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Silva salutes Fulham’s ruthlessness

Marco Silva was delighted after Fulham stretched their lead at the top of the Championship to five points by hitting Birmingham for six at Craven Cottage tonight.

The Whites have now scored nineteen goals in their last three league outings having had to wait since December to resume their promotion push. The Fulham head coach told FFCTV that he was pleased by his side’s ruthlessness in front of goal:

“We are really happy with the score. More happy with the three points – it is always the main thing for us. It was a different game for us. Of course, we were the best team on the pitch, we deserved the three points. We were really clinical in some moments. We reacted well in some moments when the game was unbalanced. I have to congratulate our players – even if we didn’t play at our top level, we are capable of punishing our opponents.”

Silva feels that Fulham’s players have brought entirely into his attacking approach, which has delivered an incredible seventy goals in 26 games already this season.

“It’s amazing, it’s fantastic. It shows our desire, reflects our philosophy, our technical staff, myself as a manager, our club and our players. When you have an idea, you have to convince your players that this is the way to be successful. From the first day, they had an open mind and because of that we are doing very good things.”

He handed out praise for Aleksandar Mitrovic and Harry Wilson, even though the pair were not on the scoresheet as Fulham ran riot.

“It is not a surprise for me. Two players that didn’t score tonight: Mitro and Harry, it is possible they were the most important players in our front line. Mitro had a very good performance tonight, Harry Wilson the same. I’m really happy with the performance from Mitro – even if he didn’t score, I know the goals will come. I’m really pleased to see the performance of Mitro, how he was involved in all the moments of the game.”

Silva knows that a punishing schedule – forced on Fulham after three festive period postponements – means the Whites will face a test of both of their fitness and quality at Stoke City on Saturday.

“It will be tougher in the future because we are playing tonight and our next opponents have the whole week to rest. I felt sometimes tonight we weren’t in our best physical condition. We have to do our best and prepare our players in the best way that we can.”

Relentless Fulham batter Blues

Lee Bowyer was right to be worried. Fulham, fresh from rattling in thirteen goals in two matches last week, kept up their sensational rate of scoring by putting six past the Blues to stretch their lead at the top of the Championship table to five points.

The Blues were brave and dogged but once Marc Roberts put through his own net to give the Londoners the lead, it felt only a matter of time before the floodgates opened. The Whites scored three in eight minutes to give themselves a scarcely believable lead before half-time, with the only black mark being Ivan Sunjic’s superb curler that beat Marek Rodak right on the interval. Gary Gardner’s glorious low drive threatened to bring Birmingham back in it – but that only served to anger the hosts, who added late strikes from Fabio Carvalho and Antonee Robinson to underline their superiority.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of another resounding victory was the fact that Fulham ran riot without Aleksandar Mitrovic’s name appearing on scoresheet. The Serbian’s presence certainly prompted Roberts to try and touch a low cross from Harry Wilson away from danger in the tenth minute. It only flew past the unfortunate former Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge – but on the whole the visiting defence dealt with Mitrovic as well as any else has during his sensational scoring season. But Marco Silva’s men are far from a one-man team: and they set about proving it after a tight half an hour where they only had a couple of blocked shots from Tom Cairney and Wilson to show for their dominance.

The crucial second arrived ten minutes before half time through a purposeful period of Fulham passing. Tosin Adarabioyo spread the ball out wide to Wilson and the Welsh winger fed the onrushing Odoi, whose low cross was clinically converted by Neeskens Kebano. Three minutes later and it was three. Robinson raced down the left and lifted a cross towards the near post where young Fabio Carvalho climbed majestically and glanced a deft header into the far corner.

Suddenly, it felt like Fulham could score at any moment. A mesmorising move comprising of patient passing saw Silva’s side add another that could have come from the Portuguese’ coaching manual. They kept the ball with a series of immaculate passes in the final third before Wilson wandered across the field and spread the play to Kebano in the inside left position. The Congolese winger darted inside and slid a low cut back towards the centre of the box. Carvalho slipped a shot pass into Tom Cairney, who lashed a lovely finish into the far corner.

