Time for Consistency, not complacency.

When Fulham are on form, there’s not a team in this league that can beat us on our day. Bold statement? Yes. Is it fair? Probably.

Going into the fixture last weekend, most fans would have taken a point before the kick off. Reading went into the game on a run of five straight wins, and were the in-form team in the division. Jaap Stam had got them playing some decent football and pushed them up into third in the league, while we had been going through an inconsistent patch and in the Brighton game we had dominated until second half where we capitulated.

So what happened against Reading then? Ryan Fredericks returned to the starting eleven, which was the correct tactical move and we continued to press and try to kill off the game when in control – something that we didn’t do against Brighton in that second half. Fulham have a terrific squad this season, and we’re at our best when we are going forward; getting the full-backs in the attacking third and doubling up in vital areas. As soon as we turn off or decide to sit back, we no longer dictate the tempo and as we’ve seen so many times this season, it costs us. We took the foot off the accelerator in the second half when we were leading, and Brighton got more of the ball, and then two lapses in concentration saw a 0-1 lead turn into a 2-1 defeat, and we have to make sure we continue to play for 90 minutes.

Against Reading, we continued to attack at every opportunity and that dominance lead to an impressive performance and a statement of intent from the club. With the likes of Chris Martin, Stefan Johansen, Tom Cairney, Sone Aluko & co in the final third, we have some of the best attackers in this division. With Martin leading the line, we have one of the most prolific target men in this league, as long as we keep attacking and providing chances for him, he’ll finish. Yes, some people will miss McCormack when we have been goal-shy, but McCormack moved on, and we became a better side because of it. Martin is a focal point in attack, while Ross tried to drop back and get the ball, leaving a gap further up the field. As long as Martin is leading the line, the ball will stick – the potential issue is that the supporting attackers don’t get close enough. But if we continue to press, there will be willing runners from midfield supporting the target man.

While there are issues around consistency with the team, what has been clear in recent weeks is the quality and reliance on midfield trio, Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald & Tom Cairney – all of which, compliment each other. McDonald at £1.25m and Johansen at £2m seem to be the best investment by any club this summer. Recruiting that level of quality at those basement prices in today’s market is a master stroke and the board deserve a round of applause for securing both. While McDonald isn’t the fastest to cover ground, he is becoming more and more disciplined and his range of passing is terrific. He has the ability to architect a move from a deeper position while his understanding of the game and predicting the pass is something that is vital to his game. This is then complimented by Cairney and Johansen ahead of him. Cairney is given free reign to float about and cause problems where it matters in an advanced playmaker role, while Johansen has a bigger engine than most military vehicles. Johansen doesn’t stop running and being able to be a box-to-box midfielder for 90 minutes makes him a key player and his goal against Reading shows his class -the finish was of the highest standard.

Now, if we can manage to find a level of consistency, Fulham can achieve a top six finish position this season. This is the test now: To make sure we don’t get complacent and aim to kill the game out when we’ve been in control. We’ve dominated every game in terms of possession, now we just need to keep going until the game is out of sight. That’s not winning 5-0 every week, but that’s getting at least a two goal cushion when we are on top. 1-0 Isn’t a safe score line these days, and if we find that level of consistency there’s not another club in this division that should stop us on our day.

We now have 5 games before the end of the year, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t aim to at least win 3 or 4 of those. Wolves, Derby, Ipswich, Rotherham & Reading await us, but if we replicate the form against Reading, we could force ourselves into the top six at Christmas. These aren’t the easiest fixtures coming up, but they are the type of games we need to win to be top six material. Let’s get consistent, not complacent.

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The Craven Corner: Match Day Programme V Reading – 3rd December 2016

After back-to back wins and a draw against Sheffield Wednesday, Fulham came unstuck in the second half at Brighton, which meant our trip to the seaside ended in defeat.

Despite our inconsistency this season, Fulham are 10th in the table and dreams of a top-six finish are far from over. Brighton was always going to be a tough fixture, but Fulham were dominant in the first half. In all honesty, if it hadn’t been for the heroics of former Whites stopper David Stockdale, we would have had more to show than Kevin McDonald’s opener when the sides went in at half-time. Sadly, lapses in concentration at the back in the second period allowed Sam Baldock and Glenn Murray to smash strikes past David Button, and Brighton took the spoils. Although the game finished with a disappointing result, I have to give a big thanks to the 2,500-plus away fans who were absolutely outstanding from start to finish.

