Kevin McDonald has signed a two-year contract extension with Fulham, the club has confirmed this afternoon.
The Scottish international, a key part of Slavisa Jokanovic’s promotion-winning side last year, will now stay at Craven Cottage until at least the summer of 2020 with the Whites holding an option to extend the deal by another year. McDonald has been one of Fulham’s unsung heroes since signing from Wolves two years ago and has made 94 appearances in front of the back four. He joins captain Tom Cairney and centre back Tim Ream in committing their future to Fulham this summer.
Although primarily a holding player concerned with keeping the opposition at bay, McDonald scored some vital goals as the Whites put together a 23-match unbeaten run towards the end of the Championship season. He popped up with a crucial close-range strike to help Fulham come from behind to win at Barnsley and then scored an incredible effort to double the Whites’ lead at Millwall.
The 29 year-old told Fulham’s official website that he was happy to successfully conclude negotiations on his new deal:
Obviously I’m delighted. I feel settled here, it’s a great place to play, it’s got everything needed for a Premier League club, and thankfully that’s what we are. Hopefully we can kick on this season, it’s been a great couple of years and – having extended my contract – I couldn’t be happier.
Fulham’s vice-chairman and head of football of operations, Tony Khan, said:
I’m pleased to announce that Fulham Football Club has signed a contract extension for Kevin McDonald. Kevin’s presence within our squad and the positive effect he has on his teammates cannot be underestimated. Of course, Kevin made important contributions to our great success last season, so now it’s fitting that he will be contributing to our future successes as well!
Not the most convincing of performances from Fulham, but grinding out results is what helps sides climb the Championship table. Back-to-back home wins, as well as consecutive clean sheets at Craven Cottage, are not to sniffed at – however nervy they made us feel.
Marcus Bettinelli: Slavisa Jokanovic finally made the change a vocal section of the Fulham support have been advocating for some time, but the rust from four months on the sidelines will take a little while to wear off. If you are looking for a modern sweeper keeper, adept at the short passing and diagonal switches of play, then Bettinelli isn’t your man. He’s a more than creditable Championship goalkeeper with a wealth of experience having come through the Fulham academy and he bailed out Tomas Kalas early in the second half by sprinting off his line to beat Lukas Jutkiewicz to a poor header. 6
Ryan Fredericks: Put the disappointment of being turned inside out by Sergi Canos for Brentford’s equaliser last week behind him with a typical rampaging performance at right back. There are still question marks about Fredericks’ defensive decision making but a poor Birmingham side didn’t really examine those – he blocked a number of second half crosses. His most telling contributions came as he flew into the final third to add that extra attacking dimension, but the final ball was lacking. 6
Tomas Kalas: Looked far more assured than at Griffin Park – and part of that was down to having Tim Ream alongside him once again. Relished the physical challenge against Jutkiewicz and rarely lost anything in the air against the Polish striker. That heart-fluttering attempt at a header back to Bettinelli aside, Kalas was as commanding as he had been last season – and it’s been a while since Fulham fans were able to say that. 7
Tim Ream: The American was imperious on his return to the heart of the Fulham defence. This was a man of the match performance full of desire and class, especially in the way he escaped tricky situations with a drop of the shoulder. At his best, the former Bolton defender looks effortless with the ball at his feet and gives a possession hungry side another distribution option – and this was a nearly faultless performance. 9
Ryan Sessegnon: Some of the seventeen year-old’s impact on proceedings is reduced from the outset when he operates at left back but this was another mature display from one of the hottest youth properties in English football. He fulfilled his defensive duties admirably, producing a couple of excellent clearances when the pressure was on, and stepped into central defence well on a couple of occasions. Still got forward regularly, starting the move that led to Ojo’s goal, and could have had at least one of his own with a bit more good fortune in the box. 7
