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Neeskens Kebano: Fulham’s king on the wing

Neeskens Kebano wasn’t exactly a household name when he joined Fulham in 2016. Football fans are now understandably wary of a well-put together Youtube highlight reel that can make anyone appear a world beater, but there is something about a tricky little winger that gets the pulse racing. The Congolese winger had a promising debut just days after arriving at Blackburn and contributed crucial goals as the Whites climbed the table in the second half of the season under Slavisa Jokanovic, but could never nail down a place in the side.

He had almost drifted out of the picture entirely when his energy, drive and some sensational free-kicks enlivened Fulham’s run to – and, indeed, through the Championship play-offs. His reward for injecting some life in what was a pretty predictable side was scant, though, becoming one of those laudable club servants who were jettisoned during another dismal Premier League campaign. Kebano ended the season on loan at Middlesbrough and you could have been forgiven for thinking the likeable winger’s Fulham career was over.

There’s no greater indication of the fact that Marco Silva offered a clean slate for everyone that the way Kebano has gradually become one of the key components of this adventurous side. He started the season in the side as injuries denied Fulham the services of some key players and a brilliant display at Millwall showed that he had the potential to deliver at this level. If there was ever any doubt about his value, Kebano proved he is more than just flicks and tricks on his way to terrorising countless full backs and seizing his chance to impress after Ivan Cavaleiro got injured.

It isn’t fanciful to suggest that a former Fulham favourite might have also helped this revival. Luis Boa Morte was also a character who added pace and excitement to a very watchable Whites side from the wide positions. A left winger by trade, Boa Morte is now Silva’s number two at Craven Cottage and it isn’t difficult to discern his own influence on Kebano’s more consistent displays. Where we once wondered about an end product, the Congolese winger has added four goals and five assists already – just two goals short of his best scoring return for Fulham, which came in his very first season by the Thames.

Such is the scale of the turnaround that Kebano has become one of the first names on Silva’s teamsheet. He is revelling in the freedom to express himself in a Fulham side that looks frightening each time they go forward and, should he stay injury free, there’s no reason why the cheeky chappy can’t put together a season to remember.

Fluent Fulham are in the driving seat

Derby’s thrilling – and at times scarcely believable – victory over Bournemouth this afternoon capped off the perfect weekend for Marco Silva. Fulham’s position at the top of the Championship, claimed courtesy of battering Barnsley at Craven Cottage yesterday, was consolidated after the Cherries’ untimely slip-up at Pride Park this afternoon and it is fitting reward for the Whites’ wonderful run of wins saw they capitulated alarmingly at Coventry at the start of last month.

Silva’s adherence to his attacking principles stands in stark contrast to the way Scott Parker steered Fulham up from the Championship and then surrendered that hard earned top flight status with barely a whimper at the tail end of last season. Where there once was caution, now there is an embrace of adventure. This was shown in Fulham’s starting line-up yesterday: every member of a frightening front four scored against Barnsley and Silva’s improvement of each goalscorer has been tangible since August.

You can’t always sweep every opponent away with fluent football – although Fulham are certainly giving it a good go at the moment. They can graft for the three points too, as evidenced in the narrow win at Peterborough before the international break, and had to battle through a poor first twenty minutes yesterday where Barnsley began on the front foot and the hosts’ passing was pretty patchy. But when the artisans get half a yard, the marriage of movement, technique and the pace of play is pretty mesmorising.

We have probably all run out of superlatives to wrap around Aleksandar Mitrovic at this point. The Serbian striker’s importance to club and country can’t be understated and the way he guided that header home to give Fulham the lead after barely having a kick for the first twenty minutes showed just how deadly he can be. Note too the contribution of the returning Kenny Tete, whose devilish deliveries from right back can be a crucial weapon in the second half of the season.

Some supporters voiced concern over whether Fabio Carvalho would be fully committed after declining two Fulham offers to extend his contract. The talented teenager allayed all of those fears with a sparkling display that saw demonstrate him a desire to defend from the front – twice tracking back before delivering immaculate sliding tackles after losing the ball – as well as all the silky skills that we have come to appreciate. His goal, that saw him dart inside from the left flank and swap passes with Mitrovic before slotting home, was a work of art that offered breathing space ten minutes before half time. The only black mark on his afternoon was that galling miss at the death after Mitrovic had offered him an open goal – but such was Fulham’s dominance by this point, it was merely academic.

