Parker praises Fulham’s response

Scott Parker was pleased with Fulham’s response to their opening day defeat at Barnsley – praising his side’s bravery for sticking to their style of play during today’s 2-0 win over Blackburn.

The Whites recorded their first three points of the Championship campaign with a home victory that was without a few sloppy moments – but Parker insisted his team should stick to playing in the manner he has drilled them in throughout pre-season.

There was a bit of edginess and nerves at the beginning from us, but at same time the boys were also very brave. The way I want us to play comes with a certain risk and a world-class strike from Tom [Cairney] eased things for us. Last week at Barnsley, we took the easy option at times. As a team we‘re not going to win football matches that way.

Of course Blackburn caused us one or two problems with some big balls into the box, but we had control of the game after Tom’s goal. We were a bit short in terms of physicality and the basics of the game last week, so we spoke all week about giving ourselves the foundation by doing the basics well.

We did the dirty side well and that gave us the platform to go and produce through the individuals we have. We have got a lot of experience in this team with Tom, Mitro and Tim Ream in this team. And Harry Arter has come in who had a promotion with Bournemouth. We all realise how tough this league is, but we’re expecting a big season here.

Cairney curler sets Fulham on their way

A sublime strike from skipper from Tom Cairney against his former club set Fulham on their way to their first Championship victory of the season as the Whites beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

Cairney’s audacious curler from 25 yards gave Scott Parker’s side a half-time lead that Fulham barely merited, given a nervous start and the fact that Blackburn produced a far better display than during their opening day defeat to newly-promoted Charlton. The hosts had their own poor start to rectify following a lamentable reverse at Barnsley and the assured debut of new signing Harry Arter added a bit of bite and mobility to a midfield that had been far too passive at Oakwell.

There still enough signs of sloppiness to frustrate Parker in an error-strewn opening, however. Rovers might have taken the lead inside the first twenty seconds when Bradley Johnson steered an inviting cross from Adam Armstrong wide of Marcus Bettinelli’s goal. The dangerous Bradley Dack had a low drive deflected fractionally wide in a bright Blackburn opening and Arter had to produce a desperate block with Johnson ready to pounce at the back post after a neat move down the right.

The closest Aleksandar Mitrovic, who looked a forlorn figure at the heart of the Fulham attack again in the early stages, got to making an impression was at the wrong end when he skied a clearance over his own crossbar. Fulham threatened in fits and starts with Anthony Knockaert, on his first start for the Cottagers, looking the most likely source of an opportunity as he cut in from the right flank. Toison Adarabioyo blocked his low cross-cum-shot, but the French winger’s energy seemed to lift his team-mates.

Fulham fashioned a pairing of decent chances in the space of two minutes. Mitrovic outmuscled two Blackburn defenders to surge up to the edge of the box, but slashed a shot wide, before Knockaert drove dangerously into the box himself and dragged his own effort wide. Knockaert then had a goalbound shot blocked and Mitrovic’s ambitious overhead kick flew harmlessly wide.

The home side were working up a head of steam but Cairney’s opening strike still came somewhat out of the blue. There appeared little danger as Arter was faced by two defenders 25 yards from goal, but the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder did brilliantly to feed Cairney, who had enough time to pick his spot and beautifully found the top corner with a trademark left-footed effort from range.

Blackburn, to their credit, still pushed forwards before the break. Armstrong’s clever movement was causing some serious problems for a Fulham back four that continues to look frail, with Sam Gallagher flicking a header wide from an Elliott Bennett cross. Tony Mowbray’s men had been more than a match for their hosts in the first half and could justifiably consider themselves unfortunate to be behind.

Parker has continued to ask his side to play out from the back, but the Whites haven’t found their feet in that respect. Wayward passes created problems at Barnsley and Blackburn had clearly been taking notes as Dack pounced on a poor ball to send Armstrong clear, but the forward’s shot flew wide of the far post with Bettinelli stranded.

There were a few defensive jitters at the other end, too. Ivan Cavaleiro looked the favourite to gallop around Christian Walton before Bennett intervened and, shortly afterwards, Arter drilled a sighter wide from the edge of the box. Fulham were getting a bit more joy from their attacks as the second half progressed – with one swift counter-attack culminating in Knockaert curling a left-footed strike fractionally wide as he darted into the box.

Mowbray threw on a couple of forwards in search of a spark and Rovers almost found one when Gallagher did well to drift between Alfie Mawson and Tim Ream but sent a looping header wide. But the visitors’ ambition left more space at the back, something ruthlessly exploited by Joe Bryan’s surging run from left back that finished the contest with nine minutes to play.

Bryan, whose dreadful effort had led to Barnsley’s opening last week, galloped more than 50 yards with the ball at his feet and then had the presence of mind to square for Mitrovic as a retreating Rovers’ defence closed in – leaving the former Newcastle front man a simple finish from close range.

A third would have been exceedingly harsh on Mowbray’s side but Bobby Decordova-Reid really should have marked an encouraging cameo with a debut goal. Bettinelli went route one from a goalkick and Decordova-Reid, a deadline-day arrival from Cardiff City, gambled to reach Mitrovic’s flick but then contrived to shoot wide from eight yards with only Walton to beat.

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter, Johansen (Decordova-Reid 62), Cairney; Knockaert (Le Marchand 84), Cavaleiro (Reed 79), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Christie, McDonald, Ayite.

GOALS: Cairney (35), Mitrovic (81).

BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-2-3-1): Walton; Bennett, Bell (Downing 71), Adarabioyo, Williams; Johnson, Travis (Graham 74); Rothwell (Brereton 65), Armstrong, Dack; Gallagher. Subs (not used): Leutwiler, Platt, C. Evans, Buckley.

BOOKED: Johnson, Bennett.

REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Bournemouth).

ATTENDANCE: 17,987.

Goodbye and good luck, Ryan Sessegnon

At some point last season, Ryan Sessegnon’s departure became inevitable. He clearly struggled with the step up to the Premier League and he wasn’t the only member of what became a desperately poor Fulham side to do so. It was a shame to watch him wasted on the right wing on the rare occasions that Claudio Ranieri allowed him to start. You could tell that Fulham’s failure hurt him deeply and, once relegation was confirmed. it was a formality that a talent as bright as his would be moving on.

Within modern football, there’s a tendency to diminish the people who depart your team for pastures new. He wasn’t that good, he didn’t fit within the side, we’ll be better off without him. That just isn’t the case. I’ve seen a few fools posting potshots at Sessegnon on social media – and it angers me. We all know that the teenager has the talent to go all the way and, once he recovers the confidence that was so brutally stripped from him during that calamity of a season last year, he’ll probably do it.

Sessegnon’s packed a career full of Fulham memories into three short years. Credit to Huw Jennings and his colleagues at the Fulham academy, who took him straight from school to an audition with first-team coach Slavisa Jokanovic, when they felt he was ready to train with the senior side in the summer of 2016. Nobody would have expected the sixteen year-old to prosper in the way that he did. Jokanovic didn’t take long to be convinced of Sessegnon’s prodigious talent and the player himself credits Scott Parker with being one of the people to ensure he settled in senior football. It’s a shame that Parker’s promotion to first team manager didn’t come sooner, in a way.

The poise with which Sessegnon took to senior football was remarkable. His debut at Leyton Orient might have been notable, but the maturity with which he ran at a retreating Leeds defence a few days later on his senior debut was startling. Jokanovic gave the youngster license to roam from left back and the goals soon flowed. There was his first strike against Cardiff, a predatory one that hinted at a suitability to play further forward, and a winner in the FA Cup in the Welsh capital. He came to national attention with a brace at Newcastle, putting his finger to his lips at the Gallowgate End, and would have a hat-trick against the champions had he been allowed to take an injury-time penalty.

Jokanovic tried to dampen down all the talk about his superstar but Sessegnon’s performances might those efforts futile. It was astonishing that having been the youngest ever inclusion in a Football League team of the year in 2016/2017, the level of his displays simply increased. No second season syndrome for young, Ryan. He scored an outstanding hat-trick on an unforgettable night at Sheffield United and only looked dazed by what he’d done afterwards, clutching the match ball tightly as he boarded the team coach afterwards.

Such was the consistency of his excellence, it came as a surprise that Jokanovic rested him at Norwich City in April. Fulham had been worried about burnout given that the young winger – for he had now firmly nailed down that advanced position – was playing far more senior football than anyone had envisaged. His uncanny knack of popping up in the opposition penalty area was proving crucial – goals against promotion rivals Aston Villa, Wolves, Derby and Millwall sustained Fulham’s 23-match unbeaten run to the end of the season and, when the Whites needed a lift in the second leg of a tight play-off semi final against Derby, there was Sessegnon to slam home an equaliser.

Nobody connected with the club will ever forget Wembley. A gorgeous day at the sun-kissed national stadium against Aston Villa – and those nerves gnawing away at you. Not that the pressure seemed to bother Sessegnon, who spun away from the Villa midfield to slide a beautiful ball through the defence for his captain Tom Cairney to settle the final. The return to the top flight might have been fleeting and deeply unsatisfactory, but the joy of that day will remain with every Fulham fan forever.

The consequence of just how easy Sessegnon made the step from academy prodigy to senior football might mean that people expect others to replicate his achievements. They won’t. It would be unfair to judge anyone by Sessegnon’s ridiculously high standards. He was a one-off. A star who shone in a sensational side and whose delight at making it was infectious. We were very lucky to see him for so long in a Fulham shirt. Here’s to you, Ryan Sessegnon.

Arter completes Fulham loan move

Fulham have this afternoon confirmed the signing of Irish international midfielder Harry Arter from Bournemouth on a season-long loan.

The 29 year-old midfielder was one of Fulham’s longstanding targets and the loan move contains an option to make the deal permanent next summer. Arter, who spent last season on loan with Cardiff City, has teamed up with his brother-in-law Scott Parker, who is at the start of his first full season in charge of the Whites at Craven Cottage.

Fulham viewed Arter’s Championship pedigree as being crucial. He has made more than 250 appearances in more than a decade at Bournemouth, including helping the Cherries to promotion from League One and the Championship. Parker’s side looked light in terms of midfield options, having lost Jean-Michael Seri and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa from last season’s squad, and Arter’s acquisition adds depth to the first-team squad and experience of the division.

Arter told Fulham’s official website:

I’m delighted to be here. Fulham is a fantastic club with a lot of ambition who want to get back to the Premier League, and I hope I can help them achieve that this season.

Fulham closing in on Arter capture

Fulham are closing in on the capture of Bournemouth midfielder Harry Arter, according to reports in the Irish press this morning.

The Irish international, who is the brother-in-law of Fulham manager Scott Parker, was left out of Bournemouth’s final pre-season friendly against Lyon yesterday and is expected to join the Whites on loan in the next couple of days. The deal would complete Fulham’s protracted attempt to bring in the experienced midfielder, who spent last season on loan at Cardiff in the Welsh side’s ultimately unsuccessful fight against relegation from the Premier League.

Arter, who had attracted interest from a number of Premier League and Championship clubs, is understood to be very keen to move closer to his London home and team up with Parker at Fulham. The 29 year-old has made more than 250 first-team appearances in over ten years at Bournemouth, whom he helped to win promotions from League One and the Championship.

Parker has been keen to add depth to his midfield options having seen Jean-Michael Seri and Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa leave the club on loan over the past couple of weeks. Fulham have also been in need of a back up option to Kevin McDonald, who played as the holding midfielder in yesterday’s disappointing opening day defeat at Barnsley.

Fulham in battle for Carter-Vickers

Fulham are among a clutch of Championship clubs chasing Tottenham defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, according to a report this morning.

Spurs are ready to allow the American centre back, who has had loan spells with Sheffield United, Ipswich Town and Swansea City over the past three years, to leave White Hart Lane on loan again to gain further first-team football. Fulham are eager to add to their defensive options after Alfie Mawson’s injury scare last week and yesterday’s disappointing defeat on the opening day at Barnsley.

Scott Parker will face stiff competition in trying to bring in the centre half from Tottenham, where he spent a season coaching their under-18 side. Leeds, West Brom, Derby, Middlesbrough, Luton and Barnsley are reportedly all interested in bringing in Carter-Vickers, who made 30 appearances for Swansea last season in the Championship.

The 21 year-old, who has won eight international caps for the United States, has made four first-team appearances for Spurs, all of which came in domestic Cup competitions.

Fulham need further signings

Fulham’s miserable defeat at Barnsley this afternoon wasn’t the way anyone would have wanted to start the new campaign – but the manner of the opening day reverse should sharpen minds amongst the club’s hierarchy as we head into the final hours of the summer transfer window. It’s clear that Scott Parker’s squad needs more bodies if we are to mount a credible promotion challenge – and I would be identifying at least three more additions as vital.

CENTRE BACK

Fulham have the same defence that conceded 81 goals last season – the highest both in the Premier League and across all of Europe’s top flights. I question the confidence they have in each other and there is a dire need for more depth to challenge the players Parker already has at his disposal. As we have seen since Alfie Mawson has arrived, he’s partial to an injury and we will be very fortunate if he can play through a gruelling 46-game schedule. If he stays fit, Mawson will be an integral part to our success but I feel it is important to have a new face playing beside him.

RIGHT BACK

I am not a fan of Denis Odoi playing right back as he has put in his best performances playing in the centre alongside Tim Ream. That leaves us with Cyrus Christie or Steven Sessegnon as our right back and if I had to pick between the two, I would edge towards young Sessegnon to start. I do feel there are some quality right backs we could try and sign to give further options in that position. The likes of Jayden Bogle from Derby or Darnell Fisher from Preston come to mind – they might not be cheap, but they would bring proven quality in a position where we’ve struggled to replace Ryan Fredericks.

HOLDING MIDFIELDER

Kevin McDonald was pivotal to our success two seasons ago under Slavisa Jokanovic in the 2017/2018 promotion season. He captained the side in the absence of Tom Cairney at times and was arguably the real leader on the pitch in any case. He has never been blessed with pace but relied on his excellent reading of the games. There are signs already that he may struggle to replicate those heady days these season. I would like to see a new holding midfielder brought in with less mileage on the clock to supplement the passion and hunger McDonald provides. You can’t honestly consider Ibrahima Cisse capable back up in this position – and a quality deputy to McDonald is a must before the window closes.

Time is running out for Fulham to strengthen our squad in order to put together a serious challenge for the top six this season. The first-team set up looks light on numbers already and a couple of injuries could cause us real problems. With only two additions over the summer, Scott Parker is right to consider us light in both defence and in the midfield. I really hope Parker doesn’t suffer the same fate as Jokanovic by being shown the door too early as I still believe we are suffering a hangover from his dismissal.

Battling Barnsley fell Fulham

A defeat at newly promoted Barnsley wasn’t how Scott Parker would have scripted Fulham’s return to the Championship. The sloppy, one-dimensional and slow nature of the Whites’ pedestrian defeat underlined the size of the task ahead of an inexperienced manager as Fulham failed to match the Tykes’ effort and intensity in an underwhelming performance.

Daniel Stendel named six new signings in his first line-up of the season but Barnsley looked well-drilled and a much-more cohesive unit than the Cottagers, who struggled to settle into the contest and failed to beat the hosts’ high press. Stendel’s side were able to play through a below-par Fulham midfield and arguably deserved to be further ahead than Luke Thomas’s predatory finish after dominating the first half.

Where the visitors threatened sporadically, Barnsley carved upon Fulham’s flimsy defence with alarming frequency. Aleksandar Mitrovic barely had a sniff of goal after sending a speculative drive over after linking well with surprise selection Aboubakar Kamara down the right before Ivan Cavaleiro, a disappointment on his debut, fired wastefully over after being played in by Tom Cairney. Fulham’s only other chance fell to Denis Odoi from a free-kick, but his header failed to trouble Sammi Radlinger in the Barnsley goal.

Parker’s side never really got to grips with the energy and zest of Barnsley’s midfield. A surging run from debutante Malik Wilks typified their ambition – the forward sprinted the best part of sixty yards as the Fulham defence backed off – and drove an effort just wide of Marcus Bettinelli’s far post. The Cottagers failed to head that warning. With Maxime Le Marchand lying on his back after falling awkwardly in the centre circle, Joe Bryan looked favourite to clear Mike Bähre’s forward ball but he slipped, allowing Thomas to cut in from the right flank. Instead of advancing towards the ball, Alfie Mawson stood off inviting the shot, which squeezed past a static Bettinelli at the near post. It was a shocking goal to concede – but Barnsley were good value for their advantage.

It could easily have been three before the half hour. Cauley Woodrow, who ran himself into the ground against his former employers, shot over from eight yards out and both Wilks and Mike Bähre sent speculative efforts just off target. Only a splendid last ditch tackle from Bryan prevented Bähre from doubling the lead moments before the break.

Initially, the second period followed a similar pattern. Alex Mowatt’s rasping drive from range barely cleared the crossbar and Bettinelli saved with his feet after substitute Cyrus Christie had presented possession to Wilks inside the box. Fulham gradually worked up a head of steam. Mawson glanced a header agonisingly wide of goal from a free-kick, Johansen fired fractionally wide from just outside the box and a brilliant piece of defending by Mads Andersen preserved Barnsley’s lead after Cairney crept round Radlinger and looked set to level the scores.

Bambo Diaby, who together with Andersen almost totally nullified Mitrovic, rose well to head a corner agonisingly wide and Thomas spurned a glorious chance to add a second when he surged onto a through ball from Bahre and took the ball round Bettinelli but found only the side netting from an acute angle. Woodrow then almost grabbed the goal his lively showing deserved but his acrobatic overhead kick was straight at Bettinelli.

Fulham were only enlivened when Parker send on Knockaert with twenty five minutes to play. The French winger almost had an instant impact when his dipping drive from just outside the area was palmed over the bar by Radlinger. Knockaert then skinned his man and squared for Floyd Ayite, whose goalbound effort was bravely blocked by Andersen. The on-loan Brighton winger then brilliantly fashioned an opening for Kamara, whose tame shot was straight at the goalkeeper from close range.

Barnsley braved a final Fulham flurry in four minutes of added time, but the Reds were fully deserving of the three points and Parker will have plenty to ponder as the Whites look to bounce back against Blackburn at Craven Cottage next weekend.

BARNSLEY (4-2-3-1): Radlinger; Sibbick, Cavaré, Diaby, Andersen; McGeehan, Mowatt; Thomas (Chaplin 86), Wilks (Thiam 90), Bähre; Woodrow (Miller 90). Subs (not used): Collins, Williams, Styles, Halme.

BOOKED: Mowatt, Diaby, Wilks.

GOAL: Thomas (13).

FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Odoi, Bryan, Mawson, Le Marchand (Christie 33); McDonald, Johansen (Knockaert 65), Cairney; Kamara, Cavaleiro (Ayite 74), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Kebano, de la Torre, Fonte.

BOOKED: Le Marchand.

REFEREE: Andy Davies (Hampshire).

ATTENDANCE: 14,832.

The Championship preview

On the eve of Fulham’s Championship opening fixture, the HammyEnd team preview the next nine months – looking at who’s going up, who’ll make the play-offs, who could go down and who will star for Fulham

Who’s going up?

Dan Crawford: I would hope that Fulham would be in the picture, but predicting automatic promotion is still a leap of faith without further defensive reinforcements. The Championship has a number of dangerous sides, but you have to look at the likes of Leeds, under the management of Marcelo Bielsa, and West Brom as having the quality to maintain a promotion push over the course of a long season. Neil Warnock’s Cardiff won’t be far away either.

Frankie Taylor: Even if the Fulham back line is porous, you’ve got to think that in Anthony Knockaert, Ivan Cavaleiro and Aleksandar Mitrovic, we’ve got enough fire power to outscore most teams. One thing being seldom said is Fulham should return to a state where they dominate possession thus giving opposition attacks fewer opportunities to score through starvation of the ball alone. Leeds will be up there but Bielsa’s sides tend to run out of gas come the end of the season, are they deep enough? I’m not sure. I think Cardiff are better now than two seasons ago, they’ll be one to worry about whether the football is pretty or not and would be my tip to come back up. Middlesbrough have enough in both boxes but I wonder about their creativity on a consistent enough basis and they may be forced to settle for a playoff spot. Huddersfield still retain a few good players and could be an outside bet for promotion.

Max Cohen: Along with Fulham, I think Leeds United and Bristol City will join us in the Premier League in 2020/21. Leeds will benefit massively from keeping Bielsa, and Bristol City being led by Lee Johnson could be a decent shout to sneak up via the play-offs.

Alan Drewett: As always, the Championship is going to be very competitive and there will be a lot of clubs who consider themselves serious prospects for automatic promotion. I do think Leeds will recover from the disappointment of last season and earn promotion, but I’d back West Brom to win the league. I think the appointment of Slaven Bilic could really make the difference between promotion and more heartbreak for the Baggies.

Who’s going down?

Dan Crawford: I think it might be tricky for Charlton to survive, with the turbulence of a toxic boardroom situation, loss of key players and a lack of additions threatening to undermine an excellent young manager in Lee Bowyer. You’d worry about whether Luton have the quality to survive at a higher level, too, whilst the likes of Birmingham and Reading might be worried as well.

Frankie Taylor: I have Charlton-supporting relatives and I live down the road from the training ground so I keep an eye on their goings on. Most hoped promotion would mean the club would finally change hands but, alas, Roland Duchatelet not only remains owner but continues to cut finances with Charlton losing out on players to League One sides. They have a lot of fight and they will work, but they will not have the ability. Luton are much the same, will be an awkward game and a real battle, but do they have the quality over 46 games?  I do think there’ll be a ‘shock.’ Birmingham and Reading could both be looking over their shoulder with Wigan potentially due a return to League One. 

Max Cohen: I think Barnsley, Reading, and Blackburn could all be in a massive struggle against relegation and could be going down. Reading’s signing of Charlie Adam just about sealed it for me!

Alan Drewett: There are many teams who could struggle this season but I am going for Reading, Birmingham and Millwall. The loss of Che Adams and Gary Monk would have hurt Birmingham as both were pivotal in the Blues’ relative success last season. I think it is just a matter of time before Reading go down to League One, to be honest. They have not been the same team since they lost to Huddersfield in the play-off final three years ago.

Who do you fancy for the play-offs?

Dan Crawford: Bristol City have been bubbling around the play-off spots for the last couple of years. They have a progressive manager in Lee Johnson, play some excellent football and have made some solid additions over the summer, including acquiring the former Fulham defender Tomas Kalas. They have a method of developing excellent young talent too – and should certainly be in the shout come the end of the season.

Frankie Taylor: Some good clubs are going to miss out, I do think Fulham and Cardiff return to the Premier League through the automatic and if that’s correct, you’ve got four spots between the likes of Derby, Middlesbrough, Leeds, West Bromwich Albion, Huddersfield and Stoke. Brentford are could perhaps be deemed as outsiders with the current retaining of Neal Maupay (and more shockingly Said Benrahma) plus adding Christian Norgaard and Pontus Jansson gives them serious strength allover the pitch strength. 

Max Cohen: I reckon Derby, Middlesbrough, Bristol City, and West Brom will battle it out in the play-offs, with the Robins emerging victorious at Wembley.

Alan Drewett: I’ll go for Cardiff, Derby, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough. I’d pick Cardiff to win promotion. They have kept largely the same squad, with a couple of additions, and love him or loathe him, Neil Warnock has an astonishing promotion record.

Where will Fulham finish?

Dan Crawford: I’ll go for the top six. There are still concerns about our defence, especially as no new arrivals have come in over the season, and there’s a nagging doubt about whether Scott Parker has the tactical acumen to prosper in the Championship. But holding on to Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic is huge and adding Knockaert and Cavaleiro makes the Fulham front three look a mouthwatering prospect. We do appear in danger of becoming a bit of Keegan side, which will be entertaining at the very least.

Frankie Taylor: I do think the title is there to be won. Ultimately, I’ll accept second or a playoff promotion but I’m not sure I can see beyond the spine of Alfie Mawson, Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic with a sprinkling of Joe Bryan, Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro and think that Scott Parker has to push for the title. 

Max Cohen: Fulham will finish second and enjoy the sweet salvation of automatic promotion, luckily avoiding the play-off nerves of years past. For me, the strikeforce of Mitro, Cavaleiro, and Knockaert is miles above Championship quality and will be our biggest asset. Defence is shaky by Premier League standards but should do a job in the second tier, but holding midfield is a big area of concern we need to address if we do want to storm the league and finish top two.

Alan Drewett: I’m predicting a 12th placed finish. The last twelve months have been bitterly disappointing with errors made from top to bottom. I don’t think we have done enough in the transfer window as of yet and I worry about our defence. It’s the same defence that was on the end of a heavy defeat most weeks last season. I would have also liked to have seen additions made to the centre of the midfield, which looks a bit threadbare if we lose one of our three key performers.

Who will be our player of the season?

Dan Crawford: Mitrovic was simply unplayable during his last spell in the Championship and was arguably the difference between promotion and missing out. No Championship defender will relish the contest against such a physical and imposing number nine and Mitrovic should be a potent goal threat. I’ll also be hoping that Cairney can recover the sort of form that fired Fulham’s promotion push.

Frankie Taylor: Tom Cairney will undoubtedly be the heartbeat of our possession play and has shown himself to be one of the best playmakers to play in the division. Knockaert has already been a Championship Player of the Year but, Aleksandar Mitrovic is 41 games and 27 goals away from hitting playing 100 games and scoring 50 goals for Fulham, if he does that, Fulham will be promotion. Of course predicting the club Player of the Season is more difficult, if Alfie Mawson stays fit, maybe he can follow in Tim Ream’s footsteps by being player of the season at centre back. 

Max Cohen: Aleksandar Mitrovic will be player of the year on the back of a 25 goal-plus season. Back in 2017/18, he destroyed Championship defences with ease – think Richard Stearman cowering in fear while Mitro flexed his muscles in glee. And that was in the span of less than 20 matches, in a totally new team, without the benefit of a full preseason. Imagine what he can do in 46 matches.

Alan Drewett: I think if Cairney stays fit, he is the best midfielder in the division. He is vital to our style of football and can control the game with ease. He has three excellent attackers in front of him and they will no doubt thrive from his assists.

Who will be our young player of the year?

Dan Crawford: There are a number of candidates here. Steven Sessegnon has a real opportunity to nail down a spot at right back, whilst Luca de la Torre could become Cairney’s understudy in the number 10 role. I’m also hoping for a big season from Matt O’Riley, whose talent deserves far more than the seven senior games he has played to date. He’s been one of the stars for Fulham’s under-23 side in recent years and has a chance to fill in for the senior side’s midfield triumvirate over the course of the season. Hopefully, his class will help O’Riley stake a claim for a regular spot.

