There were grumbles towards the end of Scott Parker’s reign about just how difficult it was for some of Fulham’s promising talent to force their way into the first team picture. Fabio Carvalho did appear at the tail end of a dismal season, but his eye-catching cameos left you wondering why it had taken so long. The attacking midfielder staked his claim for a first-team start in the Championship with a beautiful winning goal made by his fantastic fellow academy graduate Tyrese Francois as Marco Silva’s side finished their pre-season preparations with a routine win over League One Charlton Athletic.
Silva sprung some surprises with his teamsheet, selecting Paulo Gazzaniga in goal and pairing Australian youngster Francois alongside Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa at the heart of the engine room. Carvalho looks certain to deputise for the injured captain Tom Cairney against Middlesbrough next Sunday and the two youngsters seized their chance to shine, delivering composed performances that belied their tender years. The decisive goal was a thing of beauty – Francois jinked away from two tacklers just inside the Charlton half and threaded a ball out of the reach of Ryan Innes. Carvalho raced beyond the visiting backline and calmly slotted his finish between Craig MacGillivray’s legs.
On the balance of play, Fulham should have been further in front by the end but Charlton had began brightly with Dialling Jaiyesimi awkwardly hooking a half chance high into the Hammersmith End and Sean Clare blazing over the bar after Robinson had carelessly surrendered possession to Jaiyesimi. Carvalho was Fulham’s most regular threat, darting into dangerous pockets of space behind Aleksandar Mitrovic. Akin Famewo bravely blocked a snapshot from the youngster before he stripped Albie Morgan of possession from a throw in and surged towards the box only to overhit his attempted pass to the Serbian striker.
Francois was full of energy at the base of the Fulham midfield in the absence of Harrison Reed and produced a jaw-dropping bit of skill on the halfway to kill a ball that dropped from the sky stone dead on the halfway line. The classy midfielder was the architect of the only goal just after the half mark when he skipped past two tacklers and slipped a beautiful ball between the Charlton centre halves allowing Carvalho to demonstrate his potency in front of goal yet again.
Carvalho nearly fashioned a second before half time but his unselfishness attempt to square for Mitrovic, who would have a tap in, rather than shoot himself allowed Adam Matthews to stab out a foot and clear. By this point, Carvalho was everywhere and he popped up to head wide after excellent approach play by Robinson and Neeskens Kebano down the Fulham left. There was far more fluidity about Fulham’s work in the final third, with players interchanging regularly, even if Mitrovic had a largely quiet afternoon at the head of the hosts’ attack.
The pattern continued into the second half. Fulham probed patiently, with Carvalho and Francois to the fore, but created little in the way of clear cut chances. Knockaert was culpable on a number of occasions, fluffing his lines at the far post after a Robinson cross had dropped inviting over Chris Gunter’s shoulder, and then spurning a great header opportunity from a curling Anguissa cross. Charlton’s best chances came from set plays with Morgan drilling one into the wall after a rash Robinson challenge and then supplying a free header for Clare that he guided wastefully into the away fans.
The game briefly threatened to become nasty. Innes and Mitrovic enjoyed a personal physical battle all afternoon, but the Charlton centre back overstepped the mark when he clattered into the Fulham striker’s knees on the halfway line. Referee Gavin Ward didn’t even issue a warning, but quickly booked Knockaert after he led with an arm against Jaiyesimi. Tempers rose but the football quickly broke out again and a watchable contest produced further Fulham chances as Charlton tired.
Harry Wilson should have scored within seconds of coming off the bench for a first appearance in a Fulham shirt but sent a shot wide from close range after fine approach play from Carvalho. Knockaert rattled the side netting after being set up by Robinson before substitute Joe Bryan extended MacGillivray with three minutes to go when he surged down the left flank and fired towards the top corner but the Charlton keeper improvised a smart save.
There was plenty for Silva to purr over here – it is clear that his approach his far more enterprising than his predecessor and several of his key combinations appear to be locked in. But the tepid nature of this friendly will be apart as far removed as possible from a visit by Neil Warnock’s charges on the opening weekend – and Fulham will need to be far more ruthless to come away with three points. Charlton can look back with pride on another encouraging pre-season display, they were disciplined and determined without seriously threatening, and they have a good chance of going from strength to strength under Thomas Saandgard and Nigel Adkins.
Tomorrow afternoon marks Fulham’s final friendly ahead of the new Championship campaign. It is a special return to Craven Cottage for so many reasons and a first opportunity for the fans to get a look at how the side is shaping up under new boss Marco Silva. Charlton Athletic might not be the most glamorous opposition for the final dress rehearsal before the big kick off but they will provide a stern test of how Silva’s first few weeks at Motspur Park have panned out.
It is clear from observing Silva’s statements since succeeding Scott Parker then he is keen to implement a bold, attacking style on his new charges. That may take time to come to fruition as the squad transitions from Parker’s more pragmatic approach but it should be met positively by the Fulham faithful. Parker clearly works hard and might go on to become a great manager, but there’s no denying that his cautious mentality made for a drab watch for the majority of his tenure. Silva will certainly put excitement back on the agenda – perhaps for the first time since Slavisa Jokanovic was dismissed in November 2018.
The Portuguese head coach has an exciting blend of some newish faces from the last campaign – who many of us have yet to have the chance to see in person – younger players staking a claim for a first-team place, some returnees from loans elsewhere and a couple of new signings. It will be intriguing to see the balance of Silva’s starting line-up and whether some of the forgotten faces of yesteryear get a chance to shine. Fulham fans certainly haven’t seen the best of Jean-Michael Seri for example, who has hardly justified his reported £27m fee, and Silva has apparently been an admirer since the Ivorian international’s days with Pacos Ferreira in his native Portugal. Seri has gone significant game time in pre-season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be staying around for the heat of the Championship battle.
It will be intriguing to see how Fulham’s new arrivals are integrated. Silva said during his press conference that he sees Paulo Gazzaniga as providing competition for Marek Rodak, who was widely assumed to be likely to regain the number one jersey before the former Tottenham keeper’s arrival. Harry Wilson has clearly been signed for the first team – with considerable Championship pedigree – and if he can reprise the level of his devastating displays that helped take Derby County to play-off final a few years ago then he may prove an inspired acquisition.
A few of the club’s most promising youth prospects should be in line for a chance to sign as well. Jay Stansfield had a wonderful first season in the Fulham youth set-up after signing from Exeter, scoring goals for fun at under-18 level, demonstrating his maturity with the under-23s and even breaking into the first team squad briefly at the turn of the year. The teenager’s second season was horribly disrupted by a freak injury, but he has been back training with the senior squad and already got minutes under his belt so far this summer. We should see more of him against the Addicks, against whom he made his league debut last January.
Then there’s Fabio Carvalho, whose composed cameos at the tail end of last season had us all wondering why Parker had taken so long to promote him to senior duty. The attacking midfielder could easily step into the role of understudy for Tom Cairney – a position Fulham have struggled to fill in recent years – and might end up playing a good deal of Championship football given the ongoing concern over the captain’s troublesome knees. The cracking goal on his debut at Southampton shows he knows where the goal is and he troubled Manchester United a few days later showed that was far from a fluke. Everyone is eager to see what his next act will look like.
Australian midfielder Tyrese Francois, named the Fulham Supporters’ Trust Johnny Haynes’ trophy winner in 2019, was handed his debut by Parker on the final day of the season against Newcastle and has featured for Silva over the course of the summer. There’s a suggestion that he might get a loan spell away from Craven Cottage to gain further first-team experience this season, but he could get a chance to demonstrate his undoubted potential tomorrow first. If he does well, Silva might have something to ponder – especially as Fulham still look light in central midfield.
It will be brilliant to be back at the Cottage again and see some familiar faces. Enjoy it everyone – and stay safe!
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Bryan, Mawson, Adarabioyo; Reed, Onomah; Wilson, Cavaleiro, Carvalho, Mitrovic.
Fulham could kick off the Championship campaign in front of full capacity crowds in August following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement that coronavirus restrictions would be lifted on July 19th.
The EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: “The EFL welcomes today’s positive announcement by the prime minister that capacity restrictions are expected to be lifted later this month, which will allow us to finally press forward with our plans to see a full return of fans to EFL stadiums from the start of the new EFL season in just four weeks’ time.
“Football has been planning for this outcome since the outset of the pandemic and having been forced to endure empty stadiums since March 2020, the message from EFL Clubs is that we are ready to re-open and welcome fans back in numbers. From the EFL’s own participation in the Events Research Programme and our Club’s extensive experience built up over many years, we are confident that all our Clubs can successfully manage large scale events and we will continue to work with the Government on the guidance that will help support their matchday operations.
“Today’s developments, of course, have been made possible by the staff at the NHS and countless medical experts and scientists who have helped to develop and roll-out the vaccines. On behalf of the League and its membership, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for playing such an important role in helping re-open our sport and wider society.”
Precise capacity arrangements at Craven Cottage would have to be confirmed by the Hammersmith and Fulham Council safety advisory group which licenses all fixtures played at Fulham’s home ground. Due to the fact that Fulham’s historic home only has one entry point at Stevenage Road, Fulham have previously played in front of smaller crowds than their competitors, but there is a possibly that the relaxation of restrictions could facilitate full capacity for the opening fixture against Middlesbrough on Sunday 8 August.
A question – if hardly anyone is there to see it, did Fulham really have a goalless draw at Craven Cottage? After 196 games, nine years, four months and three days, one of English football’s most ridiculous statistics was consigned to the history books after neither Fulham or Brighton and Hove Albion could break the deadlock in a scrappy relegation six-pointer last night. You’d expect Richard Osman to weave this fantastic factoid into one of his gameshows before too long and, as long as the contestants weren’t regulars at the Cottage, it would probably register as pointless too.
The streak started unremarkably enough, with Martin Jol’s first game in charge against Aston Villa on a seriously hot afternoon by the banks of the Thames. The Dutchman, who came to have a rather reckless disregard for the finer arts of defending, began by separating the Thames Barrier to fit Philippe Senderos into the Fulham back four, shifting Aaron Hughes to right back. His teams were brimmed full of flair players and Fulham’s fortunes see-sawed from the sublime, when Clint Dempsey scored 23 goals in 2011/2012 and Moussa Dembele was converted into a classy central midfielder, to the ridiculous, most famously when he insisted that his side had won the second half after a shambolic 2-0 defeat at Southampton.
The Cottage faithful were treated to some outrageously gifted forward players in those nine years. Both Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff’s best days were behind them, but there was a period of purring at the laconic skills of Dimitar Berbatov and purring at Pavel Pogrebnyak’s remarkable start to what was a brief Fulham career. We marvelled at the Mahamadou Diarra-Demble midfield axis, but an ageing squad was in serious need of an overhaul. Looking back the writing may have been on the wall with the departure of Danny Murphy, even if Giorgos Karagounis’ herculean efforts in the twylight of his career were well appreciated.
The catastrophic 2013/2014 season with three managers ended with Dan Burn, now plying his trade as a flying full back at Brighton, hopelessly out of his depth as a right back as Felix Magath’s side were mercilessly pulled apart at Stoke. Mad Magath’s penchant for running above all else and bizarre belief in the magical healing qualities of cheddar cheese persuaded senior players to seek alternative employment as the Whites dropped through the Premier League trapdoor and a second successive relegation appeared likely as his quixotic team selections paid little respect to the Championship.
Despite dropping down a division, Fulham remained the great entertainers. Some of that was because Ross McCormack brought his goals and artistry from Leeds, forming a potent partnership with Mousa Dembele, but a great deal was down to an abject rearguard that featured a succession of shambolic defenders. Fernando Amorebieta seemed like a red card waiting to happen – saving his most iconic moment for a play-off semi final at Griffin Park when he broke Brentford hearts whilst on loan at Middlesbrough – Nikolay Bodurov was never in the right position and poor old Shaun Hutchinson, now a dependable defender with Millwall, seemed to have a different partner every week. Ragnar Sigurdsson has subsequently admitted that he didn’t really take his Fulham career all that seriously, Richard Stearman never reprised his outstanding Wolves form in SW6 and even Tim Ream looked like a fish out of water in his early days. All this added up to goals galore.
Even as Slavisa Jokanovic gradually put his imprint on a side that flirted outrageously with the drop, Fulham were far from solid at the back. The Serbian’s football was spellbinding to watch but had risk-taking at its heart, as was sadly shown when his stylish play-off winners couldn’t cope with the step up. At times, it felt like Fulham’s commitment to offering entertainment in both boxes should be guaranteed at the bottom of every match ticket.
The memories remain magical though. We had three years of savouring the emergence of Ryan Sessegnon from sixteen year-old schoolboy to the sensational talent who shushed the Gallowgate and the Cold Blow Lane in quick succession. The appreciation of Tom Cairney’s left foot continues today and that late equaliser against Leeds, curling into the top corner, can never be recalled too often. Of course, Aleskandar Mitrovic, who did so much to make Fulham a Premier League side in two different promotion campaigns, played his own crucial role in keeping the record going: sweeping home from Sessegnon’s pass in stoppage time against Huddersfield, after Aboubakar Kamara had inexplicably wrestled a spot kick off him ten minutes earlier, and providing redemption with a trademark header in injury time to beat Swansea last term after his own penalty failure.
Scott Parker, who was on the pitch for plenty of those games, now has the task of keeping Fulham above the drop zone in one of the most unpredictable campaigns the English game has ever seen. The early signs are that he will pivot to pragmatism in search of safety and the impregnability of Fulham’s rearguard last night should be recognised as an encouraging sign. He won’t countenance a capitulation to Claudio’s catenaccio but Fulham’s defending could become a little less frenetic, which we can all come to cherish.