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Fulham at full throttle look formidable

In previewing last night’s trip to south east London, I suggest we’d have a greater idea about the Championship credentials of Marco Silva’s side once we had seen Fulham face the unique challenge of Millwall away. It took only eight minutes at the New Den for this new-look outfit to disdainfully dispense with the notion that the five-star display at Huddersfield was a flash in the pan.

Of course, the nimble and intelligent Fabio Carvalho was to the fore. The news this morning that Fulham are confident of tying their teenage playmaker to a longer contract was almost as thrilling as his peerless performance last night. There was an electric burst down the left to set up Aleksandar Mitrovic’s second goal in as many games and firm finish five minutes later to match his magnificent run and put clear water between the sides. Suddenly, the Den didn’t feel quite so fearsome. His nod to Ryan Sessegnon’s iconic ear-cupping celebration reminded us all of the exuberance of youth.

Some of Fulham’s approach play was utterly mesmerising. One-touch football played with verve, zest and at a high tempo appears to be the order of the day under the new head coach. The contrast with Silva’s predecessor couldn’t be starker. Where Scott Parker deployed a handbrake to stay in matches, the new man revs his team up to full throttle to finish them. The fluidity, movement and sense of adventure makes this iteration of Fulham look formidable – rather like the Tigana and Jokanovic sides of yesteryear.

You can tell the transformation by considering the cases of some of the squad’s forgotten men. Neeskens Kebano was exiled to Middlesbrough last season and wasn’t expected to feature prominently in this campaign after Fulham added Harry Wilson this summer. But the Congolese winger appears reborn under Silva, having forced his way into the new head coach’s thoughts following a strong pre-season. Kebano buzzed brightly down the left flank against Millwall, drifting infield and finding Carvalho expertly for the second goal, and was unfortunate not to add one of his own. He’ll be difficult to displace on this evidence.

Then there’s the re-emergence of Jean Michael Seri, a man most Fulham fans had consigned to the scrapheap long before the summer. He followed up a fine – if understated – display at Huddersfield with another exemplary exhibition of how to play the ‘number six’ role last night. There was an effortlessness about the way he created passing angles to keep possession and he took the ball on the half turn brilliantly, rendering Millwall’s attempts at pressing moot. Seri wasn’t shy of sticking a foot in himself and looked genuinely delighted when applauding the away fans afterwards. Perhaps a fabulous final act to his Fulham career isn’t as far fetched as we thought.

There’s definitely a different vibe about this Fulham side. Their first instinct appears to play the ball forward and look to hurt the opposition. The way Josh Onomah, another player who has seized his opportunity to stake a claim with injuries opening up spots in central midfield, surged towards the penalty area despite being repeatedly fouled illustrated that Fulham were now playing on the front foot. No longer is it possession for possession’s sake – and the Whites looked liable to score in every attack during a flawless first half. That Silva, Mitrovic and Carvalho have all rued a lack of ruthlessness in the immediate aftermath of victory demonstrates a hunger to make best use of their attacking resources – and bodes well for what will still be a long and arduous Championship campaign.

You can see that the confidence is already flowing. Tim Ream’s ridiculous Cryuff turn away from Benik Afobe was testament to that. But Silva quickly made clear that there is still plenty of hard work ahead. It was criminal that Fulham’s eighty minutes of dominance were followed by a nerve-shredding finale after Afobe inadvertently offered Millwall a lifeline. Paulo Gazzaniga’s rather crazed goalkeeping in stoppage time might have undone all the first half invention in the blink of an eye. It may serve as a timely remainder that nothing is won in August.

The tantalising takeaway is that this remains far from a full strength Fulham side. Harrison Reed continues to creep closer to fitness following his ankle injury – and there’s little doubt that the Whites are a far better side with him screening the back four. Wilson’s couple of cameos suggest he could be devastating in this division again, should he curb the indiscipline that cut short another impressive display at Huddersfield. Bobby Decordova-Reid was cruelly sidelined last night so soon after his hat trick of assists at Huddersfield. Should Tom Cairney, whose class at this level simply can’t be questioned, overcome his persistent knee troubles then Silva would have plenty of selection posers to ponder over.

One thing’s for certain – it will be very exciting at Craven Cottage this season. Silva is determined to prove his point in English football and he has started in some style.

Carvalho feels the confidence flowing

Fabio Carvalho feels the sky is the limit for Fulham this season after another magnificent display at Millwall last night.

The teenager made one and scored another in a devastating first eight minutes that put Marco Silva’s side in complete command at the New Den, although the home side threatened a late comeback after Benik Afobe opened his Millwall account in bizarre circumstances. Carvalho conceded that the margin of victory should have been far greater in an interview with Fulham’s official website this afternoon:

“It was a great win for us, but it could’ve been a lot more comfortable. Towards the end of the game we felt their pressure. They got their fortunate goal and were spurred on by their fans. I want to say thank you to our fans as well, they kept us going when it got tough. They helped us see out the game and get the result we thoroughly deserved.

The game could’ve been done and dusted from the get-go. I had a few more chances I should’ve buried, we had a couple more that could’ve had us out of sight. We needed to be a bit more clinical. We spoke inside as a collective, it’s good we’re creating these chances, the clinical nature will come. If we keep performing like this, we’ll score lots of goals.”

The young playmaker revealed that hard work on the Motspur Park training ground is behind his own flying start to the season and says he is loving working under Silva.

“I’ve been working on getting into positions like that throughout my time at Fulham and through the academy. The coaches have helped me a lot. I can get behind making those runs so easily, we’ll keep creating chances. We work on Marco’s ideas every day. It’s so direct and there’s a target to every pass and position. We want to go forward and play with freedom because goals win games.

We’ve got the players to break scoring records! We’ve got players that can score, create and finish. We’ve got a great squad with a lot of talent and a blend of youth and experience. The older boys have helped me to keep pushing myself.”

Mitrovic delighted with derby win

Aleksandar Mitrovic was delighted with what he described as ‘a complete performance’ after Fulham maintained their unbeaten start to the season by beating Millwall 2-1 tonight.

The Serbian striker got Marco Silva’s side off to the perfect start at the New Den tonight – slotting home the opening goal after just three minutes following fine work from Fabio Carvalho. But Mitrovic admitted to FFCTV that he felt the Whites should have killed off the contest much earlier – and avoided a frantic finale when they were hanging on after Benik Afobe threatened to spark an unexpected Millwall comeback:

“Yeah. You feel like in the Championship if you don’t kill the game, something will happen from a corner, a throw in or a foul or something. In the end, we showed character. Maybe we should have finished the game earlier but it is a good away win and a good performance. We were really good on the ball and, in the last ten minutes, we showed that we can defend well as a team.

“We were in total control at 2-0 and we needed one more goal to kill the game. In the Championship, anything can happen in two minutes. Tonight, they showed that one goal can change everything. It was important that we held on. We were head to beat and I want to keep going, recovery in the next two days and prepare for the next one.

Mitrovic was pleased to add another goal to his freakish opener at Huddersfield at the weekend and is clearly relishing leading the line under Marco Silva after a frustrating season in the Premier League last year, when he was often overlooked by former manager Scott Parker.

“Every striker loves scoring goals. I love it. It was a nice goal – a great assist from Fab and a good finish as well. It was nice to get two goals in two games. The most important thing is that we won two games in a row and we are still undefeated this season. We have to keep this momentum going and we have to prepare for a tough game against Hull.”

Fulham’s number nine had fulsome praise for Carvalho, who added an excellent individual goal to his earlier assist, after another outstanding display belied the teenager’s tender age.

“He’s a really nice guy, an amazing player and a guy who always wants to learn. He listens a lot and he is improving every day. He will be better and better for playing with great players. He will be a top player – if he isn’t already. I think as time goes on and we get to know each other more and more, we will do better and better. I know what he thinks, how he is going to move and I know a bit about what he is doing.”

Silva salutes ‘fantastic’ Carvalho

Marco Silva heaped praise on Fabio Carvalho after the talented teenager inspired Fulham to victory over Millwall at the New Den tonight.

Carvalho, who has seamlessly stepped into injured Tom Cairney’s number ten role at the start of the Championship campaign, made the opening goal for Aleksandar Mitrovic and added a sublime second as the Whites stormed into a two-goal inside eight minutes in south east London this evening. Silva praised the playmaker’s peerless performance in his post-match press conference after Fulham held off a late Millwall rally sparked by Benik Afobe’s late strike.

“Carvalho was fantastic. It is something he has been doing since pre-season. He started well against Boro, but it is not just him. I see the team playing better achieving better things and becoming more confident and consistent.

“But he was fantastic in the second half, he was fresh, and it wasn’t just with the ball as well, he did everything we asked him to do, but he is 18 and still learning as a player. It is up to me to give him the right information and important for him to keep his feet on the floor as it is long journey for him.

The Portuguese head coach was delighted with the way his side dealt with the challenge posed by Millwall, who had been unbeaten before this London derby.

“We dominated all the game, we didn’t give them chances in our box and and created enough chances to score a third, a fourth or a fifth. You know it will be very difficult to play Millwall with this crowd and how they played but our asked them to show our quality, character and quality – and congratulations to our players.”

Classy Carvalho crafts Fulham victory

Given the dominant nature of Fulham’s first half display at the New Den, they really shouldn’t have been hanging on after Benik Afobe’s freak first goal for Millwall offered the hosts hope of an unlikely revival. Marco Silva’s side carried on from their sparkling showing at Huddersfield – brushing aside the absence of a couple of key players – to storm into a two-goal lead within eight minutes. Their catalyst was the classy Fabio Carvalho, the talented teenager who led Gary Rowett’s side a merry dance, streaking away from Millwall defenders to create the first for Aleskandar Mitrovic and rolling into a composed finish after racing onto Neeskens Kebano’s through ball to double the lead.

Carvalho has always been highly rated at Motspur Park since Fulham were alerted to his brilliant displays at Balham by a coach who happened to hold a season ticket at Craven Cottage. The Lisbon-born but London-moulded midfielder didn’t look out of place when he enlivened an already relegated Fulham side at the tail end of the Premier League season and the highest compliment you can pay him is that he has ensured that Silva has yet to miss the majesty of captain Tom Cairney in the number ten role. The need to tie him down to a contract beyond the end of the season becomes more urgent with each devastating display.

He showed a serious burst of pace to fashion Fulham’s opener – surging onto a pass down the left flank from Ivan Cavaleiro and leaving Millwall defenders trailing in his wake as he advanced along the byline before teeing up Aleksandar Mitrovic for his second goal in four days. The Serbian’s sidefooted finish from close range was more conventional than the way he broke his duck in Yorkshire – but the end result was exactly the same.

The visitors eased into a two-goal lead five minutes later. Neeskens Kebano, recalled after Bobby Decordova-Reid picked up a minor injury in the lead up to this game, sauntered into far too much space from the right and measured a perfect through ball for Carvalho. The youngster barely had to break stride after his clever run between the Millwall centre halves and surprised Bartosz Bialkowski at his near post with a clinical finish.

The only surprise by half time was that Fulham hadn’t entirely killed off the contest. Their spellbinding passages of football were reminiscent of the Tigana and Jokanovic sides that utterly dominated the division, but they couldn’t add a third despite being in complete command. The lively Kebano twisted and turned but saw a shot well blocked by Jake Cooper and when Carvalho led a lightning break from the back, Cavaleiro somehow failed to find the corner from the left angle of the penalty area. Both Kebano and Carvalho were denied by desperate bits of defending as Silva’s side finished in the ascendancy.

Rowett changed things around at half time – sending on former Fulham forward Matt Smith in a tacit admission that he had got his approach badly wrong – but the visitors still looked the more likely to score. Millwall were indebted to Bialkowski for a brilliant double save at the start of the second period – the Polish goalkeeper clawed away a Mitrovic volley and then blocked Carvalho’s follow-up. Daniel Ballard, who shone like a beacon at the heart of the home side’s stretched defence, did superbly to deny Carvalho with the goal gaping and then threw himself in front of Mitrovic to prevent the Serbian from scoring – clattering his own goalkeeper in the process.

Cooper slid in to deny Carvalho a second after excellent link-up play between Robinson and Cavaleiro down the left and Bialkowski beat away a venomous drive from the former Wolves winger as Fulham found the third goal ever so elusive. The danger of their two-goal lead was underlined when Smith headed a marvellous cross from Scott Malone fractionally over. The former Fulham front man did have a telling part to play in proceedings when his header bounced off Afobe and looped in over Paulo Gazzaniga to give Millwall hope of a miraculous comeback.

The New Den roared their approval and the Lions almost managed it. Afobe shot straight at Gazzaniga with Fulham’s defence suddenly all at sea when a bit more composure might have delivered a late leveller. Cooper had an even clearer chance deep into stoppage time after Gazzaniga had made a madcap dash to try and claim Jed Wallace’s cross but the centre back’s header flew over. It was a heartstopping end for Fulham, whose early fluency should have carried them well clear of such late drama.

MILLWALL (5-3-2): Bialkowski; Romeo (Smith 45), Malone, Ballard, M. Wallace, Cooper; Leonard (McNamara 79), Kieftenbeld (Evans 79), Saville; J. Wallace, Afobe. Subs (not used): Long, Pearce, B. Mitchell, Bradshaw.

BOOKED: Romeo, Malone, Evans, Cooper.

GOAL: Afobe (87).

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Seri, Onomah (Anguissa 45); Cavaleiro (Bryan 85), Kebano (Mawson 90+1), Carvalho, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Francois, Stansfield.

BOOKED: Mitrovic, Gazzaniga.

GOALS: Mitrovic (3), Carvalho (8).

REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham).