Fulham are blessed with three leaders, all with different strengths, in the middle of the park. Jack J Collins talks about the impact that Fulham’s undersung hero, Kevin McDonald, could have on Saturday’s final.
Tom Cairney wears the armband, and is the creative fulcrum of the team, and Stefan Johansen provides the engine and the ruthless streak to Fulham’s liquid efficiency; but it is Kevin McDonald who most off the pitch see to be the man who picks things up again when the chips are down for Fulham.
It’s no coincidence that when things haven’t looked good, Kevin McDonald (alongside Tim Ream) has been one of the only people to maintain an almost perfect reputation amongst the Fulham faithful. He’s the first to fire everyone back up again when we’ve gone behind, and came the closest to snatching a draw for Fulham in the playoff first leg against Derby when the Whites were struggling to make inroads.
His goal against Barnsley remains probably the goal of the season for those of us in attendance, and the sheer scenes sparked by Fulham’s winning goal are a testament to the regard in which the big Scot is held by the faithful.
McDonald’s selfless defensive shielding is the reason that Fulham’s full-backs are able to bomb on so much and cause havoc in the final third – by dropping in as an auxiliary centre-half when play spreads, he acts as the cover needed that Fredericks and Targett are able to hit the byline or put dangerous crosses into the box, but there’s far more to KMac’s game than simply doing the dirty work.
On the ball, he’s a powerful runner, and is more likely than not to take matters into his own hands if he feels those around him aren’t performing to the best of their ability. The surges he performs give everyone a lift, and as such are key weapons for bringing both fans and his teammates back to belief when things aren’t necessarily going our way.
There’s also an aerial threat and although not a great scorer of goals, his sheer presence in the box has been enough to force the odd mistake from teams, giving Fulham an extra element from set pieces.
With all that said, McDonald’s main task on Saturday will be to shackle the effervescent Jack Grealish, who’s been so key to the Villans when they’ve played well this season.
If KMac can shut him down and prevent him from getting his foot on the ball, it will go a long way to stunting Villa’s effectiveness in possession, and their threat in attack.
If McDonald does his role to maximum effectiveness, Villa will have to change their entire style of play, bypassing Grealish, which should allow Fulham to dominate possession the way they like to. In doing so, he’d go a long way to allowing the Whites to dictate the style of the game, allowing for the fullbacks to exploit the wide pitch at Wembley and get into the attacking positions they favour – something which would push the odds of promotion in Fulham’s favour.