In the first part of a new Fulhamish weekly feature, Jack J Collins takes a look the noise around the club, and appeals for calm in the more outraged sections of the Whites’ fanbase.
So Fulham lost away at Aston Villa and suddenly the fanbase is on Jokanovic’s back, Rui Fonte isn’t good enough to play at Championship level and the club is falling backwards into a ruinous state, all brought about by the failures of the stats-based system and the Khan’s ownership as a whole. Or, on second thoughts, maybe not.
Some of the comments being thrown about across the Whites’ online spectrum are baffling, skewed or simply plain wrong, and the fact remains that people are panicking despite the fact that Fulham have had a reasonably solid start to the season.
Let’s look back at things under a calmer eye, shall we? We said in last week’s preview that Villa, especially at home, are slowly turning into one of the best sides in this division. Whilst it has been pointed out that Fulham beat them at the Cottage six months ago, and thus claimed that the defeat was evidence of regression, this is grossly unfair in a number of ways.
Back in March, Fulham were aided by a somewhat fortuitous sending off, and still toiled against a resolute unit until Kebano’s goal put some gloss on a scoreline. This is not to say we weren’t the better team – just to point out that the result could have been different if Ryan Fredericks’ tangle with Villa’s main man Jonathan Kodjia had been seen in an alternative light by the referee.
Fitting then, that Kodjia was the man who gave Kalas and Ream nightmares through the whole of the last game. Who knows how that home game might have turned out if the man brought in from Bristol City to bolster the Villa attack, had stayed on the pitch for 90 minutes at the Cottage. If his performance was anything like that which he produced at the weekend, then the scoreline might not have looked quite so glossy for FFC.
Slav’s Tactical Errors
In truth, Fulham were outplayed and Slavisa got it wrong. There’s no denying this. Playing Rui Fonte on the wing was a bizarre move that many of us tried to work out by suggesting that Fulham were playing a different formation. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t true. Fonte is an excellent player, despite the doubts of his ability since he missed a penalty against QPR, but he’s not a winger. (If we’re using penalties against Rangers as the measuring stick, we may as well also write off Tom Cairney as well after last year’s mess at the Cottage).
That was the crucial mistake from Jokanovic but it wasn’t the only one. Ryan Sessegnon again looked good going forward, but having to deal with the twin threats of a drifting Kodija and an in-form Albert Adomah, the young No3 looked out of his comfort zone, and left many crying out for the introduction of Rafa Soares, who is surely match-fit by this point.
But let’s get onto it, shall we? Fulham have a plethora of wingers – a depth in wide areas that most teams could only dream of. To play Fonte out wide when Yohan Mollo and Neeskens Kebano are chomping at the bit for a start seems not only cruel but also foolish, and that’s not even taking into account that Sessegnon could have played higher up or we could have seen a start for young Jordan Graham, who has barely been given a decent run-out at all.
It’s also alarmingly evident that there has been lots of criticism for Fonte, played out of position, and yet surprisingly little for Kamara through the centre. If we are to ignore that Kamara spurned an absolute sitter within the first 5 minutes, and then when presented with another shooting opportunity, managed to put the ball out for a throw-on rather than hitting the target whilst in the box, then we’re watching his game through rose-tinted spectacles.
Ultimately, whilst Kamara possesses qualities that can make him a threat, he is not half the player Fonte is. Touch, link-up play and awareness are all so crucial to the way that Fulham play, and in a game where we dominated possession for large swathes of time, it seems baffling to me that we didn’t revert to a system with inverted wingers and Fonte through the middle. Bringing Ibrahima Cisse on for Johansen whilst chasing the game also seemed like a bizarre move from Slavisa.
It doesn’t, however, mean that Jokanovic is suddenly incapable of managing this team. It’s been mad this week seeing people calling him a chancer, and suggesting that the team did well last year in spite of Jokanovic rather than alongside him. The gaffer isn’t perfect, by any means, but he’s earned our respect and trust, and we need to make it clear that we’re behind him and the team as they try to fully kick this season into gear.
There’s plenty of scope to do that over the next week and Fulham desperately need to take six points off Bolton and Bristol City at home if we’re to go into what is potentially the hardest game of the season at Wolves away, with any sort of confidence. Bolton looks the easier game on paper but, in truth, the Trotters have weaponry which will worry the Whites.
Bolton are set-play specialists. It’s not insulting or amusing to say this – it’s a fact. Wanderers set new records last season for the amount of goals scored via set plays, and with the aerial threat posed by David Wheater, Mark Beevers and Gary Madine, it’s not hard to see why. There’s also the fact that Bolton are an exceptionally physical unit. Aside from those mentioned above, former Fulham man Darren Pratley captains the side from the centre of the park, alongside Public Enemy Karl Henry and the immensely talented Josh Vela.
Ex-Reading man Jem Karacan adds some flair, along with Sammy Ameobi and Adam Le Fondre, although the latter has struggled to carry his League One form into the Championship. Former Cardiff midfielder Craig Noone will not be a stranger to anyone at Craven Cottage after his screamer two seasons ago; and Aaron Wilbraham and Adam Armstrong both know how to score goals at this level.
No-one at Fulham, players and fans alike, should be looking at this game and going – “easy win”. Bolton will come to hamper, frustrate, break up play and look for a winner via a set piece that they can then protect. Fulham will need to be patient, creative and clinical – if they are, then there is no reason that the game couldn’t turn into a rout.
It’s getting into the middle part of the season, and Fulham need a decent run if they want to be in the mix for automatics by the time that May comes around. We’re still an exceptionally good team and Jokanovic is still a great manager. Tom Cairney is on the way back and we might finally see Rafa Soares – let’s stay positive.