One of the shocks of the season so far this campaign in League One has been the re-emergence of former Newcastle United, Swindon Town and Blackpool forward Nile Ranger. Signed on a short term deal during the summer after over a year out of the game having gone missing and been sacked by Blackpool, the striker was a revelation for Phil Brown’s team with three goals and an assist in 15 games.
Now though, his career looks set to go off the rails once again. First pleading guilty to fraud charges, the club stood by him. Then only days later, he was on the receiving end of an FA suspension in mysterious circumstances. With no indication of if he will ever make a return, a negative outcome could lead to his sacking and a positive one will still see him suspended from all football activities for at least the next fortnight.
That gives Phil Brown a major dilemma. With ex-West Brom duo Marc-Antoine Fortune and Simon Cox up-front, the Shrimpers haven’t been in short supply of goals lately, with Cox in particular in superb form with nine goals and seven assists. However, both Cox and Fortune, at 29-years-old and 35-years-old, have been caught flagging late on in games in recent weeks. With youngster Jason Williams shipped out on loan, that leaves only Jermain McGlashan and Zavon Hines as makeshift forwards with David Mooney sidelined by injury and young prospect Jack Bridge yet to be given a major role.
Now, the Essex Echo claim that the former Hull boss has drawn up a three name shortlist to fill the void. One of those is free agent Frank Nouble, who scored once in 12 games for Gillingham earlier this season after scoring six in 31 for Coventry last season. He seems to be the back-up option of the three, with a far from prolific scoring record compensated for by the fact that he is available for no transfer fee and would undoubtedly require a lower wage than the other two candidates. If Brown is merely looking for a stop gap until the end of the season, then the strong and pacey forward could do the job for the Blues, but with the club knocking on the door of the play-offs that may disappoint fans.
The other two candidates are Fulham duo Matt Smith and Cauley Woodrow, with both more likely to be available on loan moves. Smith has experience of such a deal, having spent time on loan at Bristol City as they romped to the League One title with ease in 2015. Scoring 13 times and getting two assists in 20 games on that occasion, the last time that he played in the third tier was a remarkable record. Smith too would be the perfect fit for the Blues. In Ranger, Brown had found the kind of target man that had been missing since Barry Corr left the club after promotion from League Two, and Smith’s strength and aerial prowess would represent a like for like replacement. The 27-year-old has started just one game since September so a deal could be viable, and he must be first choice for the club given his track record and quality at this level.
Woodrow is no stranger to the club, having spent time on loan at Roots Hall in 2013 before being called back by the London club as he struggled to warrant game time. The England under 21 international managed just four goals in 21 games that time around, starting only half of those matches, but went on to break into the first team at Craven Cottage on his return as the club were relegated from the Premier League. Since then, he has fallen out of favour and has not even made the bench for Fulham since September, instead being banished to the reserves. A move for Woodrow seems possible given the circumstances, but given his struggles to thrive in Brown’s system previously, he may be reluctant to make the move. Woodrow has certainly come on since then, and Southend’s style has adapted to become less direct, but it is hard to see how he would be a direct replacement for Ranger nor an alternative to Smith in terms of the kind of target that Brown is after.
What is clear is that the Blues must act quickly if they are to continue their play-off push. In the middle of a tough run of fixtures, facing five of the top six in just three weeks in January, Phil Brown must move quickly in the transfer market. Fortune and Cox are doing a good job of holding the fort but the lack of depth would prove costly should either pick up an injury and is leaving the team with few options late on in games from the bench. With money expected to be coming in soon with a tribunal set to decide the fee that Brentford must pay for goalkeeper Dan Bentley, it could be the time for chairman Ron Martin to fund a big deal to give his club a shot at promotion through the play-offs after a magnificent turn-around from relegation favourites to play-off hopefuls which draws similarities to that of Barnsley last season, with the Tykes winning promotion at Wembley. It would be ambitious to claim that signing a player like Matt Smith would be enough to repeat that achievement at Roots Hall, but it would certainly go some way to make it a possibility.
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Ryan Sessegnon should resist Tottenham interest and remain at boyhood club Fulham
The 19-year-old has been linked with Spurs for some time.
The more Ryan Sessegnon excels, the more the tabloids run wild.
It seems that every coming week brings a new, outlandish rumour for the 17-year-old’s future destination. The most consistent linked with Sessegnon has been Tottenham Hotspur, but the Fulham youngster has also attracted attention from the likes of Liverpool, both Manchester clubs, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich.
Yet, despite all of the interest from mega-clubs, Ryan Sessegnon should remain at Fulham.
The precocious talent has taken the Championship by storm ever since he made his debut as a 16-year-old in August 2016.
Sessegnon began his career as a left-back but was used to great effect in a more advanced position during the end of the 2016/17 season. Midway through this campaign, he has established himself as a left-winger in Slavisa Jokanovic’s 4-3-3 system.
The teenager has blossomed at Craven Cottage, leading Fulham in scoring with a remarkable 14 goals to date. Even more impressive, he has risen to the occasion in the high-profile matches, notching goals against Wolves, Aston Villa, Derby, and his first professional hat-trick against Sheffield United.
The reason Sessegnon has excelled at Fulham? The immense faith and trust the coaching staff have placed in his abilities. A stunning statistic is that at just 17 years of age, Ryan Sessegnon is the only player in the Fulham squad to start every single match this season.
If he were to leave Fulham, he would lose the crucial aspect that has let him flourish: constant game time. At his age, the most valuable thing a player can have is regular first-team experience.
A move to a so-called bigger club would undoubtedly result in reduced first-team appearances for Sessegnon, which would hamper his progression at a crucial moment in the Englishman’s development.
If Fulham can achieve promotion to the Premier League this season, an event that is looking increasingly likely due to a 15-match unbeaten run, then there is no doubt Sessegnon should remain in SW6.
A guaranteed starting role in the world’s top league will provide the youngster with the perfect chance to fulfill his sky-high potential, an opportunity he would be remiss to pass up.
Since Aleksandar Mitrovic left, he and Newcastle United have scored the same amount of goals
The Serbian striker is leading Fulham to potential promotion.
Fulham continued their march in the Championship this week with an impressive 3-0 win against Sheffield United at Craven Cottage. The result moves the Cottagers up to fourth in the Championship and into serious contention for promotion to the Premier League. If they do make it back to the top-flight then the signing of Aleksandar Mitrovic will prove to have been crucial.
The Serbian striker scored twice for Fulham against the Blades, continuing his excellent form. Since joining Fulham at the end of January Mitrovic has managed to score an impressive five goals in seven games.
It is run of form which will be hard to take for Newcastle United fans. Mitrovic is of course on loan at Fulham from the struggling Premier League side.
Newcastle are currently just two points off the relegation zone in the Premier League. Despite their struggles this season, Rafa Benitez continued to ignore Mitrovic’s claims for a first-team position.
Now that is looking like a poor decision from the Newcastle manager.
Mitrovic’s tally of five goals since he joined Fulham is impressive in itself. Newcastle fans will not like to hear the following statistic though. The Magpies have only managed to score five goals as a team since Mitrovic was allowed to join Fulham in January.
It is hard to see how the Fulham loanee would not have been a helpful member of the Newcastle team if he was given a chance by Benitez before the end of the season.
Mitrovic’s form at Fulham is even more depressing when considering who Newcastle brought in to replace him. Algerian striker Islam Slimani arrived on loan from Leicester City to take his place. However, injury means Newcastle fans are yet to see him play for the club over a month later.
Mitrovic can be a controversial and often inconsistent operator up front. But he is proving what he can do at Craven Cottage and leaving Newcastle slightly red in the face.
There is a chance Newcastle could go down and Fulham win promotion on the back of Mitrovic’s goals. If that proves the case, Mitrovic’s exit will go down as one of the worst transfer decisions in Newcastle’s recent history.
Has Slaviša Jokanovic assembled the Fulham team of the century at just the right moment?
The Serbian’s side are flying in the Championship and look on course for promotion.
Times like this rarely come around for clubs like Fulham. Not since 2010’s spellbinding Europa League final run have the Whites conjured up such optimism, goodwill, and footballing joy.
The current 13-match (and counting) unbeaten run is truly historic and has provided the long-suffering Fulham faithful with moments to savor for years to come. And there is a feeling around the club of unfinished business- that this year the team Slaviša Jokanovic has assembled can go one step further than last year and achieve promotion to the Premier League.
Fulham’s weekend win over Derby County marked their tenth win in their last 13 games. 33 points from a possible 39. 32 goals scored and just ten conceded. Five clean sheets in the process. It is no understatement to say that this is the best form Fulham have seen in decades; not since the jubilant campaign of 2000/01 have the Cottagers hit such heights.
The last four matches have been ever the more impressive considering the high-quality opposition Fulham have faced. Following a draw with Bolton in mid-February, the Whites embarked on a run of fixtures against six out of top nine, including all other teams in the top six.
On paper, it appeared a brutal stretch that would test the club to their limits. Common knowledge was that the Whites would be clinging on to their spot in the play-offs by March.
Yet this Fulham side pays little attention to common knowledge. The supposed heavyweight clubs in the Championship, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers, both left Craven Cottage empty-handed after being swatted away and held goalless.
Fulham beat Derby County away for the first time in 16 years, while they held Bristol City to an entertaining 1-1 draw. Four matches against four of the best in the division have resulted in three wins and a draw.
What’s perhaps most remarkable about the magnificent run is that it has not been propelled by a single standout player, but rather by the entire squad.
The return of Marcus Bettinelli has been a revelation, and just like last season, he has brought newfound form to side. Tomas Kalas, and Tim Ream in particular, have been stalwarts at the back. Ryan Fredericks, who recently marked a century of appearances for Fulham, has terrorised opposition defenses all season with his searing pace. Matt Targett has added class and composure, despite his tender age, proving to be an astute loan signing.
And that’s just the back five. The midfield three has truly reestablished itself after early season struggles. Tom Cairney is back to his rampaging best after an injury-hit first half of the year, Stefan Johansen has recaptured his 2016/17 form, and Kevin McDonald is imperious as always in the centre of the park.
Aleksandr Mitrovic truly seems to be the final piece in Slavisa Jokanovic’s jigsaw. The Serbian striker has fired home three goals in his last three matches, providing strong hold-up play, powerful driving runs, and lethal finishing. Finally Fulham have the striker they deserve.
Then there is Ryan Sessegnon. At this point, superlatives can no longer do him justice. There are simply no words for the season he is having. At the age of 17, having played the majority of his matches as a full-back, the Englishman has bagged an outstanding 14 goals.
Sessegnon’s passion and love for the club makes each goal ever the more enjoyable; he is a dream come true for Fulham fans. Suddenly, talk of a spot on the plane to Russia no longer seems so outlandish.
After the next two matches against Sheffield United and Preston, 8th and 9th in the table respectively, the Whites have a run-in of dreams. In their remaining nine fixtures, they play just one team in the top ten. It is not totally radical to dream of an unbeaten finish to the campaign.
But times weren’t always this good on the bank of the Thames. Remarkably, some supporters were calling for Slavisa’s sacking after a rough October that left the Whites languishing in 17th.
Such rash judgements seem foolish now, and credit is due for the level-headed management that trusted in the Serb’s judgement. Come May, that patience could very well be richly rewarded.
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