Why Does This Team Continue to Break My Heart? - Notes for Fulham
Friday, 7th Apr 2017 12:00 by HarryFromBath
HarryfromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Craven Cottage by delving into their forums.
“Oh Fulham, you are such a team of disappointments”, “With Fulham you sometimes just tend to know, and I know this bunch aren’t good enough for that top six. The hunger, desire, confidence, passion and winning mentality aren’t there”, “We have not played well since winning at Newcastle.”
“Back to seventh lads, rollercoaster.” Cottagers are worried that their play-off charge may have hit the buffers. Tuesday’s listless defeat at Derby was preceded by an unconvincing win at Rotherham and two poor home displays against Wolves and Blackburn which yielded just a solitary point.
“Form is such a mysterious thing”, “Our inexperience, lack of squad depth, quality, bottle and even nerve seem to be coming back and biting us on the backside”, “The players need a rest or a kick up the backside. The whole team was stale and jaded at Derby”, “We haven’t got our spark back yet.”
“We have Ipswich, Norwich, Villa, Huddersfield, Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday, all potentially hard fixtures at the best of times. How are we going to negotiate this obstacle course?”, “Our run in is really difficult. Put it this way, if we do make the top six, winning at Wembley is definitely doable.”
“We have done really well and exceeded expectations but we are not good enough yet”, “We really screwed up by not winning the easy games against Wolves and Blackburn”, “We have come a long way. We’re an excellent football team and lovely to watch but to win things you must be able to defend.”
Slavisa Jokanovic (Slav)
“Slav’s style of play has taken us from being a near relegation to now controlling our fate in a play-off race”, “Considering our first two seasons in the Championship, this achievement is nothing short of a miracle. Can anyone honestly say they would have not taken this at the start of the season?”
“Trust in Slav.” The 48-year-old Serbian guided Watford to promotion in 2015 and has been praised for overhauling the playing squad last summer and creating a side which plays a brand of attractive and stylish football. “Our manager has taken us further forward than I could ever have imagined.”
“Slav has had to rebuild the shambles of several seasons of mismanagement by the senior personnel at the club”, “He is a genius. He started the game at Newcastle with no out-and-out strikers and we scored three goals against the tightest defence in the league and smashed them off their own pitch.”
“I love Jokanovic. He’s our one ray of hope because he knows what he is doing, even if I don’t always agree with his selections”, “His selections are so predictable and at times surprising”, “I doubted him when he arrived but he has come good in a very imaginative way and deserves our fullest backing.”
“I like our football. We are obviously effective and we rip our opponents apart in some games”, “Our teamwork is some of the best in the league”, “We play with real attacking flair and intent”, “We play between the lines finding pockets of space to exploit. The long pass is exactly what we do not do.”
“Our expansive style of play that has led to so many goals being scored inevitably exposes our centre-backs and we concede more than is average too”, “As a team we go forward well but defend poorly”, “A Derby fan summed us up perfectly by saying we attack like Barcelona but defend like Barnet.”
Fulham’s starting XI for Tuesday’s loss at Derby was set up in the attacking 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system they have preferred this season. The system they use recognises the strengths of the squad. Their pacy full-backs have licence to combine with quick and technically strong wingers and attacking players.
“We have sacrificed solid defensive capability for attacking flair and intent.” Central defence is seen as a serious problem. The style of play is a contributing factor but keeper David Button and centre-back Tim Ream are seen as weak links. “The defence is where summer homework needs to begin.”
“We struggle when up against big, strong athletic strikers and teams going direct. It happened away to Newcastle when they brought Daryl Murphy on and has been happening all season”, “We push on our full-backs so far forward that the central defenders are even more vital than in most defences.”
Cairney is the side’s most creative playmaker with his passing and goals contributing greatly to a successful season. Sone Aluko, Neeskens Kebano, Floyd Ayite and Lucan Piazon all play in a similar mould, bringing speed, flair and technical ability to the side out wide or in a central attacking role.
Highly-mistrusted Derby loanee Chris Martin is the side’s only recognised striker. “We are proving that we don’t need an out-and-out striker”, “It’s a paradox, isn’t it? We don’t have a proper striker and often look like we have no idea where the goal is, yet we have scored a huge number of goals.”
An Unfinished Squad
“We have too many players in the same mould.” Jokanovic recruited 14 new players last summer and a small and unbalanced squad is viewed as an impediment to promotion this season. “We have a large number of playmakers and wingers but we need reliable centre forwards and centre-backs.”
“We have a small squad and a lack of real quality to ring the changes if we want to make a real end-of-season push”, “Our small squad is hurting us. It’s a shame but I have faith”, “The team seem a bit jaded. Our squad is not deep enough for rotation of key players and this must start to affect things.”
“We can all see there is little physical presence in this side. We do not have the midfield enforcer to support the creative boys”, “We have an embarrassment of riches in small, fast and nimble strikers and only Chris Martin who offers something different, but who is probably unlikely to do so now.”
Derby 4 – 2 Fulham
“This defeat has been coming”, “We are falling to pieces at the moment”, “That was an awful mess, making David Nugent look like Luis Suarez”, “Yet another game where we have gifted goals. This is why we are not good enough to gain promotion”, “We really love giving away gifts, don’t we?”
“Oh dear, what a great start. A soft goal.” David Nugent put Derby in front on eight minutes lifting the ball over David Button. Floyd Ayite swept in an equaliser on 35 before an unmarked Nugent added a second three minutes before the break having seen his penalty saved shortly beforehand.
The Rams confirmed victory after Nugent completed his hat-trick just before the hour mark when he charged down Button’s clearance and Johnny Russell added a fourth on 67 when he capitalised on a poor throw-out from the keeper. Ayite’s second goal on 79 minutes was nothing more than a late consolation.
“Not a day for our defence”, “All our back four are to blame for tonight”, “Derby highlighted that our defence will need major surgery whatever division we are in next season”, “Nugent had so much space to score his second goal”, “If you need to score five goals to win then it isn’t a striker issue.”
Rotherham 0 – 1 Fulham
“Phew, three points and job done”, “An unnecessarily difficult match”, “A potential banana skin has been avoided”, “Rotherham will be relegated if they lose so the spirit of their performance isn’t all that surprising”, “Their spirited performance is being easily enhanced by our lacklustre display.”
“I suppose we have to be content with scraping an ugly win.” The Cottagers confirmed Rotherham’s relegation from the Championship with an unconvincing win courtesy of Sone Aluko’s 66th minute goal. “The game had an end-of-season feeling, nothing to play for and let’s get down to the beach.”
“I hate to single out Chris Martin”, “He’s doing what he does best, disrupting our season.” The striker was selected for a first start in four games (above) but did little to impress Cottagers. “Martin cannot play against his favourite… er… parent club on Tuesday at Derby”, “He hasn’t done one good thing.”
Fulham 1 – 3 Wolves
“What the hell is going on?”, “The old Fulham are back”, “We just have not turned up today. We cannot keep throwing points away like this and expect to reach the play-offs”, “Back to how we were in the early part of the season, dominant on the ball but just managing to create one shot on target.”
Ivan Cavaleiro opened the scoring for the Wolves on 34 minutes after Helder Costa dispossessed Ryan Fredericks and Andreas Weimann doubled their lead two minutes after the interval. Substitute Denis Odoi’s looped shot on 54 halved the deficit before Dave Edwards added a third on 72 minutes.
“Our defending was shambolic”, “No bloody defence again”, “Helder Costa was too good for our full-backs. He’s a special player, certainly Premier League quality and he highlighted that we aren’t ready for promotion with these players”, “We just cannot keep dropping points against teams like this.”
“That is an attacking line-up with pace”, “Wolves will attack straight down our right flank on to Ryan Sessegnon. Ayite will give him no cover whatsoever.” Cottagers had misgivings when they saw the starting XI and their fears were well-founded. “The whole selection was far too forward thinking.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“A big decision is needed here. David Button does not deserve his place but changing goalkeeper is a big call.” The 28-year-old former Brentford man “has been a disaster waiting to happen despite his brilliant shot-stopping at times”, “He didn’t cover himself in glory for Derby’s third or fourth goals.”
David Button playing for former club Brentford
“Button is fine between the sticks but his tendency to play as an outfielder coupled with defenders who see him as some kind of sweeper is where I see a problem. Goals are too often conceded from panicked back passes which put him under pressure”, “Too many mistakes for a top-six goalkeeper.”
“Ryan Fredericks has pace down the wing and him getting behind defences has been so important to us.” The 24-year-old played for Middlesbrough on loan from then-parent club Spurs in 2014/15. “He is often our only attacking outlet”. “He is all about pace but he often lacks footballing intelligence.”
Ryan Fredericks tackled by Cardiff's Joe Bennett
“QPR did their homework on Fredericks in January and gave him no space to run into. He picked up a silly booking when his temper got the better of him”, “He has got to learn to keep his discipline as he winds himself up when opponents frustrate him”, “He’s blessed with pace but a liability sometimes.”
“Despite how much Fredericks offers a threat and pace, we seem to be better balanced with Dennis Odoi playing at right-back.” The 28-year-old summer addition from Lokeren “is a smarter defender and a better footballer”, “He isn’t much slower than Fredericks but is better in most other areas.”
“Scott Malone is extremely comfortable when defending.” The 25-year-old ex-Cardiff and Millwall full-back “is a hard worked with deceptively clever close ball control but he does need when to learn how to cross and when to cross low or high”, “He brings lots of pace, energy and work rate down the left flank.”
“Malone has some understanding of defensive positioning and communicates well with his fellow defenders”, “He is a hardened professional and a straight-out defender who will do a better job than Sessegnon when the pressure is on”, “He has been integral to Sessegnon’s successful development”
“Ryan Sessegnon is an impressive young man.” The 16-year-old youth product “is a class player and the best prospect we have but is too inexperienced to be a reliable left-back starter up against good Championship teams. It was clearly apparent that Wolves were targeting him in their recent win.”
“I’m amazed at how many games Sessegnon has played this season. It’s astonishing what he has achieved. It’s notable how our seasoned players are happy to give him the ball even allowing for his errors”, “He is more comfortable going forward with his pace and teams target space behind him.”
“Tim Ream is a disciple of the Philippe Senderos school of defending. It doesn’t matter how well he does for 88 minutes, the chances are he will do something to gift up a scoring opportunity.” The 29-year-old ex-Bolton centre-back “is decent with space and time but a worry when under pressure”.
“Ream is comfortable on the ball and passes well with a good left foot, but he is not a rough-and-tumble defender or one who relies on pace”, “He is weak and slow at the best of times”, “He lacks pace and toughness and is just not a good enough defender”, “He is not strong enough at times.”
“Michael Madl is a better ball player and a more solid defender compared to Ream.” The 29-year-old ex-Sturm Graz man “reads the game well and is quicker than Ream”, “He is quick, aggressive and is one of the better ball-playing centre-halves in the division”, “A solid defender with a fighting spirit.”
“Madl should start. He always impresses and is surprisingly good in the air. He is strong in the tackle, has good positioning and good distribution. He picks out attackers with long precise passes”, “He is better suited to playing Mick McCarthy’s robust team”, “Tomas Kalas is better when next to Madl.”
“I would sign Kalas permanently in a second if he wanted to join.” The 23-year-old loan signing from Chelsea was on loan at Middlesbrough last season. “A classy defender who suits our playing style. He is exactly what we need, someone with real quality who can both defend and pass reasonably well.”
“Kalas is reliable when called upon. He is fast, physical and one of the most athletic centre-backs in the league”, “His height is an issue we have struggled with all season at set pieces”, “A huge part of our success this season and essential in shoring up the defence and continuing our style of play.”
“Scott Parker is not great for us coming on to keep things tight. If anything, he’s better if we’re losing or chasing a winner.” The 36-year-old ex-Newcastle, West Ham and Spurs man has been reduced to cameo roles lately with a back injury. “His experience and mental strength help manage pressure.”
“Kevin McDonald is the glue that holds the midfield together.” The 28-year-old ex-Wolves player “is the architect of the side and the reason our attackers have licence to rom with the freedom to play in the way we do”, “He anchors the midfield superbly, dictating games in front of the back four.”
“McDonald has an incredible understanding of the game, breaking down play with a superb passing range”, “A linchpin and a colossus in the middle”, “He gives and takes a lot of knocks”, “The closest we have to an enforcer but he’s unable to frighten opponents with a tough uncompromising style.”
“We rely on Stefan Johansen to dominate midfield and keep things ticking over with his composed and tidy displays.” The 26-year-old Norwegian arrived last summer from Celtic. “He expends a lot of energy as a real box-to-box player”, “A great passer with a great engine who scores and assists.”
“Johansen often has to clear up on defensive duty”, “He has no back-up and needs one. You can see his level has dropped and he has looked tired in recent games”, “He has looked jaded lately which is unsurprising given his energetic displays all season”, “His form has dipped in the past few games.”
“Everything goes through Tom Cairney.” The 26-year-old ex-Blackburn man “is good at finding space and making things tick”, “He is technically brilliant and some of his goals have been sensational”, “He is one of our best players and often is the difference between two sides in contests this season.”
Tom Cairney playing for former club Blackburn
“Cairney is a wonderful player in form but non-existent when he doesn’t play”, “When the team is struggling he becomes non-existent. He thrives when the team is in the ascendancy”, “He is class to watch but is so one-footed it is there for all to see”, “Why does he bother putting his right boot on?”
Wingers and Wide Midfielders
“I love watching Neeskens Kebano play.” The 25-year-old summer arrival from Genk “is a proper player full of pace and brave as a lion”, “He is lively and electric over 10 yards and with quick feet and certainly looks confident”, “He tracks back well and wins the ball well, he has a top attitude.”
“Kebano is not an out-and-out striker but has a lot of pluses in his locker, pace, power, good upper body strength, and good first touch and timing and he okays with an aura of confidence. He knows where the goal is and that’s a massive advantage”, “Neeskens is Fulham’s version of Sadio Mane.”
“Floyd Ayite has been crucial breaking down teams that sit back and want to slow the game down and frustrate us.” The 28-year-old former Bastia man “has a great touch and draws defenders away to give strikers space to score”, “He has quickly adapted to the pace and physicality of this league.”
“Ayite really is a lottery in front of goal. Poise and composure should be a given and are not, work on them”, “His finishing leaves something to be desired bit his tricks and skill are a joy to watch every week”, “He gives us that added edge running at defenders with pace when teams park the bus.”
“I can’t think of many forwards in the Championship I would swap Aluko for”, “He works so hard and is brilliant at dribbling and keeping hold of the ball. If his finishing was better he would be playing for a top team”, “He is sublime on the ball, some of his through balls and assists have been just divine.”
The 28-year-old summer arrival from Hull “is under-rated by a lot of fans. He is the player that makes the difference when we attack. It is noticeable how things happen when he is on the ball, the best at beating opponents and opening things up for others. Defenders panic when he gets on the ball.”
“Cyriac looks a natural striker and is full of energy.” The 26-year-old Ivory Coast international arrived on loan from Oostende in January and is being used as bench option. “He’s not a back to goal player but he will run wide and use the ball there or run on to things in the middle and finish”, “He will be dangerous against slow centre-backs and he jumps well for someone who is not naturally very tall.”
“Cyriac is physically similar to what we already have but he seems to be more comfortable playing in the middle, rather than being a converted winger”, “He looks very lively but it is evident that he does not have the understanding with the midfielders and wingers that will come with more game time.”
“Lucas Piazon is a very different player to our other attackers, both subtle in movement and clever in possession. He doesn’t catch the eye but has pace and guile to beat people.” The 23-year-old is on a season-long loan from Chelsea missed six games after injuring his jaw but returned against Derby.
“Piazon is hardly a dynamic game-changer, more somebody to throw on as a last roll of the dice”, “He is as useful as a petrol-based fire extinguisher, not a centre forward and we have better players for the inside-forward role”, “He is weak in possession but has good control and a good first touch.”
“Our top centre forward has burned his bridges left, right and centre by refusing to play for the club”, “His attitude and lazy manner, his lack of effort and application are there for all to see”, A sculpture that moves occasionally when it wants to”, “He seems to be in premature retirement.”
Chris Martin takes on Webster
The 28-year-old joined on loan from parent club Derby in August but he incurred the wrath of West Londoners for making himself unavailable for Fulham’s December trip to Reading. Derby’s wish for him to return early was vetoed by the Cottagers and the episode has left some lingering bad feeling.
“Martin is very divisive. He doesn’t look bothered”, “He offers nothing. He comes on and our heads drop. He moans at everyone around him but fails to do simple things like hold the ball up and make himself available for the pass”, “He will get goals against his old enemy Ipswich when we play them.”
Cottagers’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Let’s do Ipswich in style on Saturday”, “We have to beat Ipswich otherwise it will be a mountain to climb”, “Ipswich will be another Wolves or Blackburn type side and will make it difficult for us”, “If we can’t beat Ipswich at home playing our natural game, then we simply are not good enough.”
Cottagers believe they have a stronger team and are broadly confident of winning on Saturday. This has not stopped a minority questioning whether their nerve will hold given their recent run of poor results and having slipped out of the play-off places after Tuesday’s defeat at Derby.
“Every game is now unpredictable. I can't even say we will beat Ipswich with confidence although they are one of the worst teams I have seen this season”, “Our current form is the issue. I’m not confident at all in beating Ipswich”, “Let’s hope the visitors don’t win too many corners.”
“Ipswich on Saturday at Craven Cottage is a chance to outwit Mick McCarthy, that really shouldn't be that difficult”, “With a tough game against a physical Mick McCarthy Ipswich side coming up we will get one point at least”, “McCarthy is guaranteed to set his stall out to rough Fulham up.”
“Ipswich will set their stall out not to lose so Slav needs to outwit them. The players need to outrun them, out-pass them, out-compete them and out-fight them. McCarthy will fire his players up so we will need lots of energy on the field of play if we are to secure maximum points.”
“I think Chris Martin should start”, “I would play him in this game. Want him to or not, he will handle the physicality Ipswich will bring”, “He knows where the goal is and he won't easily be muscled out by the opposition. It will also be a good test of whether or not he is up for the rest of the season.”
Some Cottagers took a dim view of some of our January transfer business. “If you think we were bad take a look at what McCarthy has been doing at Ipswich. He has a couple of seemingly half-decent signings but he has also signed three players from outside the EFL on decent length contracts.
“One was unattached and two have been around the hoop in the Conference. Kieffer Moore from Forest Green was not even a regular in their team and has been loaned all over the place. McCarthy claims he will terrorise defences. I wish them well but can’t help wondering how long they will last?”
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