As another season comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the roller-coaster journey of the last 12 months.
First of all, it’s been a great honour and pleasure to have blogged and produced content for the programme this season, and I can’t thank everyone enough for their help and support throughout the season.
But on the pitch, I think it’s safe to say we surpassed expectations this year. I remember writing the articles during pre-season and thinking that if we finished around 10th or 12th it would have a been a good season considering another summer overhaul and the sad performances that plagued our seasons since relegation. So it is a surprise that a year on, I’m gutted to have watch our beloved club knocked out of the play-offs by Reading just last week. A result that in fact, hurt more than relegation for me but I think that’s due to having such a good end to the season and the optimism around the club kept on growing and that’s infectious!
Despite our strong opening month this season, Fulham began to hit a rocky patch and as we stumbled to Christmas with the occasional breath-taking performance, it wasn’t until the end of January and the end of the AFCON tournament that Fulham began to hit top form. Prior to the African Cup of Nations, Neeskens Kebano had failed to deliver and live up to the £4m price-tag that hung over his head from the summer, and Floyd Ayite’s return to the side was more than needed. Kebano’s 6 goals and 3 assists fuelled the resurgence in SW6, which was uncharacteristic as many fans were fear the worst when AFCON takes place due to fatigue and missing key fixtures, but on this occasion it was like a new signing.
Last summer I remember writing a paragraph about Kevin McDonald and potential fears about what he could bring to the side. But, fast forward to today and every game this season I have eaten humble pie. When Slavisa switched to a 3 man midfield of McDonald, Cairney and Johansen, Fulham began to dominate teams and although Cairney will get the media plaudits this season for his goals and assists, it will be McDonald who gets my Player of the Season vote. The summer signing from Wolves became the lynchpin in our side, allowing the creative players the freedom they needed to make things happen in the final third of the pitch. After every game, I remember my focus on McDonald becoming more and more apparent and the appreciation for the Scot grew. Not only did he read the game incredibly well, you could constantly watch him dictate the players and the play, even out of possession he’d be the constant voice keeping the players in their position, ensuring that the side stayed as rigid as possible during the defensive side of the game – something the squad has lacked since relegation and some may argue for even longer than that!
So, here it is – Kevin McDonald, you get my vote for Player of the Season and it’s been a pleasure to eat my doubts all season. What a man, what a player, what a leader.
But, we couldn’t do a season review without mentioning his midfield partners; Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen. Cairney’s stand-out performances earned himself a place in the Scottish National team, where he put in a solid display, earning more praise from international fans and I’d expect he will feature more regularly in the near future for Scotland. Even though Cairney may come a close second in my player of the season votes, he has been priceless this season and not only that, but has stepped up to captain the side this season in the absence of Scott Parker; and just like a true captain, he has lead from the front, setting the perfect example to his team-mates and aspiring youth players that have emerged over the course of the season.
This summer will be nerve-wracking for Fulham fans as his name will plastered in every Transfer Rumour post and column, but fingers crossed our captain will lead us to promotion next season. A player that epitomises everything that is great about our club and a terrific role model for anyone.
Finally, Stefan Johansen deserves a huge amount of praise for the season he has had in his debut year for the club. Despite being subbed in the first half of his debut, the Norwegian put the work in off the pitch to force himself into Jokanovic’s plans this season. His work ethic and desire to play a part in both ends of the pitch as proved to be the missing ingredient in the centre of the park. Being able to support McDonald in the defensive side of the game while making sure he can be an outlet for the likes of Cairney, Aluko and co in the final third of the pitch, there’s no surprise he managed to notch up an impressive 13 goals and 8 assists in all competitions. Just like the other two players, Stefan Johansen has proved to be an invaluable asset in the middle of the park, and if we are going to improve on our season next year, keeping these three together is the ultimate objective for the board.
While, the three midfielders have gathered the most amount of attention this season, there has been a massive amounts of improvement all over the pitch. In the heart of defence, Tim Ream looks like a rejuvenated player under Slavisa, and has developed a strong relationship with Chelsea defender, Tomas Kalas – a player that we hope is back at Craven Cottage next year. If I’m honest, I think Slavisa’s persistency to play out from the back has really benefited Ream’s performances, and finally suits the way the American would prefer to play.
Ream’s partner in defence, Kalas has been a superb addition to the side and if an agreement can be reached to keep the young Czech at the club, then it would be a coup for the club, considering his age and ability. Kalas would be a tremendous investment by the club if a reasonable fee could be agreed and I strongly feel that he will only get better, meaning that his value could rise should he join Fulham on a permanent basis and play on a regular basis – something he may not be able to achieve at Chelsea yet, or at another loan club.
To conclude, it’s safe to say there has been plenty of changes over the course of the season and plenty of ups and downs. Being the roller-coaster season that it is, I think everyone has learned a lesson or two, and looking back we’ve grown as a club and squad because of it. In my honest opinion, if we can keep this squad together for the next 18 months at least, there’s no reason why we couldn’t achieve automatic promotion in that time. There’s a great feeling around the club again, the players are settled and work in harmony with each other and the longer we keep them together, the better the results the fans will witness.
Lastly, I would love to thank you all for your help and support over the course of the season and I apologise for not updating this blog as much as I could have in the past 2 months. It’s been a tremendous season for Fulham and it’s going to be an exciting summer for us all, and I will make sure I will keep you in the loop with the latest as we start preparing for the new season.
Thank you ever so much for reading – If you have any feedback or want to contact me, please do tweet me @ABronsSmith.