The atmosphere they created was amazing, and if that could continue today then Craven Cottage will be rocking! Fulham will have their work cut out for them this afternoon, though, as they prepare to take on an in-form Reading side, now managed by former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam. I’m very impressed with the side Stam has created, and in winning their last five games, the Royals are right in the hunt for one of the automatic promotion spots. Garath McCleary is also in red-hot form, while midfielder Danny Williams will be a tough opponent. The American has made a name for himself over the last few seasons as a stand-out player in this division. With his tenacity and commanding presence in the heart of their midfield, Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen may not be granted the time they’ve had in recent weeks when they have the ball. While I appreciate it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Fulham fans, we’re still a team in transition. I know it’s easy to think of bigger things after we win a couple of games, but it’s a long season. The more time this side spends playing together, the better we will be. We have some truly outstanding talent in this squad, and once we find our consistency, there’s no reason why we can’t compete for the top six. But if we fall short of it this season, then we’d have built a tremendous foundation to have a successful campaign next year. Today will be an almighty test against promotion candidates, but with your support, the lads could grab a result today. Screen Shot 2016-12-06 at 09.59.55.png

Is it time to be optimistic once again?

Fulham are back in action this weekend as they prepare to take on last year’s play-off finalists, Sheffield Wednesday.

After back to back wins for the Whites, Fulham should be full of confidence heading into the next two fixtures against teams who are expected to be in the promotion race this season; Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton. Both sides have more than enough quality to destroy anyone in this division, and if Fulham make it 4 wins on the spin, there’s no reason why Jokanovic’s men can’t achieve a top six finish this season.

Despite Sheffield Wednesday losing their last two games, we can’t expect it to be an easy game. With the likes of Fernando Forestieri, Steven Fletcher, Gary Hooper & former Fulham loanee, Urby Emanuelson amongst their ranks they possess more than enough attacking talent to cause any defence trouble. Even though they have underachieved so far this season, they are just waiting to hit form and hopefully that doesn’t come against us.

What will be interesting from the next two games is that both Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday play in a very similar style to ourselves; they both want to dominate possession and when it comes down to match day it will be a massive battle in midfield. With Jokanovic seemingly finding his best system in recent weeks involving a midfield trio of Cairney, Johansen and McDonald, all three will have to continue their stellar displays should we want to continue our winning run. Since the change in system, we have been able to get the very best out of McDonald and Johansen, which in turn allows Cairney to operate freely in the centre of the park and when Tom is allowed to play in those gaps, chances are created by the bucket load.

At the start of the season, I predicted it would be a season of transition for Fulham and I’d be happy with a top twelve finish considering the past 2 years. As much as I don’t want to get carried away and start looking too hopeful, there’s no denying the quality we have in this squad. Without a shadow of doubt, it’s our strongest squad we’ve had in the Championship and would probably outclass the squad that got us relegated from the Premier League. Should we manage to keep our stars injury free and in form, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve big things this season. Yes, last month’s form was tough but we are going to have those games as the squad settles, but now that they are settling down and getting used to the style, we are seeing big rewards.

Another example of that was the performance in the derby against Brentford. A game that comes with massive pressure due to the importance of it to the fans, and it was a game the squad didn’t shy away from. The team played as a unit from back to front, and on another day Fulham could have scored 4 or 5 with the chances that were being carved out. I know I’ve sung the praises of midfield and attacking talent in recent weeks, I can’t overlook the back to back clean sheets either.

With the return of Ryan Fredericks & Tomas Kalas, Fulham’s back line looks immensely stronger. In my eyes, Kalas has been a complete revelation in defence for Fulham. The Czech from Chelsea has all the attributes to succeed in the modern game. He’s quick to cover ground and he’s exceptional with the ball at his feet too. While, I hope and pray that there’s a chance for him to be at Fulham for the long-term, I’m very happy he’s here for this season at least and will be key to this season’s final position in the table. As for Fredericks, it’s great to see him back in the side. Arguably the fastest player we’ve had at the club, his work ethic and influence at both ends of the pitch is key to the way Jokanovic wants to play. With the pace Fredericks possesses, it allows him to join in with the likes of Piazon & Aluko in wider areas, forcing a 2 on 1 situation against their full-back, or if their winger tracks back too, creates space inside for the likes of Johansen and Cairney to operate. While, Denis Odoi created headlines earlier in the season, Fredericks seems to have the starting spot on the team sheet for now, being the better all-round full-back that is required.

There’s definitely a lot of reasons to be optimistic at Fulham right now and I’m really excited to see how strongly we finish 2016. I’m also really excited for the Brighton game as it’s a fixture I’ve missed, so I’m looking forward to finally visiting the Amex!

Thank you so much for your ongoing support of ‘The Craven Corner’ – it is greatly appreciated!

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On my head Sone! Aluko sparkles as Piazon nods home

Fans have been saying for weeks now that when we finally click on the pitch, some team is going to take a beating – sadly for Huddersfield it happened this weekend.

