Scott Parker was disappointed that Fulham could only pick up a point at Burnley tonight – but still believes there is a long way to go in their battle against relegation.
The Whites went ahead at Turf Moor through Ola Aina’s scrappy strike just after half-time but were pegged back within three minutes by Ashley Barnes’ equaliser. Parker felt his team showed plenty of character in Lancashire, even if they couldn’t end the club’s seventy year wait for a win at Turf Moor.
He told his post-match press conference:
“I thought we showed another side to us tonight. I think we knew we would have to. The game was always going to be very different to our last game versus Everton in terms of how the game is and plays out. The ball was out of play a lot, there were a lot of fouls, a lot of stop-start.
“Burnley are a very well organised team. They always put you under constant pressure. Certainly in terms of showing our side it was going to be difficult tonight. I thought in the first half we struggled a little bit. But the second half we changed it around and I think that helped us. We got our noses in front.
“I am then a little bit disappointed that we didn’t hold on to that lead a little bit longer. We made a couple of mistakes. But in saying that as the game developed, we got a foothold back in the game and had some big chances. We have a young team here, I had twenty years as a player. I understood what this game would be like. To get a result here, whether it is a point or three points you have to show something more as a team. We did that, and we got the point.
Parker conceded that Saturday night’s meeting with bottom of the table Sheffield United is now a ‘massive’ fixture.
“This is a massive game for us now. We went into this week full of confidence. We have got four points so far and we look ahead to Sheffield United looking to win the game. Let’s go win this game. Let’s go and beat Sheffield United. Let’s take seven points this week. That would be a massive week for us. The gap has narrowed to six points.
The Fulham boss still believes his side are good enough to stay in the Premier League.
“This team is going in the right direction. Our main focus is us and how we perform. But of course our focus is to reel in those above us. We are competitive in this league. Every game we play I feel like we can win. My team can get results in this division and we have proven that. Let’s keep racking up these points and see where it takes us.”
Scott Parker was disappointed that Fulham could only pick up a point at Burnley tonight – but still believes there is a long way to go in their battle against relegation.
Fulham squandered a glorious chance to reduce the gap between themselves and safety at the foot of the Premier League after they let a second half lead slip at Turf Moor. Scott Parker had spoken about the necessity of turning draws into wins ahead of a crucial run of fixtures against their relegation rivals, but his side were unable to hold onto the advantage handed to them by Ola Aina’s scrappy strike from a corner four minutes after half-time. Sloppy defending allowed Ashley Barnes to tuck home an equaliser three minutes later and, despite a prolonged period of late pressure, Fulham were unable to earn a first win at the Clarets in nearly seventy years.
The enormity of this fixture – with both sides seeking points to bolster their perilous position at the wrong end of the table – made for a cagey contest. Fulham were far less adventurous than in their impressive win at Everton on Sunday night and, whilst Sean Dyche’s side forced the pace to a greater degree, clear cut chances were at a real premium. Barnes had the best sight of goal when he was found by a raking forward ball from Ashley Westwood but he produced a fresh air shot from just inside the box having got clear of the Fulham back line. Kevin Long, in for the injured Ben Mee at the heart of the Burnley defence, then sent a free header over the bar from five yards after Alphonse Areola had flapped at an inswinging corner.
The French goalkeeper then fielded a thunderous drive from Westwood from a half-cleared set-play, but fortunately for Fulham the former Aston Villa midfielder’s strike was straight at Areola. The visitors had offered little as an attacking force, with their one flowing move fashioning a sniff of goal for Josh Maja only for Long to reach Kenny Tete’s cross just ahead of him. There was a real let off for the Whites right at the end of the first half when Tarkowski motored down the left and produced a peach of a cross that eluded Barnes and was pushed away from the sliding Jay Rodriguez by Areola’s vital touch.
Fulham had struggled to get a foothold in a scrappy affair before the break. Parker tweaked things a touch in the second half, deploying Ruben Loftus-Cheek a little more centrally, but their opening goal arrived from a corner with a huge slice of fortune. Ademola Lookman’s delivery was flicked on by Joachim Andersen at the near post and the loose ball struck Aina on the chest and careered into the net, via Robbie Brady’s rather casual attempt at a clearance. It was similar to the way Fulham took the lead at Newcastle in December and, disappointingly, it was to prove just as academic.
Burnley were level within three minutes. Aina and Lookman tried to lead a raid down the left but Fulham’s move quickly broke down and their ambition proved their outstanding. Rodriguez spun away from Tosin Adarabioyo with a smart turn that created space down the right touchline and his measured pass for his strike partner left Barnes clear on goal. He recovered from an abysmal first touch to slot past a stranded Areola and wipe out Fulham’s precious advantage.
The visitors then weathered a sticky spell as Dyche’s men looked to capitalise on their setback. The introductions of Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa and Ivan Cavaleiro studied things for Fulham. The Portuguese winger’s purposeful running from the right gave them a new attacking outlet and one such foray fashioned a chance for Maja, whose turn and snapshot from 30 yards drew a sprawling save from Nick Pope. Cavaleiro then carved out a deep cross for Loftus-Cheek, who guided his header horribly wide with the goal gaping.
Suddenly, it was Fulham doing all the pressing. Loftus-Cheek and Cavaleiro linked up well down the right with the former’s pacey cross rather surprising Maja. The ball ran out to hit Lookman and loop goalwards, but it lacked the power needed to overly trouble Pope. Maja did brilliantly to create a chance for Lookman on the left angle of the area, holding the ball up and locating the winger with a precise pass but the curling effort didn’t bend enough to nestle in the far corner.
There was a let off right at the end of the three added minutes when Areola came and failed to get anywhere near a Burnley corner, with Barnes uncharacteristically heading wide from six yards on. Referee Jon Moss had apparently whistled for a foul on the goalkeeper – but any Fulham relief was shortlived. This felt like a golden opportunity to pick up a precious three points and pile the pressure not just on Newcastle, now six points clear of the drop zone, but Burnley as well. Parker smiled ruefully as he walked off; coming to terms with the fact that his side had squandered the chance to add more momentum to their survival bid.
BURNLEY (4-4-2): Pope; Lowton, Taylor, Tarkowski, Long; Cork, Westwood, Gudmundsson (Brady 40; Brownhill 65), McNeil; Barnes, Rodriguez. Subs (not used): Peacock-Farrell, Norris, Bardsley, Dunne, Driscoll-Glennon, Benson, Mumbongo.
BOOKED: Brady 40.
GOAL: Barnes (52).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Tete (Robinson 78), Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo; Reed, Lemina (Anguissa 61); Loftus-Cheek, Lookman, Decordova-Reid (Cavaleiro 67); Maja. Subs (not used): Rodak, Hector, Kongolo, Ream, Odoi.
GOAL: Aina (49).
REFEREE: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire).
VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Darren England (South Yorkshire).
A blistering hat-trick from Mika Biereth stole the headlines as Fulham’s under 18s bounced back from defeat by thrashing Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 this afternoon.
Steve Wigley’s side were narrowly beaten by Crystal Palace earlier this month but responded in the best possible fashion with a confident performance in another London derby. Jay Stansfield gained further match fitness following his long injury lay-off by starting up front and the former Exeter City forward almost played in Ollie O’Neill with just five minutes played, but the danger was dealt with by Marques Muir. Tottenham goalkeeper Aaron Maguire then made a superb save to keep out Biereth’s powerful header from Idris Odutayo’s cross, but the visitors could only survive a bright Fulham start for so long.
The Whites went in front in the seventeenth minute. O’Neill was the provider, delivering a devilish cross to the far post where Biereth fired home emphatically. The excellent O’Neill was proving a persistent menace and sent in another cross that should have led to the second. Biereth’s smart dummy created an opening for Stansfield, who unselfishly sought to find the goalscorer again, only for Maguire to intervene.
The lively Luke Harris, such a prominent presence in midfield, drove agonisingly wide as Fulham pushed for a more commanding lead but the home side soon doubled their advantage. Biereth grabbed his second after seizing on some slack distribution from the Spurs backline, nipping in to poke an assured finish past the stranded goalkeeper.
O’Neill provided another assist as Fulham went further ahead before the break. The creative midfielder’s latest cross was perfectly weighted for Harris to head home his fourth goal in seven appearances for the under 18s and effectively settle the contest before half time.
There was no let up from the Whites in the second period. Scottish forward Kieron Bowie added his name to the scoresheet, clinically tucking home from close range four minutes after the interval after more good work from Biereth. Biereth then rounded off a fantastic afternoon by completing his hat-trick after a bout of pinball at a Fulham corner. The comprehensive win leaves Fulham just a point behind Palace at the top of the table.
FULHAM U18s: Mee; D’Auria-Henry, Parkes, Bowat, Odutayo; Benjamin, O’Neill, Harris; Bowie, Stansfield, Biereth. Subs: McNally, Williams, Caton, Olakigbe, Wildbore.
GOALS: Biereth (17, 28, 53), Harris (40), Bowie (49).
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR U18s: Maguire; Cassanova, Hackett, John, Muir; Paskotsi, Mathurin (Carrington 64), Devine (M. Craig 77), Mundle (Whittaker 77); Robson, Santiago. Sub (not used): Lo-Tutala.
Scott Parker is prepared to manage the fitness of new Fulham forward Josh Maja – but revealed that his decision to substitute the goalscoring hero at Everton on Sunday was a precaution rather than a reaction to an injury.
The Fulham boss has been delighted with Maja’s start to life with the Whites after moving to Craven Cottage on loan from Bordeaux on transfer deadline day. Maja grabbed both goals as the Cottagers recorded a first ever league win at Goodison Park last weekend and was replaced by Ivan Cavaleiro in the closing stages of that tie after reporting soreness in his calf.
Parker told his pre-match press conference before tomorrow night’s trip to Burnley:
“He didn’t play a lot of football [recently at Bordeaux]. He was stretching his calf which is why we brought him off at the weekend. n the squad where we are, that is fine. We may have to manage him. He seems a very fit boy. Condition-wise, credit to him, that’s the work he must have done even though he has not been playing. It is something we will need to keep an eye on.”
Parker wants his side to use the excellent display at Everton as a yardstick for the remainder of the campaign and he knows that the Clarets will represent a serious challenge as Fulham look to find the consistency necessary to cling onto a place in the Premier League.
“I don’t think the issue is repeating the performance from Everton, I think it is repeating the result. The performance has been there a million per cent. There has been a big thing that we have not managed to put the ball in the net, but the performances have certainly been there.
“Now it is the result, and I think we need to understand that the feeling amongst the group, is that it is just part of what we want to do this season. We can’t get too carried away, of course, you can build on that. What is now important is the next game. This is a tough week we have, we said at the start before Everton, knew what we faced and I wanted us to be very professional, very clear, laser-focused in what we are doing. Everton is done, we got a result, perfect, now is another massive challenge, Burnley, and we move on and we go from there.”
Kenny Tete is hoping a strong end to the season with Fulham could earn him a recall to the Dutch squad in time for this summer’s European Championships.
The 25 year-old has endured an injury hit first year at Craven Cottage after moving from Lyon but has returned to first-team action after a long lay off following a calf injury. Tete has made twelve appearances under Scott Parker and firmly established himself as Fulham’s first choice right back – producing an outstanding display on Sunday night as the Whites kept a clean sheet in their win over Everton at Goodison Park.
Playing regular first-team football would help his international credentials and Tete is well known to the new Holland national team manager Frank de Boer, who gave the full back his Ajax debut. Tete told ESPN:
“I haven’t spoken to Frank and I’m not thinking about it right now. I’m happy to play. You secretly hope, of course, but first go and play football and then it will come naturally.”
“Of course I hope so, I wouldn’t want anything else. I am happy to be with Fulham, to play weekly and to develop. If I can join then I’m ready. I can’t wait actually.”
Ola Aina has urged Fulham to build on the momentum they generated with a win at Everton on Sunday by stringing together victories to strengthen their survival hopes.
Scott Parker’s side stole the headlines with a convincing victory at Goodison Park – Fulham’s first win on the blue half of Merseyside in the league – and now face relegation rivals Burnley, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace in quick succession. Aina knows that turning strong performances into a set of successive positive results will have a huge difference on the Premier League table.
The versatile Nigerian international defender told Fulham’s official website:
“That’s our only goal right now I think, as a group. We know we can play well, we can defend well, but we need to keep winning games. That’s our ultimate goal, and I think we can do it. We back ourselves in every game. That’s the confidence that everyone has in each other in and around the team.”
“But I do think the Everton result has given us a massive lift, and I feel like we can take that momentum through into this game and come away with three points. It’s definitely going to be a difficult one [at Burnley]. The style of football that they play is often very difficult for teams to go up against. But we’re up for the challenge, and hopefully we can leave there with three points.”
Aina slotted in impressively at left back against the Toffees, laying on the first goal for Josh Maja after linking up beautifully with Ademola Lookman. The 24 year-old says he’s eager to play wherever Parker needs to for the remainder of the season.
“I played all of last season at left wing-back, so it’s a position that I’m familiar with. Whatever the team needs, if I can step in somewhere and fill a position, then that’s something that I’m happy to do. I’d like to add more assists and maybe a few more goals, so it was good to get up and running and finally get an assist this season.”
He was delighted to see Maja, his international team-mate, mark his first Fulham start in such devastating fashion.
“I was looking for Josh, I was looking for that ball into him, so I’m really happy it came off. I’ve known Josh for a bit now and I’m just happy that I could contribute to his first Prem goal. It was a really good moment for him and for the team. I think that will help his confidence, and will properly settle him into the side, and hopefully he just pushes on from here and does what he needs to do for the team.”
Fulham’s fine win at Goodison Park on Sunday night might have surprised the Premier League and the pundits, but boss Scott Parker didn’t consider it a huge turn up for the books. The Fulham head coach has always retained a firm belief in the quality his had at their disposal and insists that the Whites are full of confidence as they bid to pick up more momentum in their fight against the drop at Burnley tomorrow night.
Parker told his pre-match press confidence that his squad are full of confidence after winning at Everton and that his team’s conviction didn’t waver even during their thirteen match winless run.
“It brings a massive belief. I always felt, and I still feel, that belief was never an issue in that sense, because there was a lot of football to be played and we’ve been very, very competitive. The other night, was there a big difference in performance? Not really. Granted, I thought we played very, very well, but we’ve played very well over the last run of fourteen games.
“We’ve had four defeats out of that, and those four defeats came against the top four in the division. We’ve been very, very competitive, we’ve played very, very good football. We’ve been a little bit short, which I think we’ve all recognised, in terms of that final detail and not being on the right side of that. We were the right side of that at the weekend and we won the game.
“But it’s fair to say belief, confidence, is there. You don’t perform like we’ve performed if confidence isn’t there, and there’s still a lot of football to be played. We now have a massive week of games ahead of us, we go to Burnley on Wednesday, Sheffield United at the weekend, and then Crystal Palace. Like I keep saying, we know what we need to do, we need to win football matches, and we’re at that point where we’re going into another big week, and there’s a big 16 games ahead of us.”
Parker is under no illusions about the size of the challenge Fulham will face at Turf Moor.
“It’s a really tough game. We understand that. What Sean’s done there over a period of time has been remarkable. They go into the game with a couple of injures that they’ve picked up. I think Ben Mee won’t be available due to concussion, Pieters came off so I think at this time of the year we’re all struggling a little bit in terms of the games and where we are. Like always, it’s a massive game for us ahead. We understand the problems that Burnley are going to cause us, and we need to be prepared for it.”
Parker admitted to being disappointed about Aleksandar Mitrovic’s unavailability after the Serbian striker tested positive for coronavirus, but told the press that Mitrovic was ‘doing fine’.
“He’s good, at this present moment in time he’s got mild symptoms of the virus. Of course it’s disappointing for Aleks, because at this moment I felt like he was coming out the other side of what’s been a bit of a tough season. But it’s disappointing to pick up the virus and now have to be away from the group and away from us at a big time where we need him as well.”
The Fulham boss will likely have to call on Josh Maja, who scored twice against Everton, to lead the line once again – and Parker was full of praise for the impact his new signing has made.
“What a way to start, full Premier League debut for us and to score two goals and for us to win the game – it was pretty special for him really. I’m really conscious; I don’t want to put a lot on someone so young’s shoulders but I’ve been very impressed in the short space of time I’ve been working with Josh and hopefully that can continue really.
“He’s fitted in very, very well. I think he’s come into a young group, a real energetic upbeat group of players and he’s fitted in to that bracket very, very well. He’s also fitted in in a short space of time as one who wants to learn, a player who wants to get better and I think that’s vitally important when you come in to where we are and he’s made those strides very, very easily.”
The first in a series of critical clashes against our relegation rivals since Fulham travel to Turf Moor to take on Burnley tomorrow night. Buoyed by an unexpected triumph on Merseyside on Sunday night, Scott Parker’s side can suddenly sniff some momentum in their battle against the drop. The Whites are now seven points off safety with fifteen games to play and, whilst survival still looks like a tall order, there’s no doubting that they have the stomach for the fight. After ending their Goodison Park curse whilst simultaneously snapping a thirteen-match winless streak, Fulham will be now be targeting a first win at Burnley since 1951.
It certainly won’t be easy against Burnley, whose continued upsetting of the English footballing applecart remains one of the game’s most unheralded stories. Sean Dyche’s style might be uncompromising but it is effective – and all of his players know their roles. Christened ‘the Ginger Mourinho’ Dyche has unapologetically adopted an old-fashioned 4-4-2 (cruelly described in some quarters as ‘Brexit Ball’) and his slavish adherence to the system means Burnley are notoriously hard to break down. The Clarets have a miserly defence – conceding 4.72 fewer than their expected goals against – which is the third best in the league, behind Manchester City and Parker’s own improving backline.
Burnley are content to work to their tried and tested modus operandi, sitting deep, soaking up the pressure and punishing opposition errors. There are ideally set up to wreak havoc on the counter-attack, with a midfield designed to pinch possession and feed a target man – mostly regularly the underrated New Zealand striker Chris Wood, who usually features as part of a traditional ‘big man, little man’ strike partnership. Dyche’s side is somewhat disrupted presently, with Burnley having seven starters on the treatment table at the moment.
This includes top scorer Wood and former Fulham academy graduate Johann Berg Gudmundsson, the Icelandic winger, who scored one of Burnley’s goals in their impressive 3-0 win at Crystal Palace last weekend. The injury list extends to both of Burnley’s natural left backs, in former Leeds defender Charlie Taylor and Dutch full-back Erik Pieters, and – perhaps most importantly – centre half Ben Mee. The commanding Mee, who will miss the Fulham game through the concussion protocols after sustaining a head injury at Selhurst Park, is a leader who forms a formidable partnership with former Brentford defender James Tarkowski at the heart of Dyche’s first choice back four. Burnley lost five of the six games he has missed this season, conceding twelve goals. In the period that Mee was out of the side, Burnley have lost 45.5% of their total eleven defeats this season and conceded 41.4% of the 29 goals they’ve let in.
Burnley sit deep, soaking up pressure and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake before counterattacking via a midfield designed to win the ball back then quickly transition the play up to a big target man, who either takes a shot himself or knocks it onto his smaller counterpart. The classic ‘big man, little man’ 4-4-2 playing style.
However, Burnley’s starting line-up is currently somewhat disturbed, with the Clarets having 7 players on the treatment table at the moment. This includes their top scorer, Chris Wood, as well as Johann Gudmundsson, the Icelandic winger who scored in Burnley’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday. The list of injured players also includes both of the Claret’s natural left-backs, Charlie Taylor and Erik Pieters, and, perhaps most critically, centre back Ben Mee.
Ben Mee, who sustained a head injury against Crystal Palace, is one of Burnley’s most important players. Not only does he often captain the side, but he also forms one half of a strong defensive partnership with James Tarkowski – a duo at the heart of a defence that constantly outperforms its XGA. In fact, to show Mee’s true value to Burnley, Burnley lost 5 of the 6 games that he has missed this season and conceded 12 goals in these 6 games. This means that in these 6 games in which he has been absent, Burnley have lost 45.5% of their total 11 losses this season and conceded 41.4% of the total 29 goals that they have conceded so far.
Burnley’s predicament this season is largely a result of their relatively poor displays at home. Turf Moor has a reputation as something of a fortress but the Clarets have lost five home matches already this year, conceding thirteen goals in eleven fixtures. They lost just seven at home throughout the entirety of last season – and there’s a strong case to be made that they are missing the atmosphere created by their boisterous home crowd. It might be the perfect time for Fulham to turn Turf Moor into a happy place at long last, but success will still be tough to come by. Parker will need to get his team selection spot on.
My initial thoughts were that this fixture appeared ideal for Aleksander Mitrovic, with pace not a prerequisite to beat Burnley’s deep defensive line and the Serbian’s physicality would have suited what could be something of a blood and thunder encounter. In light of Mitrovic’s untimely positive coronavirus diagnosis, Fulham should seek some continuity and stick with the 4-2-3-1 system that proved so successful against West Ham and, especially, Everton on Sunday. The visitors should set out to dominate possession again, using a number ten to unlock the home defence, which should be the perfect role for Ruben Loftus-Cheek – even if he’s still struggling to find his shooting boots!
My preferred Fulham line-up would look like this:
I feel Ola Aina should remain at left back after an excellent display on Merseyside. The Nigerian international’s versatility is a real asset and he linked up encouragingly with his compatriots, displaying the understanding you would expect having operated alongside Tosin Adarabioyo for much of the season, but seeking to get beyond Ademola Lookman and supplying Josh Maja regularly. Aina was not only defensively solid, but he also added attacking penetration which Robinson looks to be lacking at present, with impressive dribbling down the left flank and consistently good crosses – he can also score from long range as shown by his impressive goal against West Bromwich Albion in November. Kenny Tete enjoyed an excellent game against Everton – suggesting that he is rediscovering his best form with strong tackles and he should offer an attacking threat down the opposite flank.
The other pressing question is whether to reintroduce Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa into the midfield. Initially, I considered this a no brainer as his strength and dribbling ability could be real assets against a more physical side. But, after careful consideration and a discussion with a few other Fulham fans, I’ve changed my mind. Although Mario Lemina was substituted against Everton, he was fantastic at Goodison Park and deserves an opportunity to continue his blossoming partnership with Harrison Reed in the centre of the park. Anguissa is best deployed as a segundo volante and, with a number 10 in the line-up, his individual creativity is reduced. Anguissa’s return might also inhibit Reed’s own attacking output, which is the last thing we need after the former Southampton midfielder’s man-of-the-match performance at the weekend. It is worth remembering that Anguissa has clearly been affected by Fulham’s coronavirus outbreak – and there will be plenty of opportunities for him to make a big contribution before the end of the season.
What do you think of this line-up? Can Fulham finally get a win at Turf Moor? Give us your insights below.
Remember back to those summer days when Fulham fans were sweating on whether Harrison Reed would make his loan switch from Southampton permanent? The heartbeat of a promotion-winning side, at ease with the ball at his feet or snapping into a tackle, there were those who questioned whether a 26 year-old with just seventeen top flight appearances to his name could make the step up to the Premier League. Not only has he flourished in a struggling Fulham side, Reed is arguably the first name on Scott Parker’s teamsheet.
There’s a simplicity about Reed’s performances that is very endearing. Like any good midfield dynamo, he doesn’t stop running but boundless energy is not the hallmark of his game. His reading of the game from a deep central midfield role is second to none, tracking dangerous runners and dropping into positions to support Fulham’s ball playing centre backs and always making himself available for possession – as he did early in the move for Fulham’s opening goal, a classical counter-attack that opened up Everton down their right flank.
Reed has forged a promising partnership with Mario Lemina at the base of Parker’s midfield meaning that the pair have elbowed Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa out of the side after the Cameroonian international’s post-covid drop in form. In many ways, the mirrors the way Reed’s consistency dramatically reduced the first-team opportunities available to Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen last term. Lemina and Reed have offered a reassurance in central midfield that was lacking from Fulham’s early top flight performances. Such was the duo’s diligence that Everton’s more creative players – the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, James Rodriguez and Richarlison – rarely received the ball in areas where they might have hurt Fulham during the first half. Lemina was the more defensively minded of the two – disciplined in screening the back four – whilst Reed shuttled across the field, defusing potentially dangerous situations largely before they developed – with three successful interceptions – and distributing the ball efficiently with a modicum of fuss.
Reed made the most of the space he was afforded by becoming a regular starter of an endless stream of Fulham attacks. He rarely wasted a ball, making 77 passes with the highest success rate of anyone in white bar Josh Maja, and frequently switched the play from one side of the field to the other to exploit the advantage that the visitors enjoyed out wide. There was a directness to his passing too – with six longer passes (four of them were successful) designed to utilise the strengths of Maja on his first Fulham start – and a desire to keep the ball moving in order to make Everton work harder out of possession.
He was effective higher up the pitch as well, regularly joining attacks as they reached the final third. Reed’s dominant display deserved to be rewarded with a goal and he went close on two occasions. He cut across a strike from the edge of the box that flew fractionally wide in the first half and came closer still when his low drive from distance was tipped onto the post by Robin Olsen. Being the archetypal team player, Reed wouldn’t have minded too much as the rebound fell kindly for Maja to grab that crucial second goal to settle Fulham nerves.
Parker, so reticent to single out individuals after what was an outstanding performance from his whole side, emphasised how Reed sets the standards on a Monday morning at Motspur Park. He will have done that again on the training pitches this morning as Fulham go in search of back-to-back wins that would transform their survival prospects. You can see why he’s become so pivotal to Parker’s side. It isn’t a stretch to suggest he might be entering Gareth Southgate’s thoughts as the unflashy defensive midfielder that every successful side needs.
There was a point over the weekend where even the most optimistic Fulham fan must have been starting to concede that the Whites were as good as relegated in February. Fulham’s survival hopes already depended on Scott Parker’s side knitting together the sort of winning run that comes more naturally to Champions’ League contenders but when Burnley run riot at Selhurst Park the gap between eighteenth place and safety felt like a chasm.
But Parker’s belief in his squad has never wavered. A novice manager, the Fulham boss has had to rebuild this side four times. Once, when the Whites were relegated well before the end of their last season in the Premier League and he had only been in the job for a few weeks. That required a dramatic shift in the mentality at Motspur Park – something Parker has referenced regularly throughout his tenure at Craven Cottage. There were the necessary alterations that came as a result of winning the play-off final that were made all the more dramatic by the pandemic and a shortened close season. More remodelling was required when Fulham’s defence was proven to be woefully short in the opening weeks of the season, including a switch in system to successfully accommodate new acquisitions and, most recently, the arrival of new attackers was designed to give the Whites more firepower in attack.
Then there was also a switch in Fulham’s approach. Such is the desperate nature of their position at the wrong end of the table that staying in games after becoming hard to beat – a hallmark of Parker’s time in charge – simply isn’t good enough. Wins are what will dig the Whites out of the mire and that demands a greater sense of adventure. What was most impressive about last night’s remarkable performance at Goodison Park was that it was achieved without anything remotely kamikaze but a majestic mastering of the fundamentals. Fulham have always been pretty in possession with alluring link-up play and they probed patiently in front of Everton for almost the entirety of the first half. It looked like the same old story, until Josh Maja added a bit of ruthlessness in the six-yard box.
This was probably Fulham’s most complete performance under Parker. They might have pulverised Millwall at a lower level, but the dominance of an Everton side with genuine aspirations of finishing above Liverpool was so complete as to be spellbinding. Assured with the ball at feet, confident in a gameplan that had clearly been meticulously planned, the tone for such a commanding display was set in central midfield where the magnificent Harrison Reed roamed imperiously, pirouetting in a manner reminiscent of his manager, and Mario Lemina worked to reduce both the space and ball allowed to Everton’s coterie of creative players. Such was their control in midfield that Fulham’s defenders barely had to cause to worry – it was their opponents who were making last-ditch blocks and hurried clearances.
Parker’s selections were spot on. Ola Aina offered energy and drive from left back, as well as most crucially, a telling final ball when he drove beyond the excellent Ademola Lookman, eager to prove a point on his return to Goodison Park, to get to the byline. The low cross has been strangely removed from Fulham’s football for much of the season but the delivery supplied for Maja’s opener was both simplistic and superb – the sort of service old-fashioned number nine’s thrive upon. Bobby Decordova-Reid buzzed around the fringes of the Everton penalty area with real intent, popping up all over the field with clever touches and passes as he has all year, whilst there were more encouraging signs from Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
There might have been a temptation to revert to the tried and tested ploy of playing Ivan Cavaleiro up front, which has worked to a degree against the stronger sides, but Parker’s faith in Maja was rewarded. It may be tempting to consider what might have happened had a striker with his skillset been available for the crunch matches at West Brom and Brighton last month – but it is already clear that he’s added plenty to Fulham’s previously toothless attack. There’s pace and power to worry defenders but also an intelligence about his movement that suggests he may flourish in the top flight.
Consider the way he snaffled both goals. They looked like simple finishes 4but they were made both by artful anticipation and clever runs. He darted away from Mason Holgate to find space behind a clutch of Everton defenders to slide home Aina’s low ball in and break the deadlock at a time when plenty of Fulham fans were wondering if the goal the performance merited would ever come. Maja’s desire was evident in the way the vital second came upon. He did brilliantly to hold up a hopeful ball forward and bring it under his spell before spreading the play smartly out wide. When Reed rifled in a shot from distance, Maja was on the move. The contrast between the striker and a static Everton backline when the ball bounced back off the post was instructive – and it left him with the easiest of finishes.
You could tell from the broad smiles in the post-match interviews that this victory will have done wonders for Fulham’s confidence. They will travel to Turf Moor, another place of pain for the Whites for far too long, will renewed belief for another high stakes encounter on Wednesday. It will be a very different contest – Sean Dyche’s side won’t allow their opponents anything like the freedom to pop the ball around that Fulham enjoyed against Everton – but there can be no doubting that this side are up for the fight. Another great escape doesn’t seem quite as fanciful now.