Kevin McDonald: Blotted his copybook by failing to deal with a second half cross and then conceding what could have been a match-turning penalty with a rash, high challenge on Emilio Nsue. It was impetuous and nervy, the opposite of what McDonald has been since he arrived at Craven Cottage last summer – and so far removed from the rest of a quietly effective afternoon where he put out fires in front of the back four. In the first half, the Scottish schemer found himself high up the pitch and nearly created two goals for Ryan Sessegnon. 6
Ollie Norwood: Sprayed the ball about effectively as the second deep-lying midfield pivot in Slavisa Jokanovic’s new forward-less midfield shape, but given his technical ability you crave the moment when the Northern Irish international takes a game by the scruff of the neck and hurts the opposition. He was patient and pretty in possession but against a side more than happy to absorb pressure before launching a counter, Fulham were probably after more incision in his passing. 6
Tom Cairney: It’s still so good to see the captain out there, pulling the strings again, especially after his knee injury turned out to be far more of a problem that everyone thought. Birmingham blunted Fulham’s playmaker effectively – shutting down the room in which he had to operate and offering the odd late challenge – and this was a rather deliberative and laboured display from Cairney. You sense that he’s getting there game by game. 6
Stefan Johansen: The Norwegian isn’t being helped by a groin injury he’s still not over or the fact that Jokanovic seems to have earmarked him as a false nine – a role he just seems unsuited for – at the moment. Toiled manfully today and was far more successful than in the derby last week, attracting defenders at will and linking the play expertly with his midfielders as well as popping up in the wide positions, but still faded in the second period. 6
Sheyi Ojo: Looked lively again as a winger who regularly popped up right across the front line – and scored a beautiful goal that showcased both the youngster’s anticipation and his predatory instincts. Ojo appears hungry to make up for the time he’s lost due to injury this season and Fulham are certainly benefiting from his energy and desire. His instinctive finish to beat Stockdale from close range was almost as impressive as the clever run that earned him that extra yard of space – and he was a constant threat to the Blues defence. 8
Neeskens Kebano: An excellent 45 minutes from the Congolese winger, who looked inconsolable as he limped off the field on the stroke of half time. Delivered an excellent low cross that allowed Ojo to poach the winning goal and made have grabbed at least one for himself on another day. Denied by a brilliant reaction save from Stockdale when he probably felt he should’ve done better – and Kebano’s mood wouldn’t have improved when the injury he sustained turned out to be so serious as to force him off. 7
Aboubakar Kamara (on for Kebano, 45): The archetypal Kamara cameo this afternoon. Lively when he came on, firing three shots wildly off target, but also showing plenty of tricks and flicks in tight situations. He caused the Blues’ centre backs all sorts of problems before becoming more peripheral as the visitors pushed for an equaliser, but showed enough to suggest he should be in contention for a starting place for the rest of the December programme. 6
Rui Fonte (on for Johansen, 79): Had very little time to impose himself on proceedings but this was an encouraging quarter of an hour from the Portuguese. Held the ball up well with his first touch, won a couple of free kicks and directed a downward header just wide from a corner. Dovetailed well with Kamara and his fresh legs helped take Fulham up the pitch, which was crucial when they came under that late Birmingham bombardment. 7
Marcelo Djalo (on for Ojo, 90): Just had the five added minutes to see out but contributed a couple of clearing headers and clearances as Fulham hung on for those precious points N/A
Marcelo Djalo was delighted to make his league debut for Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday – and help Slavisa Jokanovic’s side extend their unbeaten run by repelling Millwall’s aerial assault as a second half substitute.
The Spanish centre back, who had featured in the League Cup earlier this morning, got his first taste of Championship action when he replaced Neeskens Kebano with twelve minutes to play as Fulham sought to hold onto the lead given to them on the stroke of half-time by Ollie Norwood’s penalty. Djalo told the club’s official website that he’ll never forget the experience:
For me it was amazing to play for this club, on this pitch, in this shirt. It’s incredible, and I’m very happy because for me it was the first time playing here in the Championship. It’s amazing.
The situation was not easy because they had more strikers, more long balls. This can be a more nervous situation for all the players, and I think these three points are very, very vital. The team is very happy with this win.
The 23 year-old, a summer signing from Spanish second division side Club Deportivo Lugo, revealed that head coach Jokanovic has been boosting the belief among the Fulham squad.
The Gaffer is always very positive. The message to the team is be confident, play our style, and be competitive. It’s a good three points, a very, very important win.
The team is feeling strong. We’re going to train hard and be focused, because every game is very important for us. When you win, everything is better. We have to keep going in this moment, the season is very long so we have to keep going, keep going, match by match.
I’m not sure how you would work it out, but the Championship has to be one of the toughest leagues in Europe. It is ultra competitive, as we saw yesterday with a direct Millwall side posing Fulham plenty of problems, and anybody stands a chance of beating anyone else (I give you Burton’s victory over Slavisa Jokanovic’s side in September). There’s also the sheer weight and frequency of the fixtures that mean injuries and suspensions can prove very costly – and the stakes are so high that the pressure is intense.
Perhaps that’s why after the reverse at Wolves a couple of weeks ago there were those amongst the Fulham fanbase who were giving serious consideration to the idea of ditching Slavisa Jokanovic. Dan wrote at the time that he felt that was madness – and I haven’t spoken to a match-going fan who can come with a reason why the Serbian should be sacked – but, as the men who count the money never tire of telling us, football is a business now. And, to borrow a phrase from West Brom’s statement when they ran a mile from the odious Tony Pulis, it’s a ‘results-based’ one these days. If Jokanovic, who came so close to leading Fulham out at Wembley after that unbelievable end to last season, doesn’t manage to inspire some sort of promotion push than a parting of the ways could come at the end of the season.
But this week has shown us that dismissing the man who has got Fulham playing the best football since Craven Cottage witnessed Jean Tigana’s French revolution would be as big a mistake as, say, employing a stats fanatic with no experience in English football, as your assistant director of football. The Serbian certainly hasn’t become a bad coach overnight and Fulham’s prospects of reaching the Championship play-offs look an awful lot better after the Whites picked up seven points in a week where they hosted one of the promotion contenders, travelled to the league’s early pacesetters and won a thriller and then beat Millwall for the first time at this level since before Margaret Thatcher took up residence in Downing Street.
Jokanovic also tells us whether he can satisfied or not after each Fulham performance. It always reminds me of the pained high school teacher during parents’ evening trying to tell parents that their beloved boy or girl isn’t the angel they envisaged. Fulham’s head coach is such a stickler for the standards he set in his own playing career that he’s rarely ‘satisfied’ – and the last two games provided good examples of this. After the almost coronary-inducing end to that goalfest in south Yorkshire, Jokanovic told the press that, whilst it might have been a great game to watch for the fans, he’d have preferred a much less stressful evening.
The fear was always that Fulham, who looked like they could score at will when going forward at Bramall Lane, would grant the coach his wish – or wise – by struggling to break down a stubborn Millwall side. You could tell by the way some in the Hammersmith End began booing as Fulham nearly played themselves into trouble at the back that some fans felt Neil Harris’s men should be swept aside in an instant. That’s the danger of the sublime football we saw last season – those sort of standards are incredibly hard to maintain, especially when your opponents have had a whole pre-season to mug up on the things you do well.
People should also recognise that Fulham were markedly weaker yesterday than when they took the field in south Yorkshire. Tim Ream – undoubtedly Fulham’s most improved player during Jokanovic’s time at the club – was missing after succumbing to a knock picked up against the Blades. Denis Odoi, who had been an excellent left back against Derby and Sheffield United, reprised his central half role from Reading and Leeds. Kevin McDonald, arguably the most pivotal performer during last season’s surge to the play-offs, was missing from the base of the midfield and Stefan Johansen, promoted from the bench to the starting line-up, lasted only 45 minutes. Floyd Ayite’s hamstring injury is likely to get him out until much closer to Christmas at the very least.
In the circumstances, Fulham coped well with an aerial bombardment from a Millwall side who were desperate to end their six-game winless streak. On another day, the Whites could easily have been punished for allowing Tom Elliott two free headers inside the penalty area – one thudded against the far post – and affording the silky George Saville the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham at times in the second half. There were plenty of hairy moments, not least when Aboubakar Kamara made a clumsy challenge inside the penalty area during stoppage time, but Fulham ground out an important home win for only the second time this season.
They perhaps should have made their possession count earlier in proceedings. Sheyi Ojo, cruelly mocked for that ‘go faster’ hairdo by the excellent travelling supporters, wasn’t quite as clinical as in Sheffield but he has certainly shown why Fulham were so pleased to conclude that loan deal with Liverpool. A moment of magic, when he decided to try and chip Jordan Archer from outside the box seemingly because nothing else was on, almost put the Whites ahead and his movement and willing running injected energy into the hosts’ play. Having Tom Cairney pulling the strings makes such a difference – twice two sumptuous through balls might have released Ojo and Neeksens Kebano, but Archer and Shaun Hutchinson just about snuffed out the danger.
Harris was convinced there was an element of fortune about the award of the penalty, but Conor McLaughlin clearly pulled back Rui Fonte, who had struggled to get much change out of the Millwall defence until that point. Given the baffling penalties that Fulham have seen awarded against them – the phantom penalty at Burton still sticks in my mind – you could understand Jokanovic’s bullishness on that point after the final whistle. He won’t have been happy at how Fulham ceded the initative in the second half, even if both Kamara and Tayo Edun showed both an appetite for the fight and an aptitude at this level that might lead to more first-team outings over the festive period.
Fulham’s lowly league position has been caused by a failure to bank points in August and September unlike the early pace setters. They’ve struggled to break down resolute defences at Craven Cottage and, as a result, only just climbed back into the top half of the table. Few would have expected seven points from a home game against Derby, who demolished Middlesbrough yesterday to move into six, a midweek trip to Sheffield United and a south London derby. The manner of this scrappy and yet gutsy three points was almost more important. It showed Fulham have the stomach for a fight.
When he turns in performances like the one that terrorised Championship pacesetters Sheffield United at Bramall Lane this evening, it is hard to believe that Ryan Sessegnon is just seventeen. The teenage starlet celebrated his fiftieth senior appearance for Fulham with a hat-trick that blunted the Blades’ bid climb above Wolves at the top of the table, ended the Whites’ six-game winless streak and earned Slavisa Jokanovic’s side their first win at the oldest league ground in English football since Leroy Rosenior grabbed all three points in April 1985.
The visitors were grateful for Sessegnon’s predatory instincts at the end of 105 pulsating minutes because they were somehow clinging on by their fingertips to a precious victory, having been 5-2 ahead with twelve minutes to go. Chris Wilder has already proven that he doesn’t know how to go gently into the night – and his side were almost rewarded for their commendable never-say-die attitude. Substitute Samir Carruthers cut the gap to just two goals with four minutes to play and, when Leon Clarke powered home a close-range header for his third of the evening in the first of six added minutes, it appeared the home comeback was on.
Somehow a shattered Fulham defence held firm and, with James Linnington waving away penalty appeals at both ends in a nerve-shredding finale, it was left to captain Tom Cairney to carry the ball deep into United territory and earn Jokanovic’s side the most improbable victory of their stuttering season. It owed much to the returning Liverpool loanee Sheyi Oyi, whose early recovery from a dislocated shoulder allowed him to score twice either side of half-time and create another goal for Sessegnon. The England Under-20 World Cup winner more than justified the faith his head coach showed in him – and injected both pace and power into what had previously been a rather toothless Fulham attack.
The evening had initially appeared to be following the traditional script in S2. The Blades began with all the intensity and confidence of a side that has got used to sweeping opponents aside over the past two seasons, although Jokanovic and his coaching staff would have been furious with how former Rangers midfielder John Fleck was encouraged to carry the ball to within 20 yards of the Fulham goal and rifle a shot at David Button. The Fulham goalkeeper did well to get a hand to it, but as the visiting defence stood and watched, Clarke poached his tenth goal of the season. It was inexcusably easy.
Nobody could have legislated for the turnaround that occurred in the space of a couple of minutes just before the half-hour. Ojo had already shown the appetite to get behind the Blades back line and he certainly didn’t need any invitation to gallop onto a woefully underhit backpass from Cameron Carter-Vickers and tuck an assured finish past Jamal Blackman. From their next attack, Fulham went in front. Sessegnon, starting as the left winger in a fluid front three, drove at the heart of the home defence – ignoring the intelligent run of Floyd Ayite outside him – and bent a brilliant finish beyond Blackman’s left hand from more than 20 yards. It was a thing of a beauty from the European U17 champion who turned down the continent’s leading clubs to continue his footballing education at Fulham.
An insanely open contest developed a physical edge to it as the first half wore on with John Lundstram, who came in after Paul Coutts unfortunate leg break at the weekend, lunging nastily at Tom Cairney and Billy Sharp manhandling an incensed Ryan Fredericks. Fulham looked to have weathered a prolonged spell of home pressure, but Clarke slipped past Tim Ream with a stepover to create half a yard of space and his low drive burst through Button at the goalkeeper’s near post to level the scores. It was another tame goal to concede – and Fredericks’ enraged scowl at the ease with which the Blades wiped out Fulham’s advantage said it all.
Jokanovic has always encouraged his side to play with freedom and, incredibly, they went back in front before a breathless first period had even concluded. The excellent Ojo sauntered down the right and carved out an inviting cross, which Sessegnon stroked home on the volley at the back post. Wilder’s men emerged with renewed purpose after the interval and both Jack O’Connell and Clarke went close with chances earlier in the second half before an excellent piece of defending from Ream denied Enda Stevens a sight of goal.
The Blades then threw on the impressive David Brooks and Carruthers in an attempt to conjure up an equaliser but it was actually the Londoners who increased their lead on the break. The recently introduced Aboubakar Kamara accelerated away from the Blades defence and unselfishly squared the ball for Ojo, whose low finish squeezed past Blackman with the aid of a deflection. When Cairney acrobatically cleared James Hanson’s header off the line and Sessegnon completed his hat-trick with a rasping drive from the right angle of the box, Fulham seemed home and dry at 5-2.
But that reckoned without United’s undying spirit. After Kamara had an audacious finish ruled out for a seemingly innocuous challenge in the build-up, the Blades took renewed belief from Carruthers’ deflected strike that completely wrongfooted Button. The streams of home fans who had left early looked to have overlooked their side’s battling qualities when Clarke converted a dangerous cross from his captain Sharp to claim his second hat-trick in successive Bramall Lane appearances – and Fulham were left nervously clinging to the slenderest of leads during a seemingly never-ending period of added time.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (3-5-2): Blackman; Carter-Vickers (Brooks 58), Jake M. Wright, O’Connell; Basham, Stevens, Lundstram, Duffy (Carruthers 60), Fleck; Sharp, Clarke. Subs (not used): Moore, Stearman, Donaldson, Lafferty.
BOOKED: Lundstram, Sharp, Brooks.
GOALS: Clarke (6, 39, 90+1), Carruthers (86).
FULHAM (4-3-3): Button; Fredericks, Odoi, Kalas, Ream; McDonald (Johansen 83), Norwood, Cairney; Ojo (Fonte 74), R. Sessegnon, Ayite (Kamara 68). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Edun, de la Torre.
BOOKED: Fredericks, Ayite, Odoi, Kamara.
GOALS: Ojo (28, 69), R., Sessegnon (30, 43, 78).
REFEREE: James Linnigton (Isle-of-Wight).