For the first time since August, Fulham looked like a side that capable of winning promotion this season. From the first whistle the team took the game to high-flying Huddersfield and with Sone Aluko and Stefan Johansen in blistering form, the visiting team couldn’t cope. In my last article, I stated the need for a plan B and for something to change and Slavisa Jokanovic made many changes going into this game, with the biggest decision being a change in system.

Since the start of the season, Jokanovic has favoured a 4-2-3-1 system, often with Kevin McDonald and Scott Parker operating in the centre of the park. But, on Saturday Fulham started as a 4-1-2-3 with Kevin McDonald anchoring the midfield while Johansen and Tom Cairney operate freely ahead of him.

With Cairney shifted inside, his creativity and genius paired with the work-ethic of Johansen was simply a joy to watch. With Johansen’s ability to be play a variety of roles in midfield, the latest system seemed to provide him with the opportunity to blossom. With Johansen constantly working hard at both ends of the pitch, his commitment made him a candidate for Man of The Match. Sadly for the Norwegian he wouldn’t pick up the Man of the Match award, after summer signing Sone Aluko took centre stage. Sone’s performance was arguably one of the best we’ve seen from a Fulham player since our relegation, with the Nigerian attacker notching 3 assists.  Operating on the left-hand side of a 3 pronged attack, Aluko started his run to assist Piazon’s goal in his own half where he was surrounded by a number of Huddersfield players, before working his way into an attacking position before he delightfully chipped the ball perfectly for Piazon to nod home from close range.

I’ll openly admit that I was dubious about the arrival of Sone Aluko, but I am happily eating humble pie after the player continues to impress and is probably the stand-out candidate for Player of the Season so far. Long may his form continue – keep up the good work Sone!

But while the men behind the forward have found their feet, Fulham now have a striker within their squad full of confidence and that’s Chris Martin. The Derby loanee has now netted 4 times in his last 4 games, and is showing the form that made him Derby’s leading goal scorer for a number of seasons. The Scotsman seems to be the complete forward, with his link up play being just as important as his finishing. Playing the system we do, having a striker who can bring the other attackers into play is vital and now Martin is settling we could potentially have a 20 goal a season leading the line. With the option to sign him on a permanent basis in January, let’s hope the board upon the cheque book on this one.

Looks like the board did hit the jackpot in the loan market this season with Tomas Kalas & Lucas Piazon emerging as key members of the team. With Kalas back in the back four, we look a much more organised and tighter unit. The Czech’s calmness and composure to play the ball out from the back and cover his partner is vital, and with Fulham wanting to reach the top six this system, keeping him fit will be priceless. While our chances of securing Kalas on a permanent deal may be slim, Piazon has hinted that he is looking for a long-term move away from Chelsea. With his loan expected to be extended in January, maybe the club could persuade the Brazilian to stay next summer should the price be right at the end of the season.

Fulham now face a run of tough fixtures, starting with a derby game against Brentford this weekend. With Button returning to his former club, he will have his work cut out after a couple of shaky performances in recent weeks, and Marcus Bettinelli knocking on the door for the number one shirt. With Brentford having high hopes for their season, this will be another big test for Jokanovic’s men to prove to the fans that we can achieve big things this term.

Thank you ever so much for supporting The Craven Corner, and if you have any feedback, feel free to tweet me @ABronsSmith.

Time for Plan B?

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

 

 

The Craven Corner Column – Match Day Programme V Norwich City; 18th October 2016

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Columnist Adam Brons-Smith is predicting a tough evening for Fulham as the Whites take on Norwich City…

After an ‘ugly’ and even when you’re not unbeaten playing your best football, you August, still need to take points from Fulham failed the scrappy fixtures. If this

to win any of means that Fulham revert to a their fixtures in September different system, then so be it and, despite dominating the possession statistics, Slaviša Jokanović is a confident striker away from his next three points. While possession may be pleasing on the eye, the team has to start taking the chances that are created. The draws against Burton and Nottingham Forest are perfect examples of this. We dominated the games, created a number of chances and should have taken all three points from both fixtures.

There’s no doubting the talent we have within the squad to lead the line with Chris Martin, Matt Smith and Cauley Woodrow, but it’s clear that they’re crying out for a goal to get them firing again on a regular basis. Martin has a tremendous record in this division and is capable of being a 20-goal-a-season forward, but needs to settle sooner rather than later if Fulham want to reach the top six this term.

To gain promotion, there are games that you have to win as the financial opportunities that promotion brings cannot be overlooked.


“Fulham are still a club in transition. Consistency takes time and months like September happen to the best of them”

As for our opponents, Norwich will be full of confidence going into tonight’s fixture as they look to earn promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. After keeping hold of the majority of their big-name stars in the summer,  Norwich arguably boast the strongest squad in the league alongside Newcastle. With the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Cameron Jerome and Steven Naismith amongst their attacking ranks, they possess more than enough firepower to unlock any defence in this division. Whichever back four is selected for Fulham will have one of their toughest evenings of the season and will need to be on top of their game to earn a clean sheet tonight.

Despite the poor results of September, I still firmly believe that we have enough quality within the squad to push for promotion this season. Once the summer arrivals bed in, Fulham should greatly benefit. With the creative talents of Tom Cairney, Sone Aluko, Neeskens Kebano and Floyd Ayité, Fulham just need a forward to hit form. Once the strikers are confident in front of goal again, chances will be taken and Fulham will be capable of taking all three points against any opponent this season.

After this summer’s overhaul, Fulham are still a club in transition. Consistency takes time and months like September happen to the best of them. Hopefully it was a wake-up call to everyone at the Club, but I have full faith in the players to return to winning ways very soon.

Make your voices heard tonight and let’s get behind the boys – this could be a very big three points for us. COYW!

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Time for Reflection

While the early season honeymoon is truly over, Fulham now have to reassess and rediscover their confidence with a tough set of fixtures awaiting them.

Even though we’ve had some goals chalked off and missed penalties, with the amount of possession we’ve had, we really should be creating more clear cut chances rather than rueing the missed opportunities. As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, it’s all good having the ball, but if you don’t make that count, the most you can take from the game is just a single point. There’s no doubting the talent within this squad and if Fulham can become more efficient in the final third, then there’s no reason why we can’t beat anyone in this league.

On paper, most fans would have seen the Nottingham Forest fixture as a must win game. Forest were a side that had struggled for form, and to only take a point from that fixture is gutting. Yes, we had goals disallowed, but considering the level of quality we now have, this should have been another 3 points on the tally. Even though I was a big fan of Pajtim Kasami when he was at the Cottage, sadly he didn’t get me off my seat when watching the Nottingham Forest game back. I really want him to succeed because I thought he had some decent qualities during his time here, but in that Forest side he should be the leading man, but he failed to deliver. On the up side, I guess that makes his departure a little easier to take.

What has become apparent in the last few fixtures is the importance of Scott Parker. Despite the former England midfielder coming to the end of his career, his leadership, passion and drive is on another level. He marshals our side and when he’s not on the pitch, it’s no coincidence that the organisation seems to fade.

Against QPR, Parker truly ran that midfield and not only did he do his defensive duties, he picked the ball up and drove at the QPR defence. He moved the ball about in the final third and his overall play was of the highest standard. Although Parker’s not getting any younger, in my eyes, his performances this season have made him the first name on the team-sheet when he’s available.

The QPR fixture was disappointing for a number of reasons, and sadly we didn’t get the bragging rights over our neighbours too. We made a number of chances and once again we failed to take them. With our forwards desperate for goals, I’m surprised neither of them jumped at the opportunity to take the penalty. While, Tom Cairney and Sone Aluko are very decent players at this level, Cairney’s penalty was incredibly choreographed, making it easy for Smithies to predict which side he was going to strike. Considering Chris Martin used to take penalties at Derby I really felt he should have been the designated taker.

Considering Martin’s performances over recent seasons, I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping for him to open his account for us sooner rather than later. Once he has that first goal and breaks his drought, I have a strong feeling he’ll be the man to rely upon for the rest of the season. A forward that is capable of scoring 20 goals a season is something that we need, and considering Martin’s previous seasons, he is more than capable of delivering that.

Even though there has been some improvement at the back this season, there is still more to work on. Although goalkeeping is a very tough position to play week in, week out I personally feel that David Button could have done better in certain situations.  There’s no doubting his shot stopping ability, but goalkeepers have to offer much more than that on a regular basis. There’s been too many times that we have relied on the keeper to come and collect crosses and be more demanding, and while his shot stopping is impressive, he needs to add that commanding presence to his game.

A lot has changed over the last month, but I guess it’s good to have these moments – it allows experimentation, and the realisation that everything isn’t wonderful. In those times, people focus more, competition for places can grow and trying to learn another way of playing can generally add another dimension to our game. But, I do have complete faith in this squad, we have a proven bunch of players in this division and once they settle and begin to gel, they should get us out of our seats – hopefully cheering after scoring so many!

Things take time, and form will fluctuate. There’s no doubting that but I still think we have the right manager and set of players to achieve our expectations this season.
Thank you ever so much for reading – The Craven Corner will feature in the match day programme for our home game against Norwich City.

Thank you for your ongoing support and feedback.

Please feel free to contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith