Winks shatters Fulham hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Seri.

GOAL: Llorente (o.g. 17).

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

BOOKED: Sanchez, Rose, Alderweireld.

GOALS: Alli (51), Winks (90+3).

REFEREE: Craig Pawson (Sheffield).

Fulham have no identity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Khan’s new venture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Bloody Sunday…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hammyend Team – Memories, Hopes and Dreams

As a New Year breaks, we thought it was time as a team to give you our collective memories from 2018 as Fulham fans and what we hope for in 2019. Enjoy!

Memories from 2018

Dan Crawford – 

2018 was full of incredible memories that make it very difficult to pick one. The whole of our unbeaten run was so mesmorising and some of the football Slavisa Jokanovic’s side played was heavenly. The spirit and fortitude shown by the boys to keep plugging away even when it seemed automatic promotion was out of reach was just incredible – and the drama of the play-offs was just something else. That night against Derby at Craven Cottage is unforgettable and the suddeness of the turnaround, with those goals from Sessegnon and Odoi, made it all the more memorable.
And then there was Wembley. I never thought I’d see Fulham play at the famous ground. But to win there: in a such a high stakes game, well that has to go down as one of the best days of my life. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched that glorious goal again. Sessegnon’s composure and vision to set Cairney away and the coolness of the finish. The desire to see it through after Odoi’s red card and that magnificent Ollie Norwood tackle. The final whistle brought all kinds of emotions – relief, joy, disbelief – bubbling to the surface.

 

Alan Drewett

Last year will be a year that will stick in the mind of every Fulham fan. We eventually got to Wembley and we gained promotion back to the big time. It was a year that started off with a 23 game unbeaten run and just falling short of the automatic places. The addition of Mitrovic was certainly the season defining moment for us. The first half of the season we were crying out for a centre forward that could finish, hold the ball and slot in to our free flowing way of football and he ticked all the boxes.

The play off semi final win at home to Derby will also be a memory I will never forget. We were a team that rarely threatened from corners and it was a Denis Odoi header from a corner that sent us on the way to Wembley. The pitch invasion afterwards allowed my 3 year old son to face the Craven Cottage turf for the first time. Everywhere you looked, there was pure jubilation from everyone on the pitch. Denis Odoi being held aloft is one particular image which will always bring a smile to my face.

Frankie Taylor

Slavisa Jokanovic’s swaggering Fulham side clinched promotion in dramatic style throughout the play offs following a remarkable unbeaten run towards the end of the season which left Fulham a whisker away from the automatic slot. Our first day at Wembley since 1975 was ended in joy, a day I’m sure no Fulham fan will forget… not less Ryan Sessegnon threading through a gorgeous pass to captain Tom Cairney (and arguably the poster boy of Jokanovic’s era at Fulham) to slot beyond Sam Johnstone in the Aston Villa goal. For the turnaround in fortunes, the style of football and the ultimate success, Slavisa Jokanovic should never be unspoken when discussing great managers of the football, though for whatever reason it didn’t work out in the Premier League, he played a mighty big part in getting us there.

Lydia Campbell

2018 will stand forever in the memories as one of the craziest, most exciting and most absolutely mad years as a Fulham fan. A 23 league game unbeaten run will always give us some memories, but what came at the end of it was THAT trip to Wembley and our golden ticket into the Premier League via a Tom Cairney goal. What a day, what a year.

We have had some crazy moments along the way, Middlesbrough away stands out to me with Ollie Norwood’s last gasp penalty sealing the points in a game we probably had no right to win. I was working for BBC Sport NI that day at an Irish League game and very nearly ruined the live post-match interview with Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter as the score came in on my phone. Sorry, Stephen…

Then fast forward to Denis Odoi’s header against Derby which could have been the last thing I saw alive as the guy beside me practically rugby tackled me when the ball hit the back of the net, before lifting me above his head in celebration. It was all good though, if that was the last thing I witnessed before coming to an untimely end, it would have been a pretty good way to go out.

