Things were all doom and gloom during the international break for Fulham fans, and although things are by no means turned around all of sudden, there are signs of recovery in the Whites’ two performances this week. Jack J Collins weighs it up in the latest Collins Column.
After finally finding a scoring touch which had long deserted the Whites on Tuesday night at Bramall Lane, there were plenty of calls around social media that this could be the turning point in Fulham’s season. Whilst there are merits to such suggestions, of course, it’s also early to be speculating that Fulham have suddenly rediscovered last season’s magic, especially in a game in which four goals were leaked – the latter two which made for an extremely nervy ending.
It seems only fair to start, however, with the feeling that was taken home from Wolves away. Sitting on the train back from the Midlands, discussion inevitably turned to Jokanovic’s position and whether Fulham would benefit from a change of direction in leadership. Admittedly, I had called for Jokanovic’s head after that game after a glut of tactical ineptitudes which had been obvious in the preceding few games.
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say, but it’s a fact that Fulham looked they were on a slip-slide road to nowhere after Preston, Bolton, Bristol City and Wolves —not to mention the fact that we haven’t kept a clean sheet at home since January and have only won one home game in the previous eleven league fixtures at the Cottage.
Devoid of ideas, confidence, charisma and heart, and with mostly the same squad as last year, I felt that the buck had to stop at the manager’s door—and I still do to an extent. However, the Craig Kline fiasco has brought a new light on things, and with an upturn in performances since that moment, the right call is that Jokanovic should now be given until at least after the transfer window to try and implement his own strategy.
However, the continued ostracisation of Rafa Soares, Jordan Graham and Yohan Mollo does seem to me like the remnants of a power struggle, and in Slavisa’s uncompromising attitude towards selecting them, I do think there could end up being a detrimental effect on the team brought about through pure stubbornness and Slavisa trying to make a point.
We are blind to what goes on behind the swinging doors of Motspur Park, but Mollo in particular has impressed in pretty much every cameo appearance he has made for the side, and it upsets me to think that the manager might be leaving out a player who seems to be able to offer something a bit different simply to prove his dominance in a saga which should have now been fully put to bed.
With that all said, Tuesday’s performance against Sheffield United was potentially Fulham’s best of the season, sans Ipswich, and that gives light to the return of Sheyi Ojo being the crucial spark that Fulham needed to ignite their attack. It’s important to remember that the way the Blades set up would have suited Fulham – two attack-minded sides going hammer and tongs is the kind of game which Slavisa’s method thrives on, but Ojo’s influence should not be underestimated.
The Liverpool loanee carries the ball and stretches the play, two things which Sone Aluko was very very good at last season. In doing so, he creates space for Tom Cairney to exploit, and allows for Fulham to play their possession game higher up the field. With the lowest number of passes into the opposition final third in the division before Tuesday night, the difference was startling once Fulham started to stretch play and get in behind the full backs.
If Ojo was the spark, then Ryan Sessegnon provided the dynamite. His hat-trick, special as it was, left supporters delighted and perplexed in equal measure — we know he is capable of scoring goals, so why hasn’t he been playing at left-wing all season? With that question finally put to bed (we hope) — he should slot into that role for the foreseeable future.
Something that’s potentially of interest is that aside from having Ayite ahead of Fonte (and a midfield like-for-like), Tuesday’s team was the same as that which comprehensively took apart Ipswich. That, if nothing else, is the reason that Rui Fonte should start through the middle in Ayite’s absence on Saturday, and if he can start to click again with that wide pairing and Cairney behind him, then we might finally see the Rui Fonte that we were exciting about signing, back to form.
Whether Mollo, Soares or Graham finally see the hallowed turf of Craven Cottage remains to be seen, but it would be good to see them all start to rotate into Slavisa’s plans — if attitude problems and stubbornness can all be left in the rear-view mirror, then Fulham have a chance of saving this season, with a squad that is ultimately extremely talented and capable of getting themselves back in the playoff picture.