Happy New Year!
Now 2017 has begun, Fulham look to continue their impressive form as they aim to finish in the top six come May. Apart from the fixtures against Brighton, Fulham are unbeaten with their last defeat (excluding Brighton games) coming against Aston Villa back in October.
Slavisa Jokanovic has worked wonders over the past year and considering he had to completely rebuild the squad, he has managed to bring an identity back to the club.
But, the second half of the season is now more important than ever. The race for the top six continues to be a tight one with Huddersfield & Leeds improving on a weekly basis and Derby County having a revival under Steve McClaren. If we are going to get promoted we have to continue the form we are in, if not be slightly more clinical. Despite dropping points from winning positions against Wolves and Derby, Fulham have looked like a promotion-winning side and now the squad is settled, fans have more than enough reasons to be optimistic.
Despite a few off the field dramas with Mike Rigg leaving the club and Chris Martin going on strike, Fulham have managed to stay focused on the pitch, despite having a true focal point in attack. Against Cardiff City, Sone Aluko lead the line and away to Ipswich Town, Floyd Ayite done a superb job when called upon. The most pleasing thing for me this season is that we are creating plenty of chances, and regardless of who is up top they will get plenty of service. But, with that said we are a better team with Chris Martin in the side.
Although it has been a worrying January for Fulham fans concerning the future of Chris Martin, the drama seems to have come to a halt with the loanee starting against Barnsley; scoring and notching up an assist in the process. While, I can’t get my head round the lack of professionalism shown by Derby County during the ordeal, I’m over the moon that we kept the forward and that; Slavisa and the board stood their ground and played hard-ball with our promotion rivals. Without a doubt, Chris Martin is one of the best players in this division and his goal-scoring record at this level proves that. If Martin had gone back to Derby, we would have only weakened our chances of promotion and strengthened a rival. While I understand why Martin is keen to sort out his future, I don’t approve of the ‘strike’ to get your own way. But, what is important is that we support the club and forward on the pitch, and with any off the pitch issues, have faith in the management and board to get it sorted.
Martin is coming to the peak years of his career and his next long-term contract will probably be the last one which is 4-5 years long, so he obviously wants to make sure his young family will be financially stable. Personally, I’d love Martin to become a permanent Fulham player, but I feel that will only happen if we get promotion.
The Derby forward has been the centre of controversy over recent weeks, but I’m glad he’s back in the starting eleven. Saturday’s victory over Barnsley was a reminder of just how good and important he is. His ability to hold up the ball and bring the midfielders into play is incredible. With willing runners like Cairney, Johansen, Aluko & Piazon, Martin’s ability to hold the ball up in vital areas allows those midfielders to flourish in the final third.
Although I’ve focused on how great we have been in attack, there has been a massive improvement at the other end of the pitch. Kevin McDonald has been a colossus in the centre of the park and while I had my fears over his mobility in the summer, the Scottish midfielder’s ability to read the game is immense. The former Wolves midfielder has sat at the base of our midfield and with his ability to break up the play combined with an impressive passing range, McDonald has become the architect for many of our counter-attacks as well being one of the biggest reasons for the clean sheets we have started to accumulate.
Last weekend also saw the return of Tomas Kalas at the heart of defence after he recovered from injury. I can’t sing the praises of the Chelsea loanee enough if I’m honest. I truly believe he is the best defender I have witnessed at Championship level. He’s young, determined, strong, quick and has the technical ability Slavisa demands from his ball-playing centre-backs. While, I’d pray and dream for his move to become permanent, realistically I can’t see this happening unless we were promoted. With Chelsea paying £5m for him a number of years ago, and them selling Bamford for £10m, Kalas’ value must be higher than that. Then again, if we were promoted, investing financially in the Czech defender would be one of the best pieces of business the club would have done for a number of years.
Finally, Fulham have agreed a deal to extend the loan of Lucas Piazon from Chelsea and with the player looking for a long-term club, Fulham may be in the race to sign him on a permanent basis in the summer. There has been rumours online that he could be available for just £4m, but they aren’t from the most reliable sources. For now, let’s just celebrate that his loan has been extended, and we’ll re-visit the permanent topic in the summer.
Apart from the Martin drama and Piazon’s extension our activity in the transfer window has been quiet, but then again this is expected of the club. We generally do keep our business out of the media’s focus until they have been announced. Belgian newspapers have linked us with an improved £3m bid for Ibrahima Cisse of Standard Liege but whether or not that comes to fruition is another story.
At the weekend, Fulham face one of their biggest fixtures against local rivals, QPR. With QPR under-achieving this season despite a recent upturn in form under Ian Holloway , Fulham will need to make sure that they secure all three points if they are serious about gaining promotion this season. Winning at the weekend is a must to stay in reach of a play-off place, and with our recent form there’s no reason why we can’t take all the points from the derby. Make your voices heard and let’s keep looking up. There’s no reason why we can’t be optimistic and the sky is the limit in 2017 for Fulham. COYW’s!
Thank you ever so much for reading and if you have any questions or feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter: @ABronsSmith.