Let me set the scene. It’s the 1st of May 2013 and Fulham are playing Crystal Palace at home in the last game of the season. Fulham had already been condemned to relegation which ended their 13 year stay in the Premier League, and things looked bleak.
The lineup was an ageing one, the players looked deflated and without cohesion, and the manager had done nothing to win over the fanbase since taking over in February. In all honesty, there wasn’t much to cheer, until a presumptuous, confident 19-year old, who we’d signed from the then non-League Luton Town two years previously, decided to announce his presence in the first team.
Upon receiving a cut-back from Hugo Rodallega inside the area, Woodrow feigned a shot and cut back, leaving Palace full back Joel Ward on the floor, before curling a beautiful left footed strike into the opposite corner of Wayne Hennessey’s goal, leaving the Wales No. 1 with no chance.
It seemed like a wave of optimism swept the ground. Whilst our current squad had let us down, there was talent bubbling in the ranks. Our all-conquering under-18’s was bursting with players that people were raving about – Roberts, Dembélé, Hyndman – and here was another swashbuckling striker who looked like he could be part of the nucleus of the new young Fulham.
The problem that I, and many other fans, have with Cauley, is that I don’t think he knows completely what kind of striker he is.
With Chris David adding the second in fine style, Fulham fans would have been forgiven for thinking that maybe this season in the Championship would turn out to be an opportunity, rather than a curse. Perhaps the club could rediscover its panache by bringing through the youngsters, and rebuild the confidence and love between the increasingly aggrieved fanbase and the club as a whole.
Believe it or not, Cauley has actually only started 12 Championship games for Fulham since that day, although he has also come on from the bench 36 times. From those 48 appearances, he has notched up 8 goals. What this means is that in the 1518 minutes Cauley has played, he’s notched up a goal every 218.86 minutes, which is a goal every 2.5 games. His Cup exploits are thus: 11 starts and 4 goals – two against Leyton Orient earlier this season, and two against Wolves in January 2015. The goal-per-minute statistics are similar in the cup.
The problem that I, and many other fans, have with Cauley, is that I don’t think he knows completely what kind of striker he is. He hasn’t decided as yet whether he wants to hold up the ball and bring others into play, or if he’s a poacher that wants to play off the last defender and be looking to run the channels. This is a frustrating predicament to find yourself in as a fan, because it means that you expect both, or at least for success in whatever role Cauley is playing in that game.
Against Bristol City this year in the EFL Cup was one of the most frustrating nights I’ve experienced watching a striker. I don’t even mean the missed penalty here. I remember two or three crosses being fizzed in across the box where our central striker, instead of trying to get across the defender to get to the ball, hung back on the penalty spot as if waiting for a mis-kick or a mistake that would lead to a tap in. It’s hard to imagine something more frustrating for a wide player than playing not just one, but a few killer balls across the box only for your striker not to be even trying to get near them.
Has Cauley matured properly as a player since that dynamic debut? I think that maybe the answer, sadly, to this question, is no, and I think what’s worse is that this is partly Fulham’s fault. Whilst Fulham gave the young striker a bit part role coming off the bench, perhaps he should have been out in League One, playing and scoring regularly and learning his trade as the central man in any given loan team. That yoke of responsibility, especially as the lone striker in the system that Jokanović wants to play, does not seem to rest easily on the young striker’s shoulders.
Cauley is 21 years old, 22 in a month; and I have no doubt that he will come of age, but whilst he is still young, he’s not as young as we as a fanbase think he is, I feel. Dembélé is a year and a half younger; Tammy Abraham, who scored the winner in that Bristol City game, is almost three years Cauley’s junior. With the introduction of Chris Martin and chances looking like they’re limited again, perhaps now would be the best time to let him have his chance out on loan, let him find his style and his confidence, and give him the sense of responsibility he needs to develop if he is to be a future leader of Fulham’s line.
It’s a difficult call. If Woodrow goes out on loan and starts scoring when we’re not, the questions will be asked of why we’ve let him go. His enterprise and work-rate has always been excellent, which is what many fans want to see on the pitch. On top of this there’s also the fact that he’s quite obviously a popular figure in the Fulham camp, and it would be hard for Woodrow to be farmed out on loan whilst his friends are playing in the first team. Ultimately, however, it’s perhaps his football which would benefit most and I think it could be the making of him, which would, in the long run, be a wonderful thing for the future of Fulham Football Club.