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Ayite out with hamstring injury

Fulham will have to do without Floyd Ayite for their two forthcoming London derbies after the winger injured his hamstring at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

Slavisa Jokanovic told the press after last night’s win over Reading that the Togolese international is likely to be out for at least another ten days following the injury problem that he picked up at Hillsborough. The winger was forced off just ten minutes after coming on as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday, having been tackled by George Boyd. That means Ayite is set to miss Brentford’s visit to Craven Cottage on Saturday as well as the trip to Millwall on Friday 20 April.

It isn’t the first time the 29 year-old has been sidelined by a hamstring complaint this season. Ayite picked up a similar injury at Reading on August 12 and missed five games as a result before aggravating the problem during the 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough a month later. He also injured his hamstring again in the 5-4 win at Sheffield United in November and was out of action for a month.

Jokanovic will likely have to choose from Lucas Piazon, Neeskens Kebano and Sheyi Ojo to fill the void in the Fulham squad until Ayite returns to full fitness.

Ayite eager to leave injury frustration in the past

Floyd Ayite is delighted to back to full fitness after a frustrating season that has been disrupted by long spells on the sidelines – and left him changing his eating habits after consulting with Fulham’s medical staff and a specialist.

The Togolese winger has seen his 2017/2018 season ravaged by persistent calf and hamstring problems and tells tomorrow’s official matchday programme that he had to take expert advice on how to overcome those injury issues. On his long-awaited return to first team action, Ayite scored a stunning – and vital – goal from the centre circle as Fulham beat promotion rivals Aston Villa a week ago.

I was frustrated. Every time I came back, two or three games later I was getting injured again. I worked with the staff to try and resolve all these physical issues, including changing the way I eat.

I even went to see a specialist. He explained to me that I had a back problem causing an imbalance in my body and I was putting too much stress on my left calf and thigh. We’ve worked to realign the balance and avoid repetition of the problem.

The 29 year-old is now hoping to play a full part in Fulham’s Championship run-in after recovering from his latest calf injury. Ayite has made 55 appearances and scored thirteen times since joining Fulham from Bastia in July 2016.

Ayite aims for ‘beautiful’ promotion

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Floyd Ayite says confidence is high in the Fulham camp heading into the Championship play-offs and the winger is aiming to cap his first season in English football with a ‘beautiful’ promotion.

The Togolese winger has emerged as one of the key performers in Slavisa Jokanovic’s side as the Whites mounted an incredible second half of the season surge to finish in sixth place. Ayite, who quickly established himself as a first-team regular having moved to Craven Cottage from Bastia last July on the recommendation of Tony Khan’s ‘two-boxes ticked’ statistical scouting methodology, was a key goal threat for Fulham, finding the net nine times in 31 league appearances.

The 28 year-old told GetWestLondon’s Fulham reporter Ryan O’Donovan that he was really looking forward to the special challenge of the play-offs:

It would be beautiful for my first season to get promoted. This is the biggest game in England, it’s my first season and to make the play-offs is beautiful – it’s a massive game, yes, and every player in the Championship wants to play in the play-offs.

We are in a good place after making the play-offs and we want to win them. We want to make a good impression in this game and we want to win every game in front of us and why not get promoted? We are confident and it is good for the life of every player – ever player in the Championship wants to be in the play-offs and why not get promoted?

Was this Fulham’s Blackburn 2001 moment?

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Fulham’s last successful ascent from this level of English football is remembered for a dramatic April away win secured by ten men with a late, late goal. Making direct parallels between the night that Sean Davis saw off Blackburn back in 2001 and yesterday’s impressive dismantling of Norwich City might be stretching the link too far – but the central point remains, gutsy backs-to-the-wall wins away from home are what gets you out of the Championship, and Slavisa Jokanovic’s side answered a big question about their character at Carrow Road this weekend.

The Serbian himself said afterwards that there would be ‘no surrender’ in the race for a play-off place and his words were merely a stirring reinstatement of what the team had just delivered. No matter that Fernando Forrestieri had sneaked a late winner past Cardiff City at Hillsborough or that Newcastle conceded a last-gasp equaliser at home to Leeds – getting three points in adversity against a side who had lost just three times at home all season sent out a real statement to the Championship’s top six. Fired up by an what appeared an unjust red card (for Rufus Brevett at Ewood Park, read Chris Martin on his old stomping ground), Fulham’s ten men battled brilliantly – and produced a far more complete footballing performance than anyone could have envisaged at half time.

There have been a lot of criticisms of Jokanovic’s decision to hand Tom Cairney the captain’s armband. He’s not a natural leader, they said – the same sort of allusion to British bulldog spirit that was thrown at David Beckham when he took over the England captaincy. Some leaders don’t have to cajole and wave their arms around histrionically, they just lead by example. Cairney did that yesterday. He was everywhere – causing the Canaries all manner of problems and leading poor old Alex Tettey on a merry dance through the centre of midfield – and, when the Whites were given a penalty at the start of the second half, who stepped up to end the spot-kick hoodoo? That’s right. Cairney dispatched it with a coolness that belied what must have been a beating heart – and gave Fulham precious breathing space.

Jokanovic’s tactical decisions need saluting here as well. In the absence of Chris Martin, most managers would have opted for a big man up top – in the form of Cyriac or Lucas Piazon – but that would have gone against the Fulham head coach’s possession philosophy. His side have kept the ball at close quarters all season with a brilliance that has seen football correspondents claim they are the Championship’s Barcelona and, such is the confidence the players have in the plan, Jokanovic was loathe to rip it up in fifteen minutes. He pushed Floyd Ayite on as a lone forward and the man whose goals have reignited the Whites’ play-off bid rose to the challenge. Ayite charged across the Norwich back line and carried the ball forward with purpose – his willing running creating the greater chances for Fulham than their opponents. When Jokanovic did introduce Piazon, the pair combined magnificently for the clinching third goal.

Tim Ream’s presence on the teamsheet since the turn of the year has prompted some fierce debate and the American has picked up his far share of stick as one of the latest scapegoats, but he was a colossus at the heart of the defence yesterday. Time and time again, Norwich floated high balls into the box and Ream repelled them with excellent clearing headers. During a period where Fulham were under immense pressure, Ream’s ability to play a clever pass out of the back proved invaluable and, although Tomas Kalas has received most of the plaudits this season, the former Bolton centre back’s contribution to a crucial win shouldn’t be understated.

Neither should that of Marcus Bettinelli. The academy graduate has had to wait an awful long time for his chance in the first team – especially following a succession of David Button blunders – but he has taken his opportunity with both hands. Bettinelli’s distribution with his feet, apparently the reason the ex-Brentford goalkeeper was preferred at the start of the season in what Jokanovic concedes was ‘a very difficult decision,’ was exemplary yesterday and he came up with massive saves as the Canaries ramped up the pressure. Just how he clawed away Timm Klose’s header before half time I don’t quite know – and he two made excellent stops to deny Jacob Murphy and Alex Pritchard as well. The home fans were incensed by Bettinelli’s perceived time-wasting – a special shout-out to the Norwich supporter who thought it appropriate to aggressively lambast the goalkeeper and scare the little Fulham mascot trying to get her shirt signed after the final whistle – but any gamesmanship from the visitors paled in comparison to what Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Burton Albion, to name just three, have got away with at Craven Cottage this season.

Such a commanding victory leaves Fulham in a terrific position, with Wednesday, Reading and Leeds in all their sights ahead of another crucial clash with Aston Villa on Easter Monday. The magnitude of the win was recognised at full time when Cairney, in another moment that enhanced his leadership credentials, took the whole squad over to the travelling supporters. He was soon followed by a passionate Jokanovic who, in a rare outward show of that raw Serbian passion, clenched his fists in delight as he thanked the travelling 1,500 Fulham fans. Far from being bottlers, Fulham are keeping their composure at just the right time to make the Championship run-in very interesting indeed.

Ten-man Fulham breeze past Norwich

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Slavisa Jokanovic told his Fulham players to be brave and trust in their ability ahead of the Easter weekend and the Whites furthered their promotion push with a display full of flair, intelligence and grit as they made light work of both Norwich City and adversity at Carrow Road this afternoon. The visitors, leading by Stefan Johansen’s terrific strike, were dealt what appeared to a match-turning blow when, just before the half-time whistle, Chris Martin was sent off for what an alleged elbow on Mitchell Dijks. But, in a measure of the resilience and belief Jokanovic has instilled in his charges, Fulham didn’t fold – and instead increased their lead through a Tom Cairney penalty. Even when Cameron Jerome halved Norwich’s arrears with a bullet header and the Canaries piled on the pressure, Fulham failed to panic and made the game safe at the death through the excellent Floyd Ayite.

This was a commanding away from performance – underlining why the Cottagers have the third best record on their travels in the Championship. The visitors were progressive from the off, firmly intent on imposing their style on Alan Irvine’s side after Norwich had demolished another of the play-off contenders, Reading, last weekend. They took the lead from their very first attack after an intricate move engineered a chance for Martin, whose effort was blocked, and Stefan Johansen drilled a sweet strike into the bottom corner from 20 yards out. It was nearly two three minutes later when a lightning break saw Ayite cleverly work in Cairney, whose shot was smothered by John Ruddy.

Norwich huffed and puffed in front of a restless Carrow Road crowd but struggled to play their way through a Fulham defence expertly marshalled by Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream. The returning American did superbly to flick an Alex Pritchard cross away from danger – and the visiting rearguard protected Marcus Bettinelli, who distributed the ball excellently, until the final minute of the first half, when the academy graduate produced a brilliant reaction stop to claw away Timm Klose’s header.

Then came Martin’s sending off, which enraged Jokanovic and the Fulham coaching staff. Martin and the physical Dijks had fought a battle for much of the first period and the big Dutch defender went tumbling to the ground after the pair contested a goalkick in the air as Martin backed into him. Referee Andy Madley immediately produced a red card despite being fifteen yards away from the incident – and the dismissal for violent conduct could rob Fulham of their focal forward point for the remainder of the Championship run in, save the final-day showdown with Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.

If there was a tone of resignation amongst the travelling support at half-time, it didn’t take long for that to give way to ecstasy. Madley quickly seized upon an opportunity to level up his questionable decisions – awarding a spot-kick for Ryan Bennett’s challenge on Kalas at a free-kick and, perhaps more remarkably, after a long wait, Cairney sent Ruddy the wrong way with the modicum of fuss from twelve yards. Suddenly, the ten men had a two-goal advantage to hang onto – although Fulham spurned glorious chances to put the game to bed, with Johansen and Cairney losing their composure in the penalty area. At the other end, Kalas and Ream headed away a succession of Norwich crosses to keep things under control until Irvine summoned Cameron Jerome from the bench.

The former Cardiff striker, a frequent scorer against Fulham, served notice of his threat by twice drifting in behind Ream and getting shots away before he powered home a free header from a floated Pritchard cross to set up a nervous final fifteen minutes. The visitors withstood a succession of Canaries corners, with Russell Martin stabbing a shot goalwards that blocked at source, and Bettinelli then did well to beat away Pritchard’s speculative drive from distance before the former Brentford midfielder saw a free-kick deflected just wide.

Just as the tension was becoming unbearable and Jokanovic had appeared to invite further home attacks by introducing Ragnar Sigurdsson as a third centre half, Fulham killed off the contest with a beautiful move that saw Ayite work a glorious one-two with Lucas Piazon, before ghosting in behind the Norwich defence, befuddling Ruddy with some nifty footwork and running the ball into the empty net before sparking delirious scenes in front of the South Stand. Jokanovic was moved to come and salute the travelling fans alongside his players at the final whistle – no doubt recognising that the desire and diligence displayed this afternoon will be invaluable in the last four fixtures.

NORWICH CITY (4-2-3-1): Ruddy; Dijks, Pinto, Klose (R. Bennett 45) , R. Martin; Tettey, Howson; Hoolahan (Jerome 57), Jacob Murphy (Josh Murphy 64); Oliveira. Subs (not used): McGovern, Whitaker, Wildschut, Naismith.

BOOKED: Hoolahan, Howson, Jerome, Pinto.

GOAL: Jerome (75).

FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Malone, Kalas, Ream; McDonald; Johansen (Sigurdssson 81), Cairney; Aluko (Piazon 70), Ayite (Kebano 90+6), C. Martin. Subs (not used): Button, R. Sessegnon, Parker, Cyriac.

BOOKED: Malone, Bettinelli, Piazon.

SENT OFF: C. Martin (45).

GOALS: Johansen (5), Cairney (pen 48), Ayite (90).

REFEREE: Andy Madley (Yorkshire).

ATTENDANCE: 27,023