Frankie Taylor: Steven Sessegnon has a position to win and is most likely to nail down a starting position. I still get irritated that Luca de La Torre was legitimately man of the match against Millwall in the League Cup last season and didn’t play a single minute again for the first team. I think they both have the best opportunities to contribute on a consistent basis but would edge it towards Steven Sessegnon. 

Max Cohen: I’ll choose American midfielder Luca de la Torre, who I think is getting overlooked a bit this summer by fans clamouring for Matt O’Riley’s introduction. With our central midfield options looking weak, I would expect de la Torre to play a large role. Stuart Gray certainly agrees, and even said during a recent interview that he considers the American one of Fulham’s finest prospects, along with Steven Sessegnon.

Alan Drewett: I’m going for Steven Sessegnon. I think this could be his breakthrough season and he has all the qualities to become an integral part of our back four. Steven has been very patient – he could have had a run last season – and he is clearly highly rated at Motspur Park. I hope he gets his chance and, if he does, I’m sure he will take it.

What are you most looking forward to this season?

Dan Crawford: It seems strange to pinpoint a day right at the end of the season at this point, but the trip to Wigan will be fantastic. It’s a terrific away day, with some great places to visit, and will be made all the better if there’s something riding on the game.

Frankie Taylor: I know this might not age well, but from a fantasy point of view, it’d be great to see Fulham hold up the Championship trophy at Craven Cottage. I always enjoy the London derbies but particularly under the floodlights. Queens Park Rangers, Brentford, Millwall and Charlton are four fun games to look forward to this season.

Max Cohen: The best thing about being back in the Championship is the authenticity. No clueless pundits, no fake fans, and no more being subject to ridicule from supporters of ‘big clubs.’ We’re back in the most exciting league in the world, and pencil in Luton away on Boxing Day as a top day out.

Alan Drewett: This is a good question. It would have to be the local derbies. Playing QPR and Brentford adds extra needle to a long and exhausting season and the games are always full of goals and excitement. It is always good to get one over on your neighbours as well.

Bettinelli looking to bounce back

Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli is looking forward to the new campaign – and wants to put a year of heartache behind him.

A season that started so promisingly, with an England call-up, ended with him being dropped, having knee surgery and suffering relegation. The Fulham academy graduate wants to put all these problems behind him and help the Whites back to the top flight.

Football can be a cruel game. I do not think anyone enjoyed last season and it is sad, really, because we came into the league with a lot of hope and momentum. I never want to experience that again.

It was obviously tough to take when the club signed two goalkeepers last summer. It was hard because I feel like I had done enough to keep my spot and I am sure there were a lot of lads who felt the same as I did after doing well in the Championship.

I got into the team and when I look back now would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I do not feel like I deserved to get pulled out of the team. I got some criticism for the amount of goals we conceded but as the season went on it was plain and clear that you could have had David De Gea and Manuel Neuer, or both of them at the same time, and we still would have conceded goals.

I went and saw Slav. He was a good person. He said he did not think I had been playing that badly but he wanted to try and get a reaction from the team after three or four defeats. Did I feel it was unfair at the time? Yeah, of course I did. Did I feel it was unfair I did not get a chance under Claudio Ranieri? Yeah, of course I did.

But everything happens for a reason and it is in the past now. I am just looking forward to this season and trying to get back to the Premier League where we should be.

Bettinelli has been reinstated as the club’s number one by Scott Parker, whom he played with at Craven Cottage, and he is positively buoyant about being given the new manager’s backing.

I have been crying out for a season like this since 2014-15. This will be the first time I have ever started the first game of the season. It is nice to know Scotty believes in me. As soon as Scotty took over last season you could feel a change at the club. There is a different feeling of pride now and wanting to win games like the year we went up. For a long time this club has had this sloppy mentality and last season it all kind of fell apart. It is a different feeling and a different mentality in the dressing room now.