Cue Wembley. It’s hard to really put into words what that day meant to me. Things have been very tough for my family over the past 18 months for reasons that I’ll not bore you with here, so getting to watch Fulham win at Wembley with my dad, the man who introduced me to Fulham all those years ago meant more to me that I could possibly have imagined. Special moments.

Hopes and Dreams for 2019

Dan Crawford

If I’m honest, I’m still a little sad about how it ended for Jokanovic. I was a true believer in the style of football and the philosophy even after it became clear that we were going to struggle in the Premier League. There’s no doubt that Claudio Ranieri has tightened it up and made us much harder to beat. It might not be pretty – indeed, it is the polar opposite of what has gone before, but it is working.
My immediate wishes are for some reinforcements in January. It looks like we’ll need another centre back if Alfie Mawson’s injury is as serious as we fear it could be and that could be a sound acquisition in any case. There’s a clear need for a defensive midfielder since Anguissa has yet to step up to the mark – no matter how good Calum Chambers has been in his new found role. I also think some back up for Mitrovic in the striking role is a must, but Premier League experience – which much of our squad is lacking – is vital. We can stay up, but we need to make the right moves.

 

Alan Drewett

Our return to the Premiership has already been a season to forget. With so many changes made in the summer, 12 players in and £105m spent, we were all hoping to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, it has not gone according to plan. Slavisa Jokanovic has been replaced by Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri and the whole identity is changing. I would like to see us still be a Premiership team come May and use the summer transfer window to allow Ranieri to buy his players and make us a stable top flight club.

I am hoping the board and the owners have learnt something from the summer transfer window and allow the manager to have more of a say on who is brought in. The next 5 months are going to be nervy, tense and certainly a rollercoaster ride with plenty of highs and lows. I hope we use the January transfer window to make the necessary changes to the squad in order to make us compete at this level. It is extremely important we keep the likes of Sessegnon and Mitrovic fit if we are going to stand any chance. I am looking forward to the rest of the season and I am hoping our first away win of the season is just around the corner at Burnley.

Have a fantastic 2019, all! COYW!

Frankie Taylor

Claudio Ranieri now takes the reigns. A dramatic difference in footballing philosophy brings multiple questions, which players suit? Which players will adapt? And who will the manager like and dislike? Leicester title winning leader has already looked to recreate the hardened defensive set up and whilst it lacks the quality of a Ngolo Kante, Riyad Mahrez or Jamie Vardy, Fulham have a January window to get the squad better suited for Ranieri-ball.

Big changes hit Craven Cottage as work is set to start on the Riverside Stand, and the income of Premier League football is vital to helping us through financially that period of time. Extra outlay may be eye watering for the books, but necessary with the Whites in desperate need for players that better suit the quicker play of the new regime to ensure that a fancier, expanded Craven Cottage plays host to Premier League football.

Although Premier League safety will be the biggest aim for 2019 for the football club, I’d like to see a continuation of youth involvement in the first team, beyond Ryan Sessegnon (who is absolutely established in the first team), Claudio Ranieri hasn’t dipped down to see what he has – though the FA Cup game against Oldham may be the best opportunity for that.

Lydia Campbell

The back half of 2018 has been hard. Results on the pitch have been pretty dire and we have been left with the momentous task of Premier League survival while being the bottom team at Christmas. My long-term hope is obviously survival, but in the short term, I don’t want us to lose all of the flair and spirit that got us into the top league in the first place. We need to be more effective as a team, and we need to be able to grind out results like all teams at this side of the table, but I would like Ranieri to do that without ripping the soul out of the side.

I don’t think he will as I think the likes of Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Cairney and even Odoi have roles at this club in the hunt for survival, but we all need to accept that changes will be made. He has already made us a much better unit, and we haven’t done that by completely sacrificing our attacking play. We have had copious chances in most of the games under Ranieri, so I hope we start taking them!

As a team we would just like to thank you all for reading our material, and want to wish you all a happy and healthy new year.

#COYW

 

Fulham hit for four after failing to take their chances

Don’t be too dismayed by the scoreline. This might have looked like another routine defeat at Arsenal for a team and a manager who have never won there, but there were a lot more signs of promise for a side still sitting nineteenth in the table. Fulham fashioned more chances in the opening 35 minutes than they have done on their last four or five visits to the Emirates – and, briefly after Aboubakar Kamara reduced the arrears to 2-1, threatened a comeback in the second half.

Ultimately, this was a lesson in ruthlessness in front of goal. Ryan Sessegnon will rue missing two glorious chances to give Fulham the lead, whereas Granit Xhaka needed no second invitation to put the Gunners in front after 25 minutes. A tired defence looked leggy in the second half and made a couple of elementary mistakes as Fulham pushed forward in search of an equaliser. 4-1 felt incredibly harsh, but the top flight can be a brutal competition at times as Fulham are finding out.

Claudio Ranieri’s men were far more forward-thinking than anybody could have predicted and had a lot more joy in getting at an Arsenal defence that still looks shaky enough to undermine their Champions’ League ambitions. Tom Cairney, restored to the playmaking role where he looks most effective, was excellent with the ball in the first half. He played a delightful ball sending Sessegnon clear but the teenager dragged his shot disappointingly wide of the far post. He missed his kick entirely at the far post as an Andre Schurrle cross flashed across the face of goal – and Fulham were immediately reminded of the magnitude of those two chances.

The home crowd were beginning to get restless, but they were relieved by an opening goal made by a combination of Arsenal’s two best players, the energetic Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi. Ranieri will have been perturbed by Cairney’s failure to track Xhaka’s run – the hulking midfielder burst into oceans of space that wasn’t occupied by Tim Ream or Maxime Le Marchand either and had far too much time to bring the ball down and stroke a finish past the helpless Sergio Rico.

The goal sparked the Gunners into life. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a couple of chances, one saved by Rico and one steered wide from a good position, whilst the lively Mattéo Guendouzi was also denied by Fulham’s Spanish goalkeeper. Fulham still created openings of their own with Aleksandar Mitrovic, who got a fair bit of joy against Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis, failing to get a decisive connection on Joe Bryan’s deep cross, but went in a goal down.

It got worse ten minutes after the break. Iwobi found more space down the left and a set of speedy passes between Aubameyang and Kolasinac opened Fulham up. The left wing-back burst between blue shirts and committed Rico before squaring the ball for Alexandre Lacazette, who hammered home the finish. At that point, you feared the floodgates might open but Ranieri introduced Kamara and Jean-Michael Seri and the visitors got a foothold in a game that had appeared beyond them.

One of Seri’s first contributions was an excellent cross onto the head of Mitrovic, who probably should have done better than direct his effort straight at Bernd Leno. Fulham weren’t perturbed. Seri added some bite to their midfield, stripping Lucas Torreira of the ball with a strong tackle that incensed the Arsenal players, and the Ivorian combined with Cairney to create the space for Sessegnon to surge down the left. His low cross cut out Leno and Kamara, the villain on Saturday, tapped home the simplest of finishes from close range.

Emery’s decision to replace Lacazette with Aaron Ramsey was greeted with disdain by the home crowd, but it settled what had become a topsy-turvy game. The Welshman and Torreira took control of a more open contest and, as he did at Craven Cottage earlier in the season, Ramsey scored within minutes of coming on. This wasn’t as glorious a goal – but his finish was unerring after Aubameyang had struck the base of the near post after another flowing passing move between Kolasinac and Guendouzi.

A fourth, which arrived seven minutes from the end, seemed harsh on Fulham and certainly on Rico, who had made a string of fine saves in the second half. The goalkeeper had little chance when Aubameyang’s shot hit Ream and looped over him. Ranieri might not have been pleased with the way Arsenal were allowed to toy with the Fulham defence on the edge of the box, but his players had certainly given everything and, with a bit of luck, could have got a result had they taken those early chances.

ARSENAL (3-4-1-2): Leno; Mustafi (Torreira 45), Sokratis, Koscielny; Maitland-Niles Kolasinac, Xhaka, Guendouzi; Iwobi (Saka 83); Lacazette (Ramsey 75), Aubameyang. Subs (not used): Cech, Lichsteiner, Elneny, Nketiah.

GOALS: Xhaka (25), Lacazette (55), Ramsey (75), Aubameyang (83).

FULHAM (3-4-3): Rico; Odoi, Le Marchand, Ream; Christie (Fosu-Mensah 57), Bryan, Cisse (Seri 61), Cairney; R. Sessegnon, Schurrle (Kamara 61), Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Johansen, Vietto, Ayite.

BOOKED: Fosu-Mensah.

GOAL: Kamara (69).

REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).

ATTENDANCE: 59,887.

Ranieri counting on Fulham’s old guard

Claudio Ranieri says he is counting on the core of the Fulham side that won promotion under Slavisa Jokanovic to steer the Whites away from the relegation zone.

The Italian manager highlighted the crucial contributions of Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon, who have both been rotated during the festive period, as well as the goalscoring prowess of Aleksandar Mitrovic after yesterday’s late win over Huddersfield Town at Craven Cottage. Ranieri revealed that Sessegnon is still building up his match sharpness after returning from injury, whilst there has been speculation that Cairney could be made available during the January transfer window – but the Fulham boss appears to believe the club’s most used combinations will be crucial in the weeks ahead.

Speaking to the press following Fulham’s dramatic win last night, Ranieri said:

It’s very, very important the relationship with old players, young players but old in Fulham. It is very, very important. I don’t have time to make some experience with a friendly match I have to try to do my best and I know we can press all of the match and then I need to choose when is the right moment to press all together.

Ranieri was also full of praise for Mitrovic, both in terms of his coolness in front of goal and his measured response to Aboubakar Kamara’s insistence that he would take the crucial penalty against the Terriers despite the Serbian being Fulham’s nominated spot-kick taker.

He is a young goalscorer but he is an intelligent player. He knows that there are moments you score every match and some moments you wait. I never see him nervous, he’s always calm, working well during the training session and for me this is the best thing. He was great when he understood Kamara didn’t want to give it to him the ball and goes there [to] kiss him and says ‘good luck’.

Let’s kick on after ‘massive’ victory, says Cairney

Fulham captain Tom Cairney has urged his team-mates to use what he described as a ‘massive’ win over relegation rivals Huddersfield Town as a springboard for the remainder of their season.

The Whites claimed a precious three points over the league’s bottom side in dramatic fashion with an injury-time winner from Aleksandar Mitrovic at Craven Cottage yesterday. Cairney, recalled to the starting line-up for the crunch clash, told the club’s official website that Claudio Ranieri’s men were desperate to triumph in the battle between the Premier League’s bottom two sides.

It’s a massive relief. I think we had to win that game and the boys, especially second half, were brilliant. We were banging on the door for a while and it took until the end of the game to win it, but it’s moments like that which boost your morale and turn seasons around, so hopefully that’ll be the case for us.

The first half was pretty dead really. We kept our shape for large periods but they probably shaded it. But second half we took the game by the scruff of the neck a little bit, played a little bit more football, got a few more men forward. The second half was a good one to play in and was a bit more like us last season so long may that continue.

The Scottish international was full of praise for Mitrovic, who played through a fever and keep his cool when put through by substitute Ryan Sessegnon in the first minute of added time.

He 100 per cent deserved his goal at the end. He was ill on Friday as well, he wasn’t even at training, so he did well to stay on for 90 minutes and give everything like he did, so I was delighted for him to hit the back of the net.

The late winner was all the more welcome after the drama of Aboubakar Kamara refusing to hand over an earlier penalty to Aleksandar Mitrovic – despite the attempts of his team-mates to intervene – and seeing his tame effort saved by Jonas Lossl in the Huddersfield goal.

It’s a hard situation. We tried to give the ball to Mitro because he’s the penalty taker, the number nine, our top goal scorer. But how far do you go? Abou believed he could score which is fair enough but obviously everyone wanted Mitro to take it because he’s the designated taker.

You all saw it, there’s no hiding place, but it’s just one of those things. Thank God we ended up winning the game so it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as it could have. We’ll just move on now.

Divided Opinion – Aboubakar Kamara

I can’t remember a Fulham player dividing opinion among fans quite as much as Aboubakar Kamara has done over the past few months. To an extent we had a debate over Dimitar Berbatov, when some believed that his talent alone should keep him on the team sheet back in 2013, while others pointed to his disruptive behaviour being reason enough to get rid. Then we were consumed by intense discussions about the goalkeeper situation. That one ranges back seasons, with Marcus Bettinelli always the man involved.

But it seems different this time. AK has pushed all boundaries and after his antics over the penalty yesterday the debate rages on over whether or not he should even play for Fulham again. I’ll try my best to address this question here.

Little was known about AK when we signed him for an undisclosed fee back in the summer of 2017, but it became apparent very quickly that this was a player with limited technical ability, but one who would run through a barge door for you if you got him on your side. He has chipped in with a decent amount of goals considering he has only been a bit-part player since his signing, but it’s his overall play that causes so much frustration amongst fans, coaching staff and likely team mates. He earned a red card in just his fifth league start for the club for a daft push on Bailey Wright of Bristol City last season, and has come close to receiving his marching orders on a number of occasions since then. He dives, he barges into people for no apparent reason and yesterday showed that he has a ‘me over the team’ attitude. You could point to his age, claiming that at 23 he still has a lot to learn, but Aleksander Mitrovic is just a year his senior. I simply can’t use his age as an excuse for his immaturity. For me, Kamara has to learn his place in the team, and that needs to come from the players around him and from the coaching staff. He needs to grow up. I looked at his appearances last season, and in his last five games at the end of last season his received a yellow card in each of them (not all back to back games). His discipline should be at the top of the list for things to work on.

However, if we are going to decide whether or not he should play for the team again, we have to look at what he can bring to us. There have been quite a few games recently, and then towards the back end of last season, were AK made a very positive difference to the team. During the play-off games against Derby he stretched their defence causing a lot of problems. Then when I think about the last few games, to me it was evident that we were a more effective, attacking side with him in it. He is a speed merchant, and is built like train, two attributes that defenders absolutely hate in attackers. We don’t have a lot of speed in our squad, so when we have someone like Kamara he can make a huge difference. While his behaviour yesterday for the penalty was unacceptable, I suppose you could say that any hungry striker would do it. As soon as the spot kick was given, he sprinted 30 yards to get the ball that had been cleared as he was adamant that he was taking it. I think disobeying your manager, your captain is disrespectful and it can’t happen again, but for the good of the team maybe all should be forgiven. Booing him if he plays again isn’t going to help anyone.

In summary, I think that whether he plays again will depend on one thing; is he willing to accept that it was the wrong decision and agree that it can’t happen again. If the answer is yes, then I’d have him back because of what he brings to the side. But if he remains ignorant of the fact that he was massively disrespectful to his team, manager and fans yesterday then that points to a player who isn’t interested in the team. If that’s the case, then good riddance. No player is bigger than the club.

It’s up to you, AK. What’s it going to be?

#COYW

Fulham keen on Clyne

Fulham are interested in signing Liverpool full back Nathaniel Clyne in January – but face stiff competition from a number of their Premier League rivals.

The Sunday Mirror reports that the England international is willing to leave Anfield on loan to seek first-team football once Joe Gomez returns to full fitness. Fulham are known to be interested in strengthening their options at right back and are ready to send Timothy Fosu-Mensah, currently on loan, back to Manchester United in order to facilitate another domestic loan signing.

It is thought that Cardiff City are the frontrunners in the race for Clyne’s signature, however, due to the former Southampton defender’s relationship with Neil Warnock. The Bluebirds boss gave Clyne his professional debut at Crystal Palace at the age of 17 and the right back went on to make more than 100 first-team appearances for the Eagles. Warnock believes that his role in mentoring Clyne could give Cardiff the edge in a three-way battle for his services.

Leicester City are also said to be keen on signing Clyne, who has won fourteen England caps. The Foxes are in the market for defensive cover in January and are willing to offer the 27 year-old first team football.