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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.

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. 

Max is an 18-year-old football journalist studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Max specialises in English football, is an avid follower of Fulham, and co-hosts a weekly Fulham podcast. He is also a politics reporter and deputy news editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Fulham

How Fulham’s Denis Odoi went from defensive liability to play-off hero

The 29-year-old grabbed the Cottagers’ winner in the play-off semi-final

Max Cohen

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Denis Odoi
Photo: Getty Images

Carried off the pitch on the shoulders of an adoring Craven Cottage crowd, Denis Odoi enjoyed his finest footballing moment in Fulham’s 2-0 play-off semi-final win over Derby.

The Belgian defender scored a sensational headed winner to send the Whites to Wembley, but few would have predicted Odoi would play the hero on Monday night.

How did a player once derided as a defensive liability become Fulham’s play-off saviour?

Ever since making the switch from Belgian football to Fulham in the summer of 2016, Odoi had struggled to nail down a starting spot at the Cottage.

Previously best known for an audacious bit of skill he pulled off against Newcastle on his debut, the 29-year-old became infamous for defensive lapses and poor giveaways.

Perhaps his lowest point in a Fulham shirt came this December, when Odoi was senselessly sent off in a dreadful 3-1 loss to Brentford.

His two yellow cards in quick succession were easily avoidable; afterwards, it looked set that the centre-back pairing of Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream would reign supreme for the rest of the season.

But after Kalas suffered a hip injury against Wolves in late February, Odoi has seamlessly marshalled the Fulham backline alongside Ream.

Even when the Chelsea loanee returned to fitness, the Belgian has kept him out of the starting lineup with superb performances filled with excellent tackles, a strong aerial presence, and intelligent interceptions.

Since Odoi replaced Kalas, Fulham have kept a remarkable seven clean sheets in the following 14 matches, in which Odoi has played every minute.

Odoi’s play-off performances have thrust him firmly into Fulham folklore.

In the narrow first-leg defeat at Pride Park, the centre-back made a number of stunning interceptions to cut out dangerous crosses that would have resulted in certain goals.

These vital interventions meant the scoreline was kept a manageable 1-0, allowing Odoi to rise highest from a corner and send Fulham to the play-off final.

During May 26’s match at Wembley, expect Denis Odoi to continue his recent resurgence

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Tottenham must loan back Ryan Sessegnon to Fulham if they sign him this summer

Tottenham Hotspur is the best place for Ryan Sessegnon long-term, but he still has a lot to learn.

Mathew Coull

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Last night saw Fulham book their place in the Championship play-off final with a 2-0 win over Derby County. Denis Odoi’s unlikely header proved the crucial goal as Fulham won 2-1 on aggregate. But there is no stopping Fulham’s teen sensation Ryan Sessegnon from making headlines. He scored the equaliser in the game, helping send Fulham to Wembley.

Sessegnon’s fine season at Craven Cottage has seen him linked with a number of top clubs around Europe. One team considered to be a favourite in the race for his signature are Tottenham Hotspur. Their London proximity and ability to develop young talent has seen them tipped as his best move by many.

Sessegnon, who The Times report is valued at £50 million by Fulham, should undoubtedly be a target for Spurs.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Last night’s performance only highlighted the fact that Sessegnon could be a star in the making and Spurs would be right to make a switch become reality.

However, his performance over both legs of the play-offs also confirms another matter. If Tottenham were to sign the 17-year-old, they should send him back to Fulham on loan for next season.

Sessegnon is clearly a world-class talent in the making. But throughout the play-off fixture, it became apparent that the finished article he is not.

He struggled at times with Derby’s defensive work and, tracking back, he often found himself out of position. Obviously, he is a fantastic talent but there are still many aspects of his game that need improving.

He still needs another season at Fulham to truly blossom into the player Spurs want and, in an ideal world, Tottenham would wait until next summer to sign him. But with the likes of PSG and Manchester United loitering Spurs have to act fast.

Bringing him and sending him out on loan would not be a bad idea. Hopefully, Fulham will be in the Premier League and the teenager can learn the ropes of top-flight football whilst still at his boyhood club.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Then, next summer, Spurs would have an even more developed young talent – similar to the situation when they signed Dele Alli from MK Dons.

Sessegnon will still only be 19-years-old by the start of next season and Spurs will have acquired an even more rounded footballer in the process.

It would be the best move for all parties, especially the player himself.

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Why Fulham fans shouldn’t despair ahead of Monday’s play-off second leg

The Whites lost 1-0 away to Derby in the first leg.

Max Cohen

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Fulham
Photo: Getty Images

In the aftermath of Fulham’s 1-0 play-off semi-final first leg defeat away to Derby County, a feeling of disgust and dismay fell over the Cottagers fanbase.

Despite dominating shots, possession, passes, and corners, Fulham failed to find a cutting edge and continued their shocking winless play-off run.

However, Fulham supporters should avoid the tendency to panic heading into Monday’s second leg at Craven Cottage, as the Whites were the better side on Friday night and possess a superb home unbeaten run.

Against Derby, the Whites were at times far too pedestrian, playing football at a walking pace and failing to break down the well-drilled Rams defence.

In addition, a frustrating number of attacks seemed forced down the middle, where Aleksandar Mitrovic was heavily watched all night long and was scarcely given an inch of space.

Nonetheless, Fulham’s second-half performance offers lots of encouragement for the Cottagers faithful. The away side clearly came out of the changing rooms with a point to prove and began the second half brightly.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Kevin McDonald rattled the crossbar with a fierce long-range effort, Floyd Ayite nearly converted a first-time volley, and Fulham essentially camped outside Derby’s penalty area for three-quarters of an hour.

But it is clear that a shift in mentality and incisiveness is required for Monday night’s encounter at Craven Cottage.

Being the better side is useless when one cannot convert a scoring chance; Fulham must look to be more direct at home and take shots on goal whenever possible.

Another area for encouragement is the fortress that Slavisa Jokanovic’s side has built at Craven Cottage.

The Whites are unbeaten at home since a 2-0 Halloween defeat to Bristol City, and have beaten the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, and Leeds United during that spell.

Jokanovic summed it up best in his post-match comments on the club’s official website, urging his team to show belief and fighting spirit.

“We must not let ourselves get too frustrated and remain confident as we showed quality and had a good mentality,” Jokanovic said. “What we want to do is now change this story and win the game on Monday night and fight for the opportunity to play at Wembley.”

Fulham must not despair after their Pride Park loss; there is still everything to play for on Monday night and their Wembley dream is still within reach.

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