In last month’s article, I stated that Fulham should take a minimum of nine points from our October fixtures, but we only got two.
A lot has happened since the last Craven Corner post, and it feels weird to be deflated as a Fulham fan, especially after a decent return of points in September.
On paper, October should have allowed the team to continue its momentum, and pick up at least six to nine points and continue their efforts for a promotion place. With games against Villa, Preston, Bolton and Bristol it’s gutting to look back at the games this month and realise that we only collected two points, and we left it late to secure those too!
So what’s happened? Where’s it all gone wrong?
Well, it’s safe to say that Fulham have struggled with fitness this year, with the absence of Tom Cairney and even though he was reintroduced in recent games, it’s clear to see he’s not up to speed just yet.
But, we can’t pin all our misfortune on the absence of our captain, because we’ve got a very capable squad, and one player doesn’t make a team.
Last year’s success was built on the midfield trio of Tom Cairney, Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen, with the full-backs Ryan Sessegnon and Ryan Fredericks overlapping on the counter. This year, we simply haven’t seen that in action.
Despite, Johansen’s goals winning us points this year, he still hasn’t hit the heights of last season and at times has looked passive in the centre of the park. While it may be harsh to say, his goals have probably kept him in the side, when some may have questioned his involvement. McDonald, has been instrumental though, and realistically it could be a good idea to let him captain the side, taking off any pressure from Cairney as he returns from fitness. Although McDonald has been his usual self, unfortunately he hasn’t had the same contribution from team-mates, and time after time the back four have been torn apart by poor positioning or a simple through ball, which could easily be prevented.
Not only that, but we’ve been a blunt sword in attack this year too. Despite spending the best part of £14m on two strikers this summer, Rui Fonte and Aboubakar Kamara haven’t lived up to their price-tags. While, you can argue that Fonte has been played out of position on a number of occasions, it’s clear that a lot of people were short-sighted by his goal-return last year, rather than look at his career-wide contribution, which is far from what you’d expect from a striker for 9m. Kamara on the other hand, is still incredibly raw and I think he probably has more potential out of the two. Not only is he younger, but he hasn’t played at this level yet, and over time with some coaching I think the club can mould him into a decent forward. But, in the mean-time we simply do not have the forward needed to lead the line and be successful. Even though Chris Martin was a tool off the pitch, he was the perfect forward for us in terms of what he offered to the side.
While Kamara thrives from getting in behind the defenders, we need a focal point in attack where the ball can stick, and sadly Fonte has struggled to offer that, and it’s no surprise that we gone sideways when in the final third, or even backwards due to the lack of options. Despite having the attacking threats we have in Yohan Mollo, Neeskens Kebano, Sheyi Ojo, Floyd Ayite etc, their pace is nullified if we play against a team that sits deep, and it’s games like that where we need a target man, to play to and hold the ball up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we need to play hoof-ball tactics and bring in the likes of Sam Allardyce, but I think Jokanovic needs to invest a lot of time into a plan-B for Fulham, because we simply don’t have it at the moment. Sadly, style doesn’t win any points at the end of the day and for a long time I’ve been writing about the need to win ‘ugly’ in this division if you want to get promoted.
While, it’s great to see a side play the ‘pretty’ or ‘tiki-taka’ style, teams in this division know exactly what Fulham are going to attempt to do, and in all honesty a well-disciplined team will easily nullify anything Fulham try to do.
This is why we’ve dropped points against the likes of Bristol City, Bolton Wanderers & Burton this year. There’s many ways a side can win ‘ugly’ and it doesn’t mean a complete re-shuffle of players, but more a change in attitude from the manager and the players on the pitch.
This means applying more pressure, and not being afraid to play more direct, should that mean earlier crosses, playing straight into the striker and shooting on sight, rather than taking the time to take ten or so passes around the 18-yard box, waiting for a small gap to open to thread an eye of the needle pass to create a chance.
Our forwards need to start creating a presence about them too. Look at the likes of Troy Deeney – not the most talented of forwards, and you wouldn’t see him doing tricks and flicks, but he’s one of the most feared forwards in the Premier League, simply because he causes troubles with his positioning and strength for centre-backs. He’s an outlet and always an option in attack to hit long or short, and with the right players close to him for knock-downs, Watford have been successful this year, and they play ‘attractive’ football while doing it. Something that Fulham need to start doing, and while Fonte and Kamara may not have shown that side of their game yet, it’s down to Jokanovic and his coaching team to be flexible with the resources he has and create a plan-b or a killer instinct in this side.
There’s no questioning the player’s talent in this side, but at the moment our side resembles a Lamborghini with flat tires – it looks good, but not getting anyway fast at all.
Address the lack of a plan-B and this season can still be a success.
Considering we’re only four points off the play-offs currently (this really is a bizarre season) there’s still plenty to play for, and if we can have a strong run until Christmas, then there’s no reason why we can’t still finish in the top six this season.
Finally, there has been some changes off the field too, with the news breaking that Craig Kline has left the club. Craig Kline became a name involved in most people’s rants over the last few summers and is now no longer involved with the football club.
This is interesting, as I know a lot of the fans were saying it provides Slavisa Jokanovic with the full control ‘he needs’ in January, but it is understood that James Lovell will step up to work in a similar role to Kline for the time being. Lovell has been at the club for a number of years, and has been heavily involved with the match and player analysis, as well as the club’s scouting process. Lovell was also part of the analyst team at Wolves during their promotion campaign in 2008/2009, so will be a lot more familiar with the nature of this division. Fingers crossed, he can work more successfully with Slavisa Jokanovic and his team in a working environment, as I know I’m not the only one that got a bit tired of Jokanovic’s little digs at Kline during the summer interviews, mainly as it gave the media a story to string about complete unrest every 2-3 weeks.
But, as I mentioned before, we can still turn this season around but it’s time for Slavisa Jokanovic and his team to step up and really prove their worth. They are unable to live off the successes of last season, and with fan and club expectations increased this year, time is running out on discovering a plan B.
I’m still going to remain optimistic about our season as it still is very early in our season, but these are the moments where both our players and managerial team earn their money and prove the talent and quality that they possess.
Thank you ever so much for reading, and continuing to support The Craven Corner.
You can always contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith.