Craven Corner: Reasons To Be Cheerful

3rd October 2017
Fulham team celebrate QPR opener

At the start of the month, fans would have feared the September fixture list, but after 11 points from the 6 fixtures, Fulham are starting to move on up.

It’s been a slow start to the season for Jokanovic’s Fulham this year and that’s mainly due to the absence of key players, with Tom Cairney still missing. Despite the slow start, a strong September has pushed Fulham back up to tenth, just three points away from the play-offs.

Personally, I think we’re in a surprisingly good position at this stage of the season, as a lot of the teams above us which occupy the promotion spots won’t be there in May. Even though Cardiff and Sheffield United have been impressive in the opening eleven games, I don’t believe that they have the strength in depth as some other teams do in this division, and if you compare our position to the other ‘favourites’ for promotion this season, we look much healthier. (Notice how far Reading have fallen after a big summer, and rumours that Jaap Stam may be fired – It’s okay, you can admit it…. it feels good to see them in 20th).

Even though it’s not been the best start for Fulham, it’s good to see the side grinding out results even when we are not in top form, and that was obvious against QPR on Friday.

While derby games are always unpredictable, I was surprised to see our side sit so deep against QPR. It allowed QPR to really put pressure on our back line when they were in possession and there were far too many passes that were knocked across our own area from a goal kick. Luckily, the defenders didn’t give the ball away, but one mistake and Button would have had to deal with a one-on-one opportunity.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that by sitting deep, it brings the QPR back-line further up the field and then the likes of Ojo and Mollo can use the space behind on the counter. But I would have liked to have seen a more direct approach at times from Fulham, or even push further up the pitch to relieve some pressure that was on us throughout the game.

Friday’s game was a strange one though, as I didn’t expect Sheyi Ojo to retain his place in the side, especially after Kebano scored against Forest, but Jokanovic kept his faith in the Liverpool loanee.

After watching Ojo’s performances this season, I don’t think he’s warranted a starting spot over the options that we have out-wide. I still think he’s a bit too raw for this level and will need a lot of coaching to improve.

There’s no denying that he’s a talented footballer and his physical attributes are an asset to any side, but there’s too many times this season he hasn’t got his head up and picked out the pass in the final third, and when you spend £9m on a striker like Fonte, you have to make sure he’s getting service from the wingers selected.

Unfortunately, Ojo was stretched off the field on Friday with a dislocated shoulder, which was sad to see. He chose to join Fulham over many other clubs, so to see him side-lined for three months when he was just getting started is a shame.

On the other hand, I think he will then need more time after his injury to earn his spot back in the side, and having to work hard to force his way back into the side in the new year, will be a good experience for him.

Especially when he is up against the likes of Neeskens Kebano, Yohan Mollo, Ryan Sessegnon, Jordan Graham, Floyd Ayite & Lucas Piazon – all of which possess a lot of quality. But for now, I hope Sheyi makes a swift and full recovery!

As for the other winger Yohan Mollo, it was a pleasure to see him starting for the club, after a series of impressive cameo’s from the bench. Even though he didn’t see enough of the ball during his time on the pitch, it’s clear that he is here to prove a point after a bit of journeyman-like few years at different clubs.

The former Nancy star looks a handful and you can clearly see that he has played a lot higher level than the Championship as his decision making and creativity is very impressive. Despite the early high praise for Mollo, I still think there’s more to come from him.

As he continues to settle and gets a solid run in the starting eleven, I think he’ll become a key asset for us this season and his performances will only get better.

There was also another new-boy this month who stood out from the crowd, and that was forward Aboubakar Kamara. The French forward, managed to score in back to back games against Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough, and his performances started to show glimpses of what he is truly capable of.

In August, the former Amiens man looked very rash with his decision making and control of the ball; but after notching his first goal for the club, he is starting to show signs of improvement. It was gutting to see him pick up a light injury against Nottingham Forest, but once he recovers, he will provide the much needed competition for Rui Fonte, who still needs to settle himself.

As for October, Fulham have four winnable fixtures, with the hardest challenge coming away to Aston Villa on the 21st. While, an away day at Villa Park has many good memories, any side Steve Bruce manages is incredibly tough to break down, and with their recruitment over the summer, Villa possess one of the strongest squads in the league.

But with games against Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers & Bristol City all in October, I don’t see why Jokanovic’s men can’t take a minimum of nine points from their next four league fixtures.

That may sound too ambitious or optimistic, and no disrespect to the sides we’ll face this month, but if we are serious about promotion this campaign, then we need to take maximum points from those games. Especially when November starts with back to back games against Wolves and Derby, two incredibly hard games against sides that will be in the top six come next summer.

But, on the other hand, I can’t see any reason why Fulham fans shouldn’t be optimistic about this season, especially when we should see the return of Tom Cairney back by the end of October, and with TC in our side, Fulham shouldn’t fear anyone in this division.

Although Oli Norwood has done a great job in deputising for the skipper, there ain’t nobody, like Tom Cairney.

Thank you ever so much for reading, and if you have any feedback, please don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter – @ABronsSmith

If you have missed any of the Craven Corner articles, you can catch up here.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get more Fulhamish in your inbox