After a well fought comeback against Norwich City in mid-week, Fulham let themselves down after a defensive error allowed Aston Villa to take all three points this weekend.
From pre-season it was clear that Slavisa Jokanovic wanted to stamp his own style of football on the side this season, and playing a possession heavy style has seemed to put us in more danger than good in recent weeks. While, the possession dominance is pleasing on the eye, Fulham are failing to create clear cut chances in the final third and against Aston Villa they failed to record a single shot on target. In most fixtures this season Fulham have seen more of the ball than their opponents but a winless September proved that possession doesn’t win you points.
As for the Aston Villa game, it was another defensive error that allowed £15m summer signing Jonathan Kodjia to volley past the helpless David Button on Saturday. After the summer signing from Brentford failed to control a back pass, the ball fell to Albert Adomah who had all the time in the world to pick out Kodjia in the centre for him to take all three points for the home side ten minutes before time.
After Chris Martin managed to score in the two games against Barnsley and Norwich City, I was hoping it would have been the start of a fruitful run for the forward. But sadly, there was no plan B at Villa Park this weekend, with Jokanovic’s side more than happy to knock the ball sideways rather than trying something new to break down the Villa defence.
Although last season was crying out for some form of management and guidance on the pitch, but now there needs to be more risks taken this season. While the 4-2-3-1 setup served us well in August, Fulham have now become predictable and teams are more than happy to sit in against us and wait for their chances to come on the counter, or for a Fulham player to make a mistake.
As mentioned many times before, I am a fan of good football but when its asking too much of your players, it’s down to the manager and coaching team to find a system that the players can deliver on a consistent basis; because without consistency, Fulham will remain in the Championship and will be looking over their shoulder at relegation rather than looking up at a potential promotion campaign.
When the game is sitting at 0-0 and we’ve failed to trouble the opposition goalkeeper, it would be refreshing to see a change in shape or system, put on another striker or start playing more direct – especially when we have both Chris Martin and Matt Smith in the squad, two players that would cause any defence difficulties in the air. Even if they don’t get the cleanest contact on their headers, it creates panic and the chance to knock something in from a knockdown or a scrappy clearance could be the difference between coming away with a 0-0 or taking all 3 points.
There’s no denying the talent we have in this squad, and in reality we should be able to achieve a promotion campaign with it – but there needs to be a bigger focus on taking all three points at any cost, rather than sticking to attacking philosophies. Even though Fulham failed to take all three points this weekend, there are some positives on the horizon with star defender, Tomas Kalas returning to full fitness. The Czech loanee should return to the starting 11 sooner rather than later and playing back alongside Michael Madl should make our defence much more watertight. When Madl and Kalas were partnered in the past, both players blossomed off each other and their calmness suited our style of football, with both of them being more comfortable at playing that passing style of game – something that has been lacking in recent weeks.
I wouldn’t be too surprised if Marcus Bettinelli returns in goal for Fulham in our next couple of games after Button’s shakiness and errors. With the former England U21 goalkeeper, proven in this division, he will want to reclaim the number one jersey. With Bettinelli now having to fight for his place, this competition should improve his performances and if he returns to the side, we should see a more commanding presence between the sticks – something that has been missed. With the media placing more pressure on goalkeepers to act as a sweeper, the role of a goalkeeper has become even more demanding. Personally, I feel that it’s not as important in our setup to have the goalkeeper constantly looking to knock the ball about like an outfield player, but we need a commanding and vocal keeper to clear up any of the danger. Even if that’s just clearing his lines and claiming crosses – being just a decent shot stopper nowadays isn’t enough.
While our form has collapsed over the past month and a half, I’m still remaining fairly optimistic about our chances this season. I predicted Fulham to finish in the top 12 this season and I still feel that would be a successful season, following the disasters under Felix Magath and Kit Symons. At Watford, Slavisa Jokanovic wasn’t afraid to try new systems and make drastic substitutions, so I am hoping the Serbian has another trick up his sleeve to turn our fortunes around. If this means that Fulham don’t look so pleasing on the eye, then so be it as I’d rather see the club fighting for the higher places in the league and winning ugly, than playing ‘nice football’ but coming away with nothing. If Ipswich Town can achieve playoff places on a much smaller budget and playing with a more direct style of play, then we should have no problems of attempting a top 6 finish with the budget and quality we possess.
Thank you ever so much for reading, and I appreciate the ongoing support. You can tweet your thoughts and feedback to me @ABronsSmith