Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak has signed a new three-year contract and rejoined Rotherham United on a season-long loan, the club have confirmed this evening.
The Slovakian under-21 international is highly rated at Motspur Park and made his first-team debut in Fulham’s League Cup victory at Wycombe Wanderers last season. He enjoyed a successful loan spell at the New York Stadium last season, making 38 senior appearances as he helped the Millers’ return to the Championship at the first attempt – as they won the League One play-off final, beating Shrewsbury Town 2-1 after extra time at Wembley.
Rodak, who has previously had loan spells with Farnborough, Welling and Accrington Stanley, was one of Paul Warne’s leading summer transfer targets and is understood to be keen to test himself at Championship level whilst gaining further first-team experience. He could be involved in Rotherham’s latest pre-season friendly against Premier League side Cardiff City this evening.
Kevin McDonald was delighted that Fulham ground out a vital win at the New York Stadium yesterday – and believes that sort of gritty performance is exactly what the Whites will need if they are to reach the Championship play-offs.
The Scottish midfielder felt that Fulham’s progression into the top six – which came courtesy of a scrappy winner from Sone Aluko – has been in a long time in coming. Remaining in the play-off positions in a ridiculously competitive and unpredictable league will require different reserves of character, too. McDonald, speaking to GetWestLondon after the final whistle yesterday, felt that relegated Rotherham offered a real test:
It was long overdue and we’ve had a couple of chances to get in there and we’ve done it after which, for me, was one of the toughest games of the season. We just edged it but they had a couple of chances but luckily enough we got the three points.
I think the pitch wasn’t ideal and it was really slow and bobbly and it was a game between two different types of teams – they want to play the long ball and they were good at it today, while we try to play football.
That’s us, we try to play football all the time and we really struggled to play it today and our pass completion rate was probably the lowest of the season today but sometimes to get promoted you need games like that where you fight for your lives and I felt we did that today.
McDonald admitted that Sheffield Wednesday’s failure to win at Barnsley gave Fulham a boost prior to kick off, but was relieved that the Whites managed to take advantage of another stumble by the Owls.
We went out for the warm up and there were rumours floating around that it was 1-1 and heard it was when we came back in and obviously it gives you an extra incentive but we knew we had to win regardless of their result so thank god we did.
Slavisa Jokanovic described Fulham’s victory at Rotherham yesterday as ‘a great step’ in their push for a Championship play-off place.
The Whites moved into the top six for the first time since mid-September after Sone Aluko ended an extraordinary goalmouth scramble to prod home the goal that relegated the Millers from no more than a couple of yards out. Jokanovic was pleased his side displayed the composure and patience to break down a resolute Rotherham side who had started the contest well.
It’s a great step for us, after a very tough game. We knew we’d have to concentrate to score the goal and finish the game without making too many mistakes. I’ve said before that I miss 1-0 victories, and we scored one goal and finished the game with a clean sheet. In the end we found this kind of situation, and this is good news for us.
The Serbian head coach insisted that Fulham paid little attention to events in the early kick off 15 miles away at Oakwell, where Angus MacDonald’s injury-time header saw Sheffield Wednesday stumble once again.
We tried to be focused on our job and thinking about what we can do in this competition. We weren’t thinking about Sheffield Wednesday, about teams in front or behind us.
It’s simple, we tried to focus on our job and try to find our best performance, especially in what is a crucial part of the competition. We must be focused and concentrate on not making mistakes, and try to win as many points as possible.
REPORT BY TOMMY LAWLESS
Sone Aluko’s scrambled second half strike proved enough to consign Rotherham to relegation from the Championship as Fulham finally took advantage of a Sheffield Wednesday slip-up to move into the play-off positions. Paul Warne’s side have long been beleaguered at the foot of the table so confirmation of their demotion was not a surprise – the finality of it will be tough to take for a proud man who was managing with a hand tied behind his back for much of season. Fulham were far from their best in Yorkshire, but Aluko’s predatory instincts lifted the Whites into the top six for the time since September.
Rotherham, whose 2,000th home league fixture won’t be looked upon with much fondness, began with a purpose after Warne opted to play a compact midfield four that initially befuddled Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen in the middle for Fulham. But the home side failed to take advantage of catching Slavisa Jokanovic’s side cold, with no greater culprit than Danny Ward, who should have found the net having got between Tomas Kalas and the recalled Michael Madl, to reach Joe Newell’s devilish cross – but headed wide.
David Button’s reflexes were tested by Lee Frecklington’s long-ranger curler that looked destined for the top corner before the Fulham goalkeeper clawed it away to safety. Fulham saw plenty of the ball and stroked it around patiently, but struggled to create clear-cut openings as they sought to capitalise on Wednesday’s failure to hold onto a narrow lead at Oakwell in the Yorkshire derby. Aluko skewed a hopeful effort wide from the edge of the box – and you could almost hear Jokanovic bellowing for more during the half-time team talk.
Fulham’s Serbian head coach should have got his wish shortly after the break. A quick counter attack saw Neeskens Kebano fly down the left and, Cairney, cleverly drew the last defender, to present Chris Martin with the simplest of finishes, but the striker, who kept his composure with a vital finish for Scotland in midweek, falling to find a telling touch with the goal gaping.
The Millers might have made Martin pay a heavy price merely seconds afterwards when Jon Taylor stabbed his shot straight at a grateful Button after Newell had cut the ball back to the six-yard line. The game was becoming far more stretched – something that you felt would suit Fulham’s penchant for lightening breaks under Jokanovic and so it proved.
The goal was a good old-fashioned scramble though – owing much more to sheer persistence than style. Scott Malone burst into the box but Stefan Johansen’s shot was bravely blocked by Darnell Fisher and a Cairney effort ballooned up to Chris Martin, who flicked a header down. Substitute Floyd Ayite swung a boot at the loose ball only for his shot to bounce off goalkeeper Lewis Price, but Aluko did finally force home from barely two yards out. It was a horribly untidy goal – but that mattered little to the delirious 1,200 Fulham fans behind the goal
It was after Aluko’s intervention that Fulham’s comfort in possession came into its own, largely blunting the bottom side’s spirited attempt to rescue something from the afternoon. Rotherham’s revival bid was derailed by untimely injuries to Fisher and skipper Frecklington and when Ward appeared favourite to atone for his early miss, Ryan Fredericks arrived to block the shot on the stretch. The clearest chance came in stoppage time but it dropped to the wrong man in centre half Aymen Belaid as the Tunisian defender shot wildly over the bar.
This was from the sort of convincing performance Fulham might have wanted to turn in against a side that has long been marooned to the foot of the table, but in many ways the graft to grind out a narrow victory was impressive. It could indicate that Jokanovic’s side are peaking at the right time – and Jokanovic and company will head to Derby on Tuesday in very good heart.
ROTHERHAM UNITED (4-4-2): Price, Vaulks, Fisher (Purrington 76), Ajayi, Belaid; Frecklington (Forde 76), Smallwood, Taylor, Newell; Ward, Morris. Subs (not used): O’Donnell, Kelly, Wood, Bray.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Fredericks, Malone (Ream 90+4), Kalas, Madl; McDonald; Johansen, Cairney; Kebano (Ayite 63), Aluko (R. Sessegnon 90+2), Martin. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sigurdsson, Petsos, Cyriac.
GOAL: Aluko (66).
REFEREE: Tim Robinson (Sussex).
Floyd Ayite’s sudden burst of goals hasn’t come as a surprise to Fulham head coach Slavisa Jokanovic.
The Togolese winger opened his club account with two fine headers at Wolves at the weekend – the second stooping header rescuing a point in injury-time after Fulham had blown a 3-1 lead – and then popped up with the winner against bottom of the table Rotherham at Craven Cottage. Jokanovic, who purchased Ayite from Bastia for a fee of around £1.7m, insisted the 27 year-old’s success was never in doubt – but that his progress at Craven Cottage was hampered by an untimely injury.
He’s not doing anything differently. He started the season very well, but he spent a month injured. We know he’s a quality player, not only scoring goals, but also working very well. He’s a player who is important right now, and he’s going to be more important in the future.
When I spoke with him before he wasn’t especially happy because he wasn’t scoring goals. Now it’s good news for him. I think now he’s going to start believing in himself more strongly, and that’s good news for us too.
At this rate, Fulham will sorely miss Ayite’s predatory instincts when he departs for the African Cup of Nations with Togo in January.