Sunjic produced a peach of a response for Birmingham, with his curling effort from 20 yards carrying too much power for Rodak, and to their immense credit, Bowyer’s men were even more adventurous in the second half. After Etheridge had held a drive from Carvalho, Birmingham pushed men forward and Lukas Jutkiewicz tested Rodak after fashioning a chance for himself on the edge of the box with a clever turn. Harrison Reed was fortunate to receive only a booking after a late lunge at Gary Gardner and while Fulham took a breather, the visitors pressed higher up the field and got their rewards. When Gary Gardner produced an unerring low finish after Ornel Hernadez and Kristian Pedersen had pinched possession off Nathaniel Chalobah, their loud travelling supporters might have been dreaming of an unlikely comeback.

Those hopes were snuffed out almost immediately by Carvalho, who produced another fine finish to make it five. Two Fulham substitutes, Bobby Decordova-Reid and Chalobah were instrumental in the build up before the teenager cut inside and stroked home his second of the evening from just outside the box. Blues kept on playing – with an impressive cameo from young substitute Jordan James and Ryan Woods testing Rodak’s athleticism – but the hosts hit six for the second time in four days when Robinson rifled home Josh Onomah’s pass to put the gloss on another unforgettable evening at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed (Onomah 81), Cairney (Chalobah 69); Wilson, Kebano (Decordova-Reid 69), Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Tete, Mawson, Muniz.

BOOKED: Reed.

GOAL: Roberts (o.g. 10), Kebano (35), Carvalho (38, 75), Cairney (43), Robinson (90+3).

BIRMINGHAM CITY (3-5-2): Etheridge; Mengi, Roberts (Friend 64), Pedersen; Colin, Bela, Sunjic, Woods, Gardner; Jutkiewicz (Hogan 64), Hernandez (James 82). Subs (not used): Trueman, Masampu, Bellingham, Campbell.

BOOKED: Pedersen.

GOAL: Sunjic (45), Gardner (74).

REFEREE: Gavin Ward (Surrey).

ATTENDANCE: 16,491.

Up next: Birmingham City (h)

By now, you’ve probably all seen Lee Bowyer’s face after he learns that Fulham scored six against Bristol City to follow their seven goals at Reading. Something tells me that the Birmingham City boss might not be the best poker player. The Blues, badly mismanaged by a set of mysterious and shambolic owners, might be on a poor run of form at the moment but Bowyer and his players will head to Craven Cottage in good heart after Scott Hogan broke his scoring drought to pinch a precious point at Preston on Saturday.

Bowyer has been honest about his motivations for returning to St. Andrew’s to take on a managerial job that many would have considered one to avoid, especially with financial strife and boardroom uncertainty. He hopes to reawaken the second city’s sleeping giant – recalling that the Blues were a competitive top flight force during his playing days. The rebuilding job remains substantial, especially after being left with one fully fit striker after the departure of Chuks Aneke, but the arrival of Onel Hernandez on loan from Norwich has already added creativity in the final third.

The Cuban, who has lit up this league for the Canaries, looked bright on his debut at Deepdale and should pose problems for a Fulham defence that looked bewildered by the pace and direct running of Antoine Semenyo on Saturday. The creator of Hogan’s equaliser, an underrated figure in Ryan Woods, will likely slot back into Bowyer’s midfield and there should be a return to Craven Cottage for Neil Etheridge, who began his career tussling with Marcus Bettinelli for the goalkeeping duties in Fulham’s academy. Silva’s side comfortably beat Birmingham in their two previous meetings this season but, this being the Championship, a shock result is never too far away and Fulham will need to be on their guard.

Silva is unlikely to tinker too much with a winning formula after two emphatic victories – unless covid cases or injuries force a rethink. His focus is likely to be on mentality rather than method in the final few hours before a quick turnaround. Harry Wilson’s insistence after the win at Reading that the Whites want to win their way back to the top of the table was borne out in the way Fulham roared back from two early setbacks to take a commanding lead by half-time against the Robins, but the coaching staff will have been unnerved at just how easily Nigel Pearson’s side exploited the lack of pace in the middle of the pitch.

The key to another staggering result was the intensity of Fulham’s response, typified by Tom Cairney – embarrassed by Semenyo for the opening goal – launching into a tackle to win the ball back immediately after Bristol City’s second. Too often Fulham have been passive and their pretty football at a leisurely pace that becomes easy for a well-drilled opposition to defend against. When they take it up a notch, the Whites look irresistible in the final third, especially with Neeskens Kebano in such sublime form. There just aren’t enough superlatives to describe Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal return – and, when Cairney is dictating play in the manner that he did on Saturday, chances seem certain to arrive.

Consistently putting together strong displays is now the key to consolidating Fulham’s position at the top of the table. It won’t be easy – on account of sides setting up to nullify Silva’s most creative players as well as a punishing schedule caused by the postponements over the festive period. Ugly wins are just as valuable as the thrashings handed out in the last few days and tell us plenty about the desire and drive of a squad. Patience may well be required tomorrow night.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Cairney; Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho, Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Hector, Odoi, Chalobah, Decordova-Reid, Stansfield, Muniz.

Cairney confident ahead of Birmingham test

Tom Cairney believes Birmingham will make life difficult for Fulham tomorrow night – but feels the league leaders will be full of confidence after three straight wins.

The Fulham captain told the club’s official website:

“They’re going to be looking to make it awkward for us and cagey when they come here on Tuesday night. But we’ve beaten them twice already this season and, on our patch, we can beat anyone on our day, so we’ve got to be looking to get three points.”

Cairney is looking forward to the second part of a Craven Cottage double header having suffered through a succession of postponements over the festive period.

“It’s nice. We wanted to play straight after that Sheffield United game because it was a frustrating night all round. But we had a long lay-off, we’ve come back with the right mindset, and it’s great to be back at the Cottage.”

Silva wants to build on ‘very good week’

Marco Silva wants to take the momentum from ‘a very good week’ into Fulham’s Championship clash with Birmingham City tomorrow night.

The Fulham head coach told FFCTV this afternoon that he was delighted with the way the Whites returned to competitive action – with thirteen goals in two wins over Reading and Bristol City – but also by progressing to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

“Very good last week. Not just because of the two wins in the Championship, I think the FA Cup as well – it was a really important match for us, even if it wasn’t the perfect performance because I had to make a lot of changes. I expected that. The result we got, a good feeling to win a football match again and after a long break and some bad results was really important. It was the first step for us for to get back on the right track on.

We had a very, very good second half against Reading. It was a fantastic score for us and that three points. We kept the momentum, gave the players that confidence. After the way we reacted last Saturday, the way we came back twice, the way we scored five goals in the first half, some very good moves and mobility – it was a very good week for us.”

Much of the focus has been on Fulham’s goalscoring exploits but Silva believes a miserly defence is just as important as he seeks to solidify their position at the top of the table.

“The attacking philosophy is there and it is something that in our model for sure, but the main thing is that we are not conceding many goals. I know we conceded twice last time, but we are not conceding many goals – that means you have a good defensive organisation and that we are improving. We change many things, we play a lot of the time in the midfield and in attack, but you have to keep the balance and not be surprised like we were on Saturday.”

Silva highlighted the contribution of Tom Cairney, who had his best game of the season against Bristol City at the weekend, and emphasised the improvements he wants from his playmaker when not in possession.

“He’s improving. I feel I am seeing more from Tom. His physical condition is growing, he’s more involved. Of course, it is really important for me as a manager to have Tom Cairney in the best physical condition that he can. He knows what I expect from him. He’s a guy with a very good knowledge of football, he loves football. My job is get to him more involved with the ball, but without the ball as well – because he’s playing a different role than the previous seasons without the ball. He has the ability to find the spaces, find the gaps and to create the moments for our forward players to get the chances and I need to take the best from him.”

The Fulham boss isn’t going to take Birmingham lightly despite the Blues heading to Craven Cottage on a poor run of form – arguing that the reverse fixture at St. Andrew’s was much tighter than the scoreline eventually suggested.

“When we played Birmingham away, the game was really tough for us. We know that nothing is guaranteed in this competition. We have already forgotten the last two results, the last two scores. They gave confidence to us but the next match will start 0-0. We have to go with our maximum desire, maximum commitment, try to play good football because if you perform well you will be closer to winning. We respect them. All the throw ins from the halfway line will be in the box, they will put the ball in our box and we’ll have to be aware of that.”