That Carvalho can effortlessly drift out to either flank from a central position gives the opposition’s overworked full backs another nightmare to contend with. Nobody would relish the prospect of trying to shackle Harry Wilson or Neeskens Kebano. Wilson has already proven his quality at this level and he delivered another high-class display yesterday, full of energy and invention as well as one magical moment when he somehow slalomed his way along the byline to carve out a chance for Mitrovic when the dimensions of the pitch and gravity appeared against him. The Welshman has been simply wondrous this season – and got his reward by adding the fourth goal mere minutes after Barnsley had ended Marek Rodak’s run of clean sheets.

Arguably Silva’s strongest influence in his four months in charge can be seen in the consistency of Neeskens Kebano. The Congolese winger could have been forgiven for thinking he might be seeking pastures new in the summer when a managerial change followed his loan spell at Middlesbrough. But Kebano seized an early opportunity to impress with a virtuoso performance at Millwall and earned his spot in the side after more outstanding outings. He is playing at the top of his game, relishing the prospect of terrorising full backs, and has been delivering high quality crosses for Mitrovic to pounce upon. Kebano’s finishing has gone up a notch as well – something he works hard on at Motspur Park – and he rounded off a man of the match performance with a lovely volley that put the Whites well clear yesterday.

The strength of the squad at Silva’s disposal is illustrated by the fact that he was able to summon Jean Michael Seri, whose redemption since the Portuguese head coach’s arrival has been the story of the summer, from the substitutes bench. The Ivorian midfielder didn’t waste any time in demonstrating his class. Seri found Carvalho with a beautifully cushioned first touch, spread the play out to Wilson with a wondrous crossfield pass, and bettered it with a glorious outside of the foot ball over the top of the Barnsley defence for Wilson to make it four. Simply sensational.

Fulham are a joy to watch again under Silva – with the high-tempo football, built around a commitment to crisp, precise passing, already mirroring the tremendous technical play that characterised the Tigana promotion team of two decades ago. This division has plenty of twists and turns ahead – just ask Wednesday’s opponents Derby – but Fulham have the potential to be ferocious front runners.

Kebano: Big win ‘feels so good’

Neeskens Kebano was buzzing after capping another superb individual performance with a goal as Fulham thrashed Barnsley at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

The Congolese winger was a constant threat down Fulham’s left flank and grabbed a deserved goal by lashing home a first-time volley from Harry Wilson’s cross late in the second period. Kebano, who appears totally rejuvenated under Marco Silva, told FFCTV of his delight after the final whistle:

“It feels so good. A home game, we won and we go again and hopefully we will have the same as we had last month, we started well. We know that every game is going to be tough because teams are going to be waiting for us. We have to be there, we have to be Fulham and that’s we showed today.

Kebano was pleased that Fulham took the opportunity to move to the top of the table today with Bournemouth not in action until tomorrow, but is confident that the squad won’t be resting on their laurels as a result.

We know our goal. It’s not because we are first now, we are going to drop some points like we did in the last few months. We have to turn up every weekend, grab us as much points as we can and hopefully we get what we want.

The winger is delighted to be enjoying his most consistent run of games in his five years at Fulham and was pleased with his individual display this afternoon.

“I always try to bring danger. I think that’s what I did again today. With the goal, it’s just the cherry on the cake. I think about the last goal we scored – Wilson’s goal. That was a mad goal.”

Four-star Fulham batter Barnsley

Marco Silva selected an adventurous line-up in a bid to maintain Fulham’s momentum after the international break and his flowing forward line delivered with all four attackers on the scoresheet as the Whites moved to the top of the Championship table after putting four past beleaguered Barnsley at Craven Cottage this afternoon.

A trademark header from Aleksandar Mitrovic – his 21st goal of an already extraordinary season – set the hosts on their way to a comfortable victory. The Serbian striker, still on a high after sending Serbia to the World Cup last weekend, laid on a second for the returning Fabio Carvalho before Neeskens Kebano grabbed the goal another exceptional display merited by lashing in at the far post from Harry Wilson’s cross. The only blot on the copybook was a late consolation for substitute Victor Adeboyejo after former Fulham forward Cauley Woodrow had nodded against the post, but Wilson almost immediately restored Fulham’s three-goal advantage with an assured finish after a sumptuous through ball from Jean Michael Seri.

The winning margin made the victory look routine, but Barnsley – in front of new manager Poya Asbaghi – began brightly and had the better of the early exchanges. The Tykes made light of their perilous league position by taking the game to Fulham and Marek Rodak made a sensational one-handed save to tip Romal Palmer’s rasping drive over the crossbar. Woodrow and the returning Carlton Morris posed problems for the Fulham back line, but the Whites overcame those early jitters to offer a threat of their own.

The hosts looked particularly threatening from set plays with Mitrovic narrowly failing to connect with a Kenny Tete flick on from Harry Wilson’s corner and Michael Hector hammering a drive against the far post after Tim Ream had won a header in the Barnsley box. The goal wasn’t long in coming and Tete, starting his first game since August, produced a peach of a cross from the right which Mitrovic directed into the far corner with ease after outjumping Michael Helik.

Barnsley almost made their task doubly difficult shortly afterwards when an overhit backpass from Callum Styles had Bradley Collins scrambling to clear off the line. Carvalho, a livewire throughout, began and finished the move that put Fulham further clear ten minutes before the break. The talented teenager tiptoed infield from the left flank and made the most of a bit of fortune when his one-two with Mitrovic bounced off Josh Benson to fire between Collins and his near post.

Wilson might have made it three before the break but screwed a shot wide after latching onto a lovely ball from Carvalho. Tom Cairney, who replaced Seri in Silva’s starting line-up, came close to scoring himself just after the break when his shot was deflected against the crossbar after mesmorising approach play from Wilson and Carvalho. Mitrovic nearly headed home at the near post from the ensuing corner, but Collins pulled off a fabulous reaction stop.

Tete then went close at the near post but couldn’t squeeze his shot in after Wilson had wriggled away from two defenders to cut the ball back brilliantly from the byline. Barnsley kept plugging away and Woodrow came closest to bringing the Tykes back into it with a speculative shot from 20 yards, but Rodak palmed away the striker’s volley. Fulham struggled for fluency at times in an attritional second half but they found a third eighteen minutes from time.

Mitrovic weighted a wonderful pass out to Wilson on the right and the Welsh winger’s fabulous cross picked out Kebano perfectly at the far post. The Congolese winger continued his fine goalscoring form with a perfect first-time volley back across the goalkeeper and celebrated with some more fancy footwork with Carvalho in front of the Hammersmith End.

Barnsley kept sending green shirts forward in spite of another setback and they got their reward with twelve minutes to play. Helik produced a terrific cross from the right that Woodrow headed against the far post, with Adeboyejo able to poke the rebound beyond a grounded Rodak to reduce Barnsley’s arrears. But Fulham grabbed a fourth with their very next attack. Seri, fresh off the bench, lifted a sumptuous ball over the Barnsley back line to release Wilson, who stroked him with a modicum of fuss.

Fulham could easily have had more goals with the most glaring miss coming at the death when a rampaging Mitrovic unselfishly squared for Carvalho as he bore down on the goalkeeper, only for the youngster to somehow shoot into the side netting when it seemed easier to score. But Fulham’s potent forward line had fired another ominous warning to the rest of the division – and can look down from the summit for at least a few hours before Bournemouth take on Derby tomorrow.

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson (Bryan 85), Hector, Ream; Reed (Seri 80), Cairney (Onomah 80); Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Mawson, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.

GOALS: Mitrovic (24), Carvalho (34), Kebano (72), Wilson (81).

BARNSLEY (4-3-2-1): Collins; Sibbick, Williams, Andersen, Helik; Styles, Benson; Frieser (Iseka 54), Palmer (Moon 75), Morris (Adeboyejo 75); Woodrow. Subs (not used): Walton, Oulare, Vita, Oduor.

GOAL: Adeboyejo (78).

REFEREE: Josh Smith (Bedfordshire).

ATTENDANCE: 18,047.

Kebano shines in vital DR Congo victory

Neeskens Kebano played a prominent role after coming on as a half-time substitute as DR Congo recorded a vital victory over Tanzania in their World Cup qualifier this afternoon.

The Fulham winger, who replaced Dieumerci Mbokani for the second period in Dar-es-Salaam, worked a clever short corner with fellow substitute Arthur Masuaka and Idumba Fasika fired in the crucial second goal after former Fulham forward Gael Kakuta had given the Leopards an early lead. Ben Malango’s late strike – eight minutes from time – wrapped up the three points for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hector Cuper’s side leapfrogged Benin, who play Madagascar later this afternoon, and Tanzania to move to the top of Group J on eight points.

Only the group winners will advance to third round of qualifying. DR Congo face Benin in their final fixture in Kinshasa on Sunday afternoon, whilst Tanzania take on Madagascar in Antananarivo.