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Fulham’s resilience leads to a jubilant January

A resilient January for Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham, both on and off the pitch, has set the club up in perfect fashion for the Championship run-in, writes Cottagers Columnist Max Cohen.

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Photo: Reuters

It has quite simply been a splendid month for Fulham Football Club, a feat few would have predicted it at the outset of the new year. 

As January commenced, the transfer rumours swirling above Craven Cottage dominated the headlines. Slavisa Jokanovic was unsettled, Ryan Sessegnon looked set to leave for a top team and captain Tom Cairney seemed to be on his way out as well. 

Yet, from an atmosphere of off-the-pitch dysfunction emerged the most in-form team in England. The Whites took the month by storm, winning all four of their league matches by a combined score of 14-2. It was the ultimate statement of intent: Fulham were on the up, and everyone knew it. 

Each of the four victories showcased a different aspect of the squad, with every winning performance a testament to the strength of the Cottagers. 

The new year began with a 4-1 comeback victory over Ipswich Town at the Cottage, a match in which Fulham started poorly and were behind at the half.

However, after a dollop of good fortune, which saw the Tractor Boys went down to ten men after a moment of madness, Fulham turned up the gas and blew Ipswich away in the span of seven minutes. The purple patch brought four goals, two for Sessegnon and two for Aboubakar Kamara- the previously maligned French striker who finally seems to be hitting top form. 

After a brief set back defeat to Southampton in the FA Cup, Fulham faced undoubtedly their toughest match of the month. Away on Teesside to a formidable Middlesbrough, newly managed by Tony Pulis.

This was no easy assignment and nd it showed during the vast majority of the match, as Fulham were outplayed and outmuscled. The Whites massively rode their luck, but when it mattered, they stepped up and stole the three points through Oliver Norwood’s late penalty.

It was the ultimate smash and grab, a feat only bettered a fortnight later at Oakwell. 

Still riding the high of Boro victory, Fulham hosted Burton Albion and taught them a footballing lesson. From minute one until the very end, Fulham bossed the game, dominating possession, shots, and chances en route to a commanding 6-0 victory.

Rui Fonte ended his months-long goal drought with a brace, Lucas Piazon marked his return to the side with a goal, and the sensational Sessegnon bagged a double. The play-off places were in touching distance. 

Fulham finally reached the hallowed sixth position thanks to another scrappy, yet utterly rewarding, away victory. Down 1-0 again, the Whites received the benefit of a silly sending off, but played with less quality than was evident against Ipswich. Nevertheless, Fulham found a way to win, with Kevin McDonald bundling home the scrappiest of scrappy goals in stoppage time. 

The constant theme of the January renaissance was that no matter what, Fulham found a way to win. From home thrashings to undeserved away wins, the Cottagers did what it took to get the three points.

It was a side of Fulham that had been rarely seen this season, or for many of the past five years. The Cottages have been, for so long, the club at the hands of crushing late goals, unfortunate refereeing decisions, and missed penalties. 

Now the Whites are winning matches in the dying minutes, benefiting from red cards, and slotting home spot-kicks with ease. This is a new Fulham. A Fulham that screams confidence, class, and composure. 

It is this newfound swagger that very well may prove the difference between last year’s failure and this year’s potential success. Fulham are hitting their stride and winning at every opportunity and in every situation. This is a team capable of not only the top-six, but even automatic promotion. 

To make the month even more impressive, the run of form has coincided with drama over arguably Fulham’s most internal player, Tom Cairney.

Linked with West Ham over the weekend and struggling with a persistent knee injury, Cairney has featured sparingly in January, but Fulham have kept rolling regardless. This depth is also a key factor in a possible improvement on 2017’s play-off heartbreak. 

Add in to the mix the deadliest finisher in the Championship (17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon), the strongest central midfielder in the league (Kevin McDonald), and a goalkeeper whose very presence signals a dramatic uptick in form (Marcus Bettinelli), Fulham are a side to fear.

With a remarkable January in the books, the Whites are the team to beat in the Championship. Roll on February. 

16 year old avid Fulham supporter. "It's just banter"

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Fulham

Why it is déjà vu for Slavisa Jokanovic at Craven Cottage

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Slavisa Jokanovic
Photo: Reuters

For most clubs, the opening of the transfer window brings newfound optimism and excitement, filled with intrigue and hopes for an impact addition to the squad. Yet for Fulham in the Slavisa Jokanovic era, there is a far different flavour to the window: one of public spats and constant displeasures voiced to the media.

In the run-up to last weekend’s FA Cup Third Round loss against Southampton, the Serb unleashed another of his patented transfer tirades. Jokanovic expressed his disappointment with the club’s supposed lack of ambition in the market, and offered a provocative solution to the problem: he should be sacked.

To many Fulham fans, these sentiments are far from a revelatory bombshell. One only has to look back to late July for a similar outburst. Then, Slavisa claimed his transfer list was being completely ignored”, in addition to stating his support for Sone Aluko, who he said he was fighting to keep at the club. In the end, Aluko was sold to Reading, seemingly against Jokanovic’s best wishes.

The fractious history doesn’t end there. Back in August 2016, after Fulham’s impressive unbeaten start to the Championship season, Jokanovic was frustrated with Fulham’s lack of transfers.

Add in the Craig Kline disaster, in which the controversial American data analyst had an outsize say over transfers and clashed with Jokanovic, one gets a recipe for managerial discontent.

It is certainly clear that there are still problems behind the scenes at Fulham, illustrating that the departure of Kline has done little to cool the tensions between Slavisa and the club’s ownership. Yet the public voicing of disapproval from Jokanovic has to stop.

The state of affairs regarding the club’s transfer policy indicates serious issues behind the scenes. At any organisation, issues such as Jokanovic’s should be dealt with behind closed doors, rather than publicly aired in the media. If the manager truly felt aggrieved, he should take these matters up privately with the ownership.

No matter how annoyed Slavisa may be, taking internal disputes public is counterproductive and can only make matters worse. The fact that he has complained publicly for the past three windows shows the collapse of normal communication measures at the club.

But this does not indicate a club in crisis; Fulham is by no means in disaster mode. The new plans to redevelop the Riverside Stand, the retained Category One status of the academy, and the gleaming new Motspur Park training ground are all prominent examples of the healthy state of Fulham Football Club.

Much of the public posturing can be attributed to Slavisa’s sometimes abrasive demeanor. These threats have persisted throughout his tenure at SW6, and the Serb has stayed with the club and expressed his desire to take the Whites to the Premier League. Surely if Slavisa truly intended on leaving, he would have deserted Fulham long ago?

Jokanovic’s public outbursts appear to be nothing more than the manager throwing his toys out of the pram. The threats and ‘back me or sack me’ proclamations carry little weight and only serve to disrupt the club. The media focus should have been on Fulham’s superb dismantling of Ipswich in midweek, yet instead Slavisa’s petulance dominates the headlines.

Fulham supporters hope they have heard the end of their manager’s complaints, and will be hopeful of bringing in Matt Targett, who has been linked by Sky Sports, on loan in the coming days. Slavisa hopefully has learned his lesson, and given his comments following the Southampton match, he intends to change his ways.

“If somebody is hurt, sorry, I’m not going to [talk] anymore”, Jokanovic told BBC Radio London“I’m going to be quiet and [continue] coaching my team.”

For the sake of Fulham and its stability, let us hope Slavisa Jokanovic honours his word.

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Championship

What is responsible for Fulham’s slow start to the Championship season?

Jake Jackman

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Fulham

Fulham were billed as one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League this season after an impressive 2016/17 campaign. The Cottagers were labelled as one of the best teams to watch in the Championship during the second half of last season. Their form in 2017 was excellent as they won 15 of their 26 matches across all competitions heading into the play-offs. This included an eye-catching 3-1 victory against Newcastle United at St James’ Parks.

Although they finished in sixth position, they were the bookmakers’ favourites to win the play-offs, but they were defeated in the semi-final by Reading. It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time as they had a lot of momentum and looked ready to enter the top-flight again. However, the lottery of the play-offs means that they fell short.

It was a difficult failure to bounce back from, but Fulham supporters saw the improvement that the club had made under Slavisa Jokanovic and entered the new season with the hope of another promotion challenge. After 15 matches, they find themselves in the bottom half and are already six points behind the top six. A total of four wins is a huge disappointment and there are questions being asked about the where it has gone wrong for the West London club.

Where has it gone wrong?

In one sense, Fulham have been a victim of their own success, as they lost three key players during the summer. Scott Malone was excellent at left-back and offered a good attacking support, contributing six goals and three assists. His performances earned him a move to the Premier League with Huddersfield Town. Sone Aluko was another that departed during the summer after a long saga. The winger was one of the side’s best attackers, contributing eight goals and ten assists to the team’s play-off assault.

Fulham

Throughout the summer, he was heavily linked with Reading and he eventually made the move to the side that bear Fulham in last season’s play-offs for a fee of £7.5 million. It was difficult for the Cottagers to turn down considering they signed the player on a free transfer 12 months earlier. The third and final big departure was Chris Martin, who returned to Derby County after a loan spell. He was at the centre of controversy during his time at Craven Cottage, but he was a crucial part of the team’s success and they failed to replace him sufficiently.

The biggest problem for Fulham has been the failure to find a striker to lead the line. Aboubakar Kamara and Rui Fonte were signed to strengthen their forward options, but the pair have contributed three goals and one assist between them in 22 matches. This isn’t good enough and their failure to hold up the ball like Martin did last season has reduced the side’s attacking threat.

Jokanovic needs to be more adaptable with his tactics, as his team have become static and predictable to play against this season. The loss of key players has left the current style ineffective, as teams are pressing Fulham high up the pitch and limiting the space on the flanks, which stops the full-backs from being as influential.

Last season, Ryan Fredericks and Ryan Sessegnon averaged a goal involvement every 306.4 minutes. This season, it stands at 517.8 minutes. Fulham are being forced to operate further away from the opposition goal, as they lacked a physical presence up front capable of holding the ball up and bringing others into the game. By the time they reach the final third, the opposition have enough men back to defend the space effectively.

Fulham

Against Bolton Wanderers, they created little in terms of clear-cut chances and were lucky to come away with a point. This is a team that will be fighting relegation and are currently bottom of the division, but they came to Craven Cottage with a game-plan and earned a point from the game. They packed the midfield area and forced Fulham to rely on crosses from deep and hopeful long balls. It was quite a change from the free-flowing football that was consistently played last season.

Supporters will allude to the loss of Tom Cairney through injury for a long period this season and that has been a factor. However, a team challenging for promotion shouldn’t be reliant on one player. Their current position of 16th means that the Scottish international is facing a lot of pressure to immediately come back into the team and make an impact. He scored the equaliser against Bolton, but they need others to step up and support him.

Can they recover their season?

The Championship is a tight league and the beauty of the division is that a few wins can lift you into play-off contention. Despite the failures of the summer’s recruitment, Fulham have a good squad and a manager that is revered as one of the division’s best. It has been a difficult start, but they have lost only four of the 15 matches. If they had turned three of their seven draws into wins, they would be tied on points with Derby County in 6th position.

The next three matches are huge for Fulham and there is no margin for error. They face three of the current top six in Wolves, Derby County and Sheffield United. It is a difficult run of fixtures, but they must approach it with the intention of taking points if they are to move back into promotion contention. The improving fitness level of Tom Cairney will help, but the rest of the team must do more. There will be money to spend in January, but Fulham could find themselves out of contention by that stage if things don’t improve.

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Chelsea

Five players to watch from the England Under-17 World Cup squad

Jake Jackman

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England

England Under-17s delivered a dominant performance to beat Brazil to reach the Under-17 World Cup final on Wednesday. The team excited the nation as they were confident on the pitch, attacking the Brazilians with pace and purpose down the flanks. It wasn’t a display that was typical of English teams and offered hope that a brighter future is ahead for the Three Lions.

The concern will be that the league structure in this country isn’t the best for nurturing talent, but there is no doubt that the talent is there. The age groups from Under-17s to Under-21s have all fared well in major competitions in 2017. The Under-20 team won the World Cup and this Under-17 side will be hoping to replicate that success on Saturday. Here are five players to keep an eye on from the squad:

Steven Sessegnon

The Fulham full-back is one of the best talents to come through at Craven Cottage in recent times alongside his brother Ryan, who is already a first-team regular. Steven made his first-team debut earlier this season and has been described as the future of club by his manager Slavisa Jokanovic.

Like his brother, he has a lot of pace and is reliable in possession, capable of carrying the ball for long distances. Against Brazil, he was regularly trying to get forward to support attacks and offered a threat. Tottenham and Everton have both been linked with him, but he is currently at the right club to progress his career.

Tashan Oakley-Boothe 

The central midfielder is at the perfect club to make his first strides into senior football.

Tottenham have become the place to be for young English talent and Oakley-Boothe has been on the fringes of the first team under Mauricio Pochettino. He made his first-team bow against Barnsley earlier this season and has been on the bench for a Premier League fixture.

The teenager is confident on the ball and good at winning back possession, as has been evident throughout the competition. More opportunities could be on the horizon when he returns to Spurs as his manager is already a big fan.

Soccer Football – Brazil vs England – FIFA U-17 World Cup Semi-Final – Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata, India – October 25, 2017. England’s team celebrates their win. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

George McEachran

His older brother, Josh, was billed as the best player to graduate from the Chelsea academy, but he failed to make an impact in the first-team. The Blues have similarly high hopes for George and he will be itching to go one step further than his older sibling.

He is a similar player, as he is comfortable in possession, but he is more offensive and can be used further forward or on the wings. The midfielder has scored crucial goals for the youth teams at Stamford Bridge and his performances at the Under-17 World Cup enhance his reputation.

It could be a while before he plays for the first-team, but he is likely to be seen out on loan in the not too distant future.

Phil Foden

The player on this list with the best chance of making first-team progress this season is Phil Foden and he was the standout player against Brazil. Pep Guardiola is a known fan and has brought him up to the fringes of the first-team squad at Manchester City.

The midfielder is comfortable with the ball in tight spaces and distributes it intelligently for a player of his age. Coaches at the club have been excited about him since he joined as a child and a first-team debut is surely just around the corner.

Soccer Football – Brazil vs England – FIFA U-17 World Cup Semi-Final – Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata, India – October 25, 2017. England’s Rhian Brewster celebrates his goal. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

Rhian Brewster – Liverpool

It will be the young striker that takes the headlines tomorrow and deservedly so. He scored a hat-trick for the second successive round and is currently on course to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.

Brewster is a confident and accomplished finisher as he has shown during the last two matches, while his free-kick against Mexico in an earlier round was superb. His movement and technique on the ball mean that he is difficult to defend against.

There will be several Liverpool fans that will be hoping he gets a chance at some point during this season.

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