Play-off First Leg: Match Day Programme, Saturday 13th May – 5:30pm. Fulham 1-1 Reading

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The Craven Corner

Fulham’s future is bright, according to columnist Adam Brons-Smith…

Twelve months ago, we were banging our heads together trying to figure out what the future held after two disappointing years in the Championship. Fast-forward to today and we have a club and a team we can be proud of.

At the start of the season, I predicted we’d finish around 10th or 12th, so to end the campaign in sixth and five points above Leeds in seventh is an incredible achievement.

The job that has been done by everyone at the Club, both on and off the pitch, has been nothing short of amazing, but even after 46 league games,our season isn’t over. Today could be the turning point in our Club’s history and the beginning of something special.

While Slaviša Jokanović has already built a very talented squad and reshaped our footballing philosophies, his biggest job will start this afternoon as we begin our journey in the Play-Offs and hopefully secure a return to the Premier League.

Since February, Fulham have became the in-form side of the division. We’ve defied the odds already and I strongly believe we’ll continue to surpass expectation and achieve what most people thought was unthinkable at the start of the season – promotion.

But, if there’s been one thing that this league has taught us, it’s that there are no easy games and nothing can be taken for granted. All you have to do is look at last season’s table and see where both Reading and

Today could be the turning point in our Club’s history and the beginning of something special” Adam Brons-Smith

Fulham finished in comparison to this term’s standings. Not only that, but back in December Fulham beat Reading 5-0 at home. Yet, just a month later, Reading got their revenge with a 1-0 victory at the Madejski Stadium. So, just like every game for the past month or so, we have to treat these remaining matches like a cup final to make sure we perform to the best we possibly can and continue our end-of-season momentum throughout these Play-Off fixtures.

Momentum and consistency were two words that I constantly discussed last summer and it was these two aspects that would define our season. Despite our form

fluctuating throughout the first half of the season, Fulham began to settle in 2017 and players began to adjust to the methodology their coaches wanted. With this, Fulham started to get noticed and the ‘spine’ of our team became more apparent. With a concrete midfield of Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney, Fulham’s identity grew and their possession-heavy football began to get noticed on a wider scale. A rejuvenated Tim Ream returned to the side and proved to be the ideal partner for Tomas Kalas. As
the side became settled, our points total grew and the fans’ belief and optimism developed alongside that week after week.

Luckily, Fulham start the Play-Offs with a full-strength side and, with Chris Martin available once again, the only selection headache for Slaviša will be who leads the line.

I don’t expect the same result today as we witnessed back in December, but I do hope
that Fulham make their home advantage count. We now have three games left to create history and return to the highest tier in English football. COYW!

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Here’s to you, Kevin McDonald!

After a couple of disappointing results against Wolves and Blackburn in recent weeks, Fulham managed to scrape all three points from yesterday’s fixture against Rotherham.

While, it was sad to see Rotherham relegated due to our victory, Fulham couldn’t afford to come home with anything less than three points, considering how tight it is between ourselves and Sheffield Wednesday heading into the final play-off position. With, Sheffield Wednesday only drawing to Barnsley in the 94th minute, Fulham had a chance to leap-frog and finish the weekend in the top six. Despite our game against Rotherham being quite the scrappy affair, teams that get promoted out of the Championship still manage to get results even when they are playing poorly, and yesterday Fulham managed to do just that.

Fair play to Rotherham, they were always going to get men behind the ball and that’s something Fulham have struggled to break down and it’s generally the reason why we’ve conceded the goals we have this season, due to being hit on the counter after struggling to break down the defence in the final third. But, nonetheless Fulham got the job done and seeing our club in the top six considering where we were just a year ago is simply mind blowing.

At the start of the season, I suggested that a top 10 or 12 finish would be an achievement considering the poor displays we have shown since being relegated from the Premier League. With another summer overhaul, new manager and ideas to implement, I expected us to be inconsistent, but massive congratulations to the managerial staff and the players for coming together this season and providing the fans with a team they can be proud of. With Fulham now playing an attractive brand of football and getting results, it’s no surprise that our rise this season has been well-documented. Slavisa Jokanovic has managed to completely revolutionise the way we are playing, and has moulded together a squad that are all comfortable on the ball and are happy to be patient -even if I sometimes want us to play direct when things aren’t going our way!

We’ve come such a long way in the space of the year and with Slav’s future now secured, the future really is bright for Fulham once again, and I know I’m not the only one who feels like we finally have our Fulham back.

Throughout our achievements this season, it’s no surprise our attackers have received a lot of praise and attention and rightly so. While, Tom Cairney, Sone Aluko or Stefan Johansen may be stand out candidates for our Player of the Season award, my Player of the Season so far has been summer signing, Kevin McDonald.

Now, I have to hold my hands up as I questioned his ability upon signing, but since day one I have been made to eat humble pie. McDonald is the architect of this side and is the reason why our attackers have the licence to roam and freedom to play the way they do. Not only does McDonald have an incredible understanding of the game and breaking down play, but the Scot’s passing range is second to none. Having someone of his ability in the heart of the midfield is simply a joy to watch, and time after time this season he has been a wall in front of our back four and has dictated every game. Not only that, but even on some occasions the big Scot has been asked to fill in at centre-half and he effortlessly delivered.

After this seasons performances, it’s no surprise the club pursued the midfielder for nearly 2 seasons before joining and it’s incredible that the team at the top managed to secure his transfer for just £1.25m.

A midfield colossus, thank you Kevin McDonald.

To conclude, Fulham now face 7 cup finals before the end of the season, as they have to play the teams around them, including Huddersfield, Derby, Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday. But on top of that, still have a tough game on the 17th April as they take on an in-form Aston Villa side. Despite a tough end to the season ahead of Jokanovic’s squad, the win against Rotherham to place us in the top six will bring our confidence back and will hopefully provide the momentum needed to secure ourselves in the play-offs come May.

Keep believing.

Thank you for your ongoing support and feedback. Please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter @ABronsSmith.

Fulham Match Day Programme: Fulham 3 v 1 Preston. 04/03/2017

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Columnist Adam Brons-Smith believes something special is happening by the banks of the Thames…

What a difference a year makes at Fulham Football Club. At the end of last season, Slaviša Jokanović had guided the Whites to safety after a disappointing 2015/16 campaign. A year on, Fulham sit just outside the Play-Offs with every chance of still being promoted this season. Under Jokanović’s management, the Club have once again found
an identity, and it’s safe to say that something special is being built again on the banks of the Thames.

With Fulham dominating the possession stats and already amassing more wins this campaign than the entirety

of last season, the good times are coming back to Craven Cottage. Jokanović has done an incredible job over the past year and every fan must be thrilled that he’s signed a new contract, keeping him here for at least the next two years, and hopefully leading Fulham back to the highest tier in English football.

Unbeaten in the last three league games, some may have expected Fulham to take all three points at Cardiff, but in reality a draw away from home

isn’t a bad result. It keeps the momentum going in the league, and under Neil Warnock, Cardiff are a rejuvenated team. Whilst we certainly had our chances to win the game, other results went our way with teams below us failing to record victory. With 53 points on the table so far and Preston to face today, Fulham could move ever closer to the top six.

But this afternoon’s fixture will not be easy at all. Preston arrive in SW6 just a point below Fulham in ninth place. A win for Simon Grayson’s side could take them as high as seventh, leap-frogging Fulham in the process.
While Preston may not have the budget of some of the sides above and around us they’re a strong unit to break down. Expect at least one change in the Fulham starting XI today after Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon suffered a broken jaw at Cardiff and is expected to be out of action for a little while. Hopefully the Brazilian will be back before the end of our campaign as he’s proved himself to be a key asset in our current squad. Fulham have used the likes of Neeskens Kebano and Floyd Ayité in recent weeks to lead the line. It’s proved to be very successful with Kebano scoring against Wigan and Cardiff, and his deflected shot sealing victory against Nottingham Forest. Despite the disappointing news of Piazon’s injury, Jokanović has a plethora of talent to choose from. Although Fulham are still in transition, we’re moving forward as a club and making big progress. After securing Jokanović’s long-term future, Fulham have a Head Coach and a side they can truly get behind and love. COYW!

Thank you for your ongoing support and if you have any feedback or want to contact me, please tweet me @ABronsSmith

Cup Exit – But There’s Still Plenty To Play For

It’s safe to say Fulham are entering a very strange part of their season. After a disappointing performance at home to Tottenham this weekend, what does the future hold for Jokanovic’s men?

I don’t think anyone was truly expecting Neeskens Kebano to start as the lone forward against Spurs, and in fairness it was a massive ask considering he has rarely featured all season. The game plan was obvious from the opening fifteen minutes with the midfield hitting long-balls hoping to get the Congolese attacker in behind Alderweireld and Vertonghen, but it didn’t have much luck. With the side lacking much creativity in the final third, Spurs began to dominate the game and time after time the left-hand side of the defence in Scott Malone and Tim Ream looked vulnerable. While, I’m a big fan of the style of football Slavisa Jokanovic has brought to the team, we still suffer defensively. Our full-backs aren’t good enough going back, and even though Malone has scored plenty of goals this season, he’s in the side to keep clean sheets more than anything and needs to make sure he does the basics right. Although, Denis Odoi didn’t have the best of games, he was the better performing full-back for Fulham on this afternoon.

But this is where we need to look towards a ‘Plan B’, something that Jokanovic has struggled to do implement all season. Even though we have the level of quality to out-pass teams in this division, there has been too many times this season where we have simply got to the final third and passed the ball sideways. Without, Chris Martin in the side we lack a focal point, and when Fulham get to the opposition’s area, they are trying to play too cute between the lines rather than getting it wide and delivering the ball for the forward in the box. Against Spurs this happened time after time, and our attacks were easily snuffed out and Spurs regained their tempo. On the upside, we’ll never face a team as good as Spurs unless we get promoted, but it was a learning curve for all involved on how to play ‘stylish football with attacking full-backs’. But, we shouldn’t be afraid to adopt an ‘ugly’ approach if things aren’t going our way. If that means we have to play more structured and direct football then so be it, teams don’t get awarded points for style, and if we want to improve, sometimes we have to win a game by trying something new.

What hasn’t gone unnoticed in our recent fixtures is the lack of Chris Martin and although I’ve mentioned his presence in the paragraph above, he still has a vital role to play in this side. Yes, he has been a controversial character since Christmas, but considering the club allowed Cauley Woodrow and Matt Smith to leave this winter, Martin is our only viable target man in the squad – He gives us another dimension in attack. Martin has the ability to hold the ball up and bring our attacking midfielders into play, and it’s this system that brings the best out of our midfield. This dimension to our attack is lost, if we play with a smaller forward or an attacking midfielder as our number 9. While, the likes of Floyd Ayite, Neeskens Kebano and Cyriac may be talented athletes, they are a complete different style of forward to Martin, and love him or hate him, we’re a better side with the Scot leading the line. When Martin is playing with his back to goal, we’re much more efficient and if that isn’t working, then Jokanovic should look at switching to a two forward formation to help provide some support upfront. With a more diminutive forward playing alone, we are forced to try and turn centre-halves or hit the ball to too long, which in all honesty, hasn’t worked whenever it has been tried.  With Fulham crying out for a ‘Plan B’, the club need to come together surrounding the situation with Martin, and forget about it as we have a very good chance of being promoted, if we accept the qualities of what we’ve got. Martin was the best option on the bench in recent games and has gone unused. Yes, we’ve won our last 2 league games 3-2, but they are both fixtures we should have won by a more comfortable margin.

In the last few entries of this blog, I’ve stressed the importance of the next 4-6 months at the club. We have an incredibly tough set of fixtures between now and the end of the season and a lot could change depending on where the club finishes this year. If we are promoted, then we’ll have to go on an impressive run and luck must be on our side. Even then, if we got promoted, a host of new contracts would have to be offered to key figures and at least £30-50m would have to be invested into the side.

But, at the start of the year I stated that if we finished in the top 10 it would have been a successful season. Now, many of the readers may think I’m being pessimistic or they make think differently, but we are a club in transition. We must remember that Slavisa Jokanovic joined us just over a year ago, and we’ve had to completely change personnel from the squads built by Felix Magath & Kit Symons, so we are still settling.

Development of Motspur Park has been completed and the plans for a stadium expansion are still underway with Shahid Khan continuing to improve the club’s assets. While we didn’t ‘splash the cash’ in January, it will be an incredibly important summer should we remain in the Championship. Slavisa Jokanovic still has a lot to prove, despite the upturn in performances this season, but with contract talks ongoing with himself and the board, sorting his future sooner rather than later will be a great boost to everyone involved. It will also allow more time for the board to prepare for the summer business, working with the manager to highlight targets and where the squad can be improved depending on our finish.

More importantly, there are a host of players we need make sure stay at this club for the next 2-3 years. The likes of Tomas Kalas (albeit on loan), Tom Cairney, Ryan Sessegnon, Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald & Ryan Fredericks to name a few who are probably our most valuable assets and fixtures of our team’s core and spine. If we can keep the majority of this squad together for at least the next 18 months, there’s no reason why we can’t get promoted from the Championship and return to the Premier League. We are blessed right now we some outstanding talent and with the right managerial setup and backing from the board, Fulham could have a very bright future on the horizon.

After being knocked out of the cup by Tottenham, Fulham have to make sure that they bounce back with an away victory at Bristol City on Wednesday. With Bristol City possessing the likes of Tammy Abraham, a goal machine at this level, Fulham need to record their third straight league win and put pressure on the chasing pack for promotion. Despite our cup exit, there’s still plenty to be optimistic and excited about at Craven Cottage. So keep the faith and let’s see if we can make something special from this season.

Thank you for your ongoing support and feedback for the Craven Corner. It really has been an amazing year both on the blog and in the match day programmes. Please do share the content and feel free to contact me on Twitter @ABronsSmith.

Thank you.

The Craven Corner: We Can’t Get Carried Away

While it has been easy to get carried away this season, even I must remember not to  get ahead of myself after every victory. At the start of the season, I stated that Fulham are still a club in transition and after changing personnel every summer, the club is crying out for stability and over time our situation will be much more impressive. Under Slavisa Jokanovic the club has dramatically improved, we have found an identity and style that suits our squad and the summer’s recruitment has been a success.

Debatably, we are in still in the race for a promotion place, if we don’t achieve a top six finish then the club must keep the core of the squad for the long-term future, that does include a new deal for the management staff. Even though, style doesn’t guarantee points, as a squad everyone has improved and realistically we’ve built a strong foundation to build upon. If we can keep the current crop together for another 18 months, there’s no reason why the club shouldn’t be able to return to the highest tier in English football.

If points were awarded for the possession percentages and style of play then we would have already been promoted, but sadly that’s not the case and in certain fixtures we need to be able to revert to a plan B. I know the fans wouldn’t want the football to become ‘boring’ but at the same time, we need to win ‘ugly’. It’s all good dominating the ball, but when clubs sit deep and soak up the pressure we shouldn’t be afraid to play more direct. With Martin leading the line, we have one of the most prolific forwards in this division, and with the arrival of Cyriac in the January transfer window, we could change shape or style if things aren’t going our way in games. If this means changing the way the full-backs attack, and making them more defensively disciplined or going two up-front, then it must be explored. Teams are well aware of our capabilities and if they are setting up for the point, then we need to be able to revert to a different system.

The next six months are probably the most important at our club in a very long time. The reason behind that statement is quite simple. We finally have the players and staff that could re-build this club, but investment from the top to secure those assets for next 18-24 months is now pivotal. Without a doubt there will be interest in our key players in the summer, but  we cannot afford to lose anyone from our starting eleven.

Give the current setup another 18 months, and we should finally get the consistency that we have long needed since the departure of Roy Hodgson & Mark Hughes. Ever since we’ve blown hot and cold and our time in the Championship has been far below expectations of anyone involved with the football club. But, we are a club in transition and should we keep the personnel  for the long-term, with a few clever additions in the summer we could have a promotion winning campaign next season, if it is not achieved in during 2017.

After allowing a few players to leave the club in the January transfer window, Slavisa has managed to wittle the squad down to a select few players that he is keen to work with. Jokanovic should be given a tonne of praise for the way he has developed young Ryan Sessegnon. The left-back has been managed expertly and been allow to develop and not been thrown in the deep end. Managing expectations and development is vital for the youngster, and so far, that has been a success. A key figure for the future of Fulham, and another success of our Youth Academy.

Today’s game will be a tough despite the difference in league position. Wigan had a very eventful transfer window and with an influx of new faces, manager Warren Joyce is slowly moulding a very capable squad for this division. There will be a few names in their squad that some Fulham fans will notice, particularly Dan Burn. The gigantic defender, returns to Craven Cottage as an opponent and I’m sure many fans will still remember Dan clearing crosses in our 2-2 draw against Manchester United years ago. Despite the high-profile departure of Yanic Wildschut on deadline day, Wigan possess enough firepower in the likes of Will Grigg and Omar Bogle, so Fulham must make sure that they are raring to go from the first whistle, as any little mistake will be punished with those two across the frontline.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any feedback – Please feel free to tweet me @ABronsSmith