Marek Rodak is set to return in goal for Fulham’s trip to Preston on Saturday having missed last night’s draw with Derby County are coming into contact with someone who had contracted coronavirus when he flew back from international duty.
Paulo Gazzaniga, who had started the season as the Craven Cottage number one, stepped in for Rodak against the Rams but the Slovakian international will be available at Deepdale this weekend. Fulham head coach Marco Silva told his pre-match press conference this afternoon:
“Marek’s situation is strange. Even the day before, we had some information that everything would be okay and not a problem. “Then the next day, we were told it would be impossible for him to play. It’s a bit strange because we are talking about a player who played some days before. These are the protocols, I don’t want to talk about it, it’s in the past but he will be available for the next match.”
Silva is far from certain who else will be available for selection as the Whites look to get back to winning ways this week, with several players still feeling the aftereffects of a norovirus bug that swept through the squad earlier this week.
“It is something that we will have to check tomorrow. Not just Tom [Cairney] and Mitro but all the others as well. Of course, after the game, they will be even worse. Some of the players weren’t in the best condition. It is up to us to check again, tomorrow. We will have a conversation with the doctor to check them and take the decisions for the match. It wasn’t a perfect scenario with how we had to prepare. Even on the matchday, we had the situation of Marek and Mitro. There are no excuses because I think what Paulo did is a good example of what I want them to do.”
Silva is certain that Preston North End will prove tough opponents in front of the Sky cameras on Saturday lunchtime.
“It will be tough to play Preston. They won their last game, and it is a tough place to play. We are in a very good moment, even if yesterday we didn’t score but we created a lot of chances. We never find excuses for anything, even if something disturbs our preparation. We must look forward for the next one and try to go there to finish off the week on a high with three points.”
Marek Rodak could have been forgiven for feeling fed up in August. He started Marco Silva’s first season on the edge with the Portuguese head coach’s handpicked goalkeeper Paolo Gazzaniga preferred in between the sticks. Having been elbowed out of the first team picture by loanee Alphonse Areola after playing such a pivotal role in Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League, the Slovakian could easily have sulked. Instead, he knuckled down and resolved to take his chance when he came. After Gazzaniga’s gaffe sparked a shocking second half collapse in the Coventry rain, Rodak was restored to the starting line-up and Fulham haven’t looked back since.
A run of five consecutive clean sheets has underpinned Fulham’s fantastic recent form that has now opened up a handy six point cushion over third-placed West Brom. If you were in any doubt as to the importance of having the right man in goal, it would pay to have watched Rodak relentlessly marshall his back four in recent weeks. Even with the Whites costing at home to the Baggies and at Blackburn, the goalkeeper gave his defenders a rollocking when they found themselves out of position. At London Road yesterday, he let his gloves do the talking. Two terrific second half saves denied Jonson Clarke-Harris – his fingertip onto the far post when the striker looked certain to equalise was sublime – whilst a full length dive to keep out Joe Ward’s free-kick was equally impressive.
Patience and confidence in his own ability is something that Rodak has had to rely upon. He signed for Fulham at sixteen after a successful trial when the Whites scouting network spotted him starring inn the Kosice youth team and lesser characters might have been overwhelmed by the prospect of moving to a foreign country at a tender age. Not Rodak. He threw himself into English lessons and training sessions at Motspur Park and was soon fast tracked into the under-18 side. He was picked as the first choice keeper for Fulham’s Dallas Cup winning under-19 side in March 2013, making crucial penalty saves in the semi-final shoot-out.
Rodak went on to keep goal brilliantly as Fulham’s under 18s went all the way to the FA Youth Cup final and, after making the bench for the first team at Leeds, he got a taste of senior football on loan at Farnborough, where he made five appearances as they battled against relegation from the Conference South. Rodak had another fight with adversity at cash-strapped Welling, who didn’t win any of his first thirteen games, in an ultimately unsuccessful battle against the drop. But his character, footwork and shot-stopping ability impressed many a visiting scout – and Accrington Stanley stepped in to take Rodak on loan in January 2017.
He went straight into John Coleman’s side with Stanley anxiously looking over their shoulder at the wrong end of League Two. He kept eight clean sheets in twenty appearances as Accrington put together a thirteen-match unbeaten run to finish comfortably in mid-table after briefly flirting with the play-offs. Those assured performances attracted attention from Rotherham United, whose old school manager Paul Warne was taken by the goalkeeper’s ‘bravery’ and bolshiness. It proved an inspired decision as the Millers went up via the League One play-offs, with Rodak outstanding in the play-off final at Wembley.
He was just as impressive in a second loan spell at the New York Stadium, despite Rotherham losing their brave battle against relegation. It was after Rodak had turned down a third season at Rotherham that he stepped into the Fulham first team, displacing Marcus Bettinelli, and turning a faltering campaign around. Rodak bounced back from a nightmare first start, when he was sent off at Middlesbrough for handling outside his area, to keep fifteen clean sheets in 36 appearances as the Whites went up via Wembley with a memorable win over Brentford. He was unfortunate to be usurped by Areola in the top flight – something which probably cost him a starting spot at the European Championships, after his outstanding penalty save from the Republic of Ireland’s Alan Browne in the play-off semi-final shoot out and assured display against Northern Ireland that steered Slovakia to the finals.
But Rodak is now making the most of his opportunity. His first goalkeeping coach was his father, who had a successful goalkeeping career both in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and the youngster’s desire to match those high familial standards fuelled his early rise. His sustained excellence in the Fulham goal should now be an immense source of pride. He has worked hard on his distribution, an increasingly critical element of the modern goalkeeper’s game, and has been much more decisive in claiming crosses than Gazzaniga. Rodak’s already made a massive difference to Fulham’s season – injecting real confidence into the jittery back four that had threatened to undermine Silva’s enterprising start. Given what he has gone through in an action-packed journey to the Fulham first team, it is no surprise that he remains level headed, something which should another benefit for the Whites as the push for promotion heats up.
The Slovakian international registered his fifth consecutive clean sheet continuing a fine run of form since he displaced Paolo Gazzaniga in goal for Fulham. Rodak told FFCTV tonight:
“I’m obviously happy with the performance of the team. We dug in hard from the start for a deserved win. It was a hard, hard fought game today, happy to get a clean sheet for myself. I’m happy to not to concede a goal, we’re scoring goals and winning matches – that’s ideal.
It’s tough to come to places like this to get a win and get a clean sheet. We are confident at the moment, but every game is hard so we have to go game by game. They came out with a good tactic, they try to sit off and let us create and push on. We did, we scored and we won.”
The Fulham academy graduate made a couple of superb saves from Jonson Clarke-Harris to ensure the Whites left London Road with all three points.
Well last night was satisfying, wasn’t it? A ridiculous goal-scoring performance from Fulham has sent our goal difference into overdrive and, coupled with Bournemouth’s first defeat of the season, means that the gap at the top is down to two points. The Marco Silva transformation of this Fulham side is breath-taking and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
We have known for a while that this team has the attacking talent to blow teams away. In truth, this talent has existed for a number of seasons, but wasn’t at all utilised under Scott Parker. Silva has most of the same ingredients, Harry Wilson and Rodrigo Muniz aside, but it’s what he has done with them that has made the difference. A number of our players are in the form of their lives. Mitro is obviously in that bracket with 19 – NINETEEN- goals after 16 games so far this season. That is simply outrageous. He also has five assists so has been involved in 24 goals for Fulham so far. That’s more than 18 whole teams have scored in this league which shows you just how well he is playing this season. You get the impression that Mitrovic feels that he has a point to prove after his isolation last year so watch out for our game against Parker’s Bournemouth in a months’ time.
But there are other players who seem to have raised their game under Silva. Neeskens Kebano has transformed himself and looks dangerous every match. Tim Ream has been exceptional, as has Tosin aside from his horror tackle on Saturday. While this team is scoring goals for fun, we shouldn’t forget that we also have the second best defensive record in the league with just 14 conceded. We haven’t conceded a goal since QPR pinched one back at Craven Cottage on the 16th October. That’s four clean sheets on the bounce for Marek Rodak, which leads me nicely to my next point. Silva, isn’t afraid of making a change when he needs to. Paulo Gazzaniga had looked ropey so Silva made the change and brought Rodak back. We conceded 13 in the 11 games with Gazza, but have only conceded once in the five since Rodak has been brought back in.
It was also nice to see the goals spread about a bit last night. Scoring seven with Mitro only getting one must have been disappointing for the big fella! His assist for Harry Wilson’s first goal last night was outstanding and shows once again that his all around play right now is sensational. Kebano chipped in with two very smart finishes, but the most popular goalscorer of the night was clearly our young Brazilian, Rodrigo Muniz. If you were there last night, you’ll have seen just how thrilled the whole team was for him. Patting him on the head, hugging him, having a dance with him – it was lovely to see. He is clearly loved in the dressing room and can surely be the perfect understudy to our big Serbian. I noticed after his first goal that he ran to Silva for an embrace before the game was restarted which was also nice to see. And while Mitro never likes coming off the pitch, he came straight over to him after the final whistle with his own congratulations. This is a happy squad right now, riding on the wave of Marco Silva.
We obviously have to try and keep our heads on. We have seen that this team is still capable of a wobble, but we should also allow ourselves to enjoy what we are getting to witness right now. This is the best I have seen us play in years, and I’m loving every minute of it. Roll on Peterborough.
Rodak, who was part of Slovakia’s Euro 2020 squad but did not feature at the finals, is likely to be Stefan Tarkovic’s number one for the matches against Slovenia, Croatia and Cyprus as Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka is unavailable after undergoing foot surgery over the summer and missing the start of the Premier League season.
The 24 year-old has played second fiddle to new signing Paulo Gazzaniga at Craven Cottage so far this season but is expected to get his chance to impress Marco Silva in tonight’s League Cup tie at Birmingham City. Rodak has won six senior caps for his country and excelled as Fulham were promoted from the Championship in 2019/20 but then had to watch most of last season from the bench after the Whites signed Alphonse Areola on loan.