience and two decisive half-time changes from the head coach.

Jokanovic selected his sixth different back four of the season, but the hosts’ defensive frailties didn’t take long to come to the surface. From a straightforward throw in, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Calum Chambers, Alfie Mawson and Jean-Michael Seri all squandered opportunities to clear their lines, allowing Will Hughes to poke a ball through for Andre Gray, who gleefully tucked a finish past the stranded Marcus Bettinelli. Gray and the powerful Troy Deeney have struck up a potent partnership that has helped the Hornets surge towards the top of the Premier League table and they looked likely to secure another victory inside a first half that the visitors thoroughly dominated.

Only a combination of the brilliance of Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal and some careless finishing kept the deficit down to a single goal. Bettinelli, who was outstanding in the 3-0 defeat by champions Manchester City last week, made himself big to deny Deeney at his near post and alive to the danger when a woefully short back header from Mawson gave Gray a glorious chance to grab his second – spreading himself to repel the former Brentford forward’s snapshot. In between those two blocks, Fulham escaped unharmed when Christian Kabasele’s bullet header bounced off Ryan Sessegnon’s back and away to safety at a Watford corner.

Mawson and Chambers looked all at sea at the heart of an overworked Fulham defence. Mawson was hauled off at half-time having been booked for a wild hack at Roberto Pereyra, whilst Chambers had donated the ball to Watford in dangerous positions with concerning regularity. Fosu-Mensah was more than fortunate to escape a red card midway through the first period after a late lunge at Deeney and Fulham could count themselves lucky to still be in the contest at the break, although Pereyra was only a yard away from curling in a splendid finish from an acute angle just before half-time.

Jokanovic’s change of shape and personnel proved pivotal at the break. Fulham had threatened only fleetingly in the first half, with Luciano Vietto twice denied by the alertness of Ben Foster, and referee Martin Atkinson waving away a penalty appeal when Mitrovic appeared to have been flattened in the box. They struggled to keep the ball – something that was rectified when the peerless Denis Odoi replaced Mawson – and Jokanovic also gambled by introducing Floyd Ayite for Kevin McDonald to try and give his side another outlet in attack.

It took just four minutes for Fulham to fashion an opportunity far more clear-cut than they had managed in the first half. Andre Schurrle, now operating off Mitrovic, darted into space down the left and delivered a teasing cross that the Serbian striker rose majestically to meet with his head. He was furious that he ballooned it harmlessly over the bar but it sounded a warning to Watford of Fulham’s attacking intentions. Vietto then blazed disappointing in the Hammersmith End after a lightning counter attack before Bettinelli got down sharply to deny Gray at his near post at the other end.

Fulham gradually began to work up a head of steam and stepped up the intensity when Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa replaced the ineffectual Stefan Johansen. Patterns of patient possession football penned Watford back and Mitrovic, who had sent two headed half chances wide, flicked home his fifth goal of the season from close range after fine work from Vietto and Sessegnon down the left with twelve minutes to go. The lively Argentinian scampered away from Daryl Janmaat and had the composure to pick out Mitrovic, who got the deftest of touches beyond Foster at the near post to level matters.

A gripping and open finale ensued. Deeney robbed Chambers outside the Fulham defender’s own box but then lacked the conviction to go for goal himself, overhitting his intended pass for Isaac Success, before the substitute almost found a winner on his own, working half a yard of space beautifully with a shimmy, but Bettinelli blocked the Nigerian’s shot with his legs. It was Jokanovic’s side who almost stole the victory at the death with Foster producing a magnificent save to deny Mitrovic a winner before he thudded a header against the bar. The former England goalkeeper somehow clawed away a curler from 20 yards that looked destined for the top corner but could only watch as Mitrovic clattered the crossbar with a venomous header from the resulting corner.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fosu-Mensah, R. Sessegnon, Mawson (Odoi 45), Chambers; McDonald (Ayite 45), Johansen (Anguissa 64), Seri; Schurrle, Vietto, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rico, Christie, Le Marchand, Kamara.

BOOKED: Mawson, Fosu-Mensah.

GOAL: Mitrovic (78).

WATFORD (4-2-2-2): Foster; Janmaat, Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart; Capoue, Doucoure; Hughes (Femenia 70), Pereyra (Sema 90); Deeney, Gray (Success 80). Subs (not used): Gomes, Mariappa, Chalobah, Masina.

BOOKED: Holebas.

GOAL: Gray (2).

REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 23,418.

Next one up – Watford (H)

The great thing about football is that there is always the next game. At City last week we spent the majority of the game chasing shadows, and while that will be the same story for may sides who visit the Etihad this season, it’s still a memory that I want to eradicate quite quickly! So we move on to Watford tomorrow, a match which both sides will feel that they can win and bounce back from their respected defeats last weekend.

Watford started the season unbelievably well, with the win over Spurs particularly impressive. They have scored ten goals already this season, bettered only by Liverpool and Manchester City. They will also count themselves very unlucky to have lost on Saturday evening against Manchester United, but their second half display just came too late having already been 2-0 down. They are a strong team, and one that shouldn’t be underestimated.

If there is one man who isn’t going to underestimate Watford, it’s got to be Slavisa Jokanovic. Having guided the Hornets to automatic promotion back in 2015, Jokanovic and Watford failed to agree on contract terms and the two parted ways in rather frustrating fashion for both parties. So maybe there will be an added sting (pardon the pun) to this game as Jokanovic faces his old side for the first time since leaving.

It’s fair to say that Jokanovic surprised us all with his team selection last weekend, and while none of Stefan Johansen, Ryan Sessegnon at left back and Denis Odoi played badly, I’m hoping to see some changes tomorrow morning. I have no idea what Joe Bryan has done to deserve to be put out of the team after his brilliant displays against Palace, Spurs and Burnley. Hopefully we see him back there tomorrow. In terms of centre backs, I’d like to see Maxime Le Marchand partner Mawson this week. MLM was my surprise package in the first few games, but it all fell apart a bit when he was moved to left back against Brighton. He is much better in the centre and until Ream is fit again, I think a Mawson-MLM partnership is the way to go.

With Cairney out again tomorrow, I’d have Anguissa alongside McDonald and Seri. I have no doubt that the midfield battle will be key tomorrow, so it’s important that Jokanovic makes the right call with his choices. Anguissa looked very impressive again against City last week when he came on and while Seri was at fault for the first goal, I have no doubt that he will bounce back from that against Watford.

I’m expecting a lot of chances for both sides tomorrow so it could come down to whose attackers are more on the ball. He was an isolated figure last weekend but I feel like this is the sort of game that Mitrovic absolutely thrives on, especially in front of a home crowd. His four goals this season have him joint second in the goal scoring charts, while his shot count is only bettered by Sergio Aguero. We have a player here who is hungry for goals and thankfully Fulham have given him the perfect platform to perform on. At the other side of the pitch our defender will have the difficult job of keeping Andre Gray and Troy Deeney quiet. Deeney reminds me a little bit of Mitrovic in terms of his tenacious attitude on the pitch, and he is a player who seems to always be in the middle of the action. While he only has two goals this season he is still a player to be wary of. Another player to watch out for is Jose Holebas. The defender has an impressive four assists and a goal already to his name this season so is without a doubt one of Watford’s danger men.

This won’t be an easy game but I think Fulham are due a performance tomorrow. Watford are dangerous, there is no doubt about it, but I think that we have the stronger midfield, and if we win that battle, then we will create more chances which Mitrovic is primed and ready to put away. I have a good feeling about this one.

#COYW