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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

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.

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Fulham

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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West Ham should sign Aleksandar Mitrovic who just can’t stop scoring

The 23-year-old has 12 goals in 13 appearances since his Championship arrival.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

With the likes of Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez being linked with moves away from East London, West Ham should look no further than to their London neighbours for reinforcements in attack, with Fulham loanee striker Aleksandar Mitrovic firing on all fronts for the Cottagers since his January move.

According to the Daily Mail, Mitrovic’s parent club Newcastle have stated they are willing to sell the striker, with Rafa Benitez hopeful of securing a significant fee that he can reinvest.

Mitrovic cost the Magpies £13 million when he initially joined but the North East side want to make a healthy profit, while the player himself is keen on a move away from St James’ Park.

The Serbian striker has been a revelation at Craven Cottage and Slavisa Jokanovic’s use of his fellow countryman has seen the 23-year-old striker become prolific on all fronts in the Championship.

Mitrovic joined on the final day of January’s transfer window and has scored 12 goals in his last 13 games, helping Fulham cement an automatic promotion chase.

Despite missing out on the final day after their 3-1 defeat to Birmingham City, Mitrovic can still fire Fulham to the Premier League via the play-offs and showcase why he is deserving of a second chance in the Premier League.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Reports from the Daily Star suggest that David Moyes is to be given a hefty spending spree for the summer and Mitrovic could prove to be the perfect transfer target.

Marko Arnautovic has proved a success in his debut season for the Hammers, registering 10 goals in the league to see him the club’s top-scorer this season.

However, the Austrian international is not an established out-and-out striker and the arrival of a forward partner could see the 29-year-old replicating the form of this season.

The signing of Javier Hernandez has not proved successful since his summer move from Bayern Leverkusen, reported by BBC Sport to be in the region of £16 million.

The former Manchester United striker has been left frustrated on the bench and has even been linked with a move back to his former club Chivas, as confirmed by ESPN.

In the case of 29-year-old Andy Carroll, the club must look to sell him as quickly as possible.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

With only eight starts to date this season, he has not made more than 18 starts in a single season since he joined the club on loan in 2012/13, meaning the Hammers are crying out for more options up-front.

Moyes’ side sits 15th in the league, on 38 points, with home games against Manchester United and Everton rounding off what has been a very mixed season.

Poor early results led to Slaven Bilic being replaced by Moyes back in November and pitch invasions and discontent in the stands during a loss to Burnley in March threatened to further sour the season.

Fans have been fuming about the club’s move to the London Stadium and a lack of investment on the pitch. This could call for real investment in the summer.

Mitrovic has proven his worth through his miraculous revival at Fulham and deserves the chance to showcase his talents in the top-flight.

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