Fulham win away from Craven Cottage. That’s correct, three points on the road on a miserable night in Huddersfield. Break out the Champagne, we’ve basically gained promotion and we’re only three games in. I’ve been reading BTEC Leeds United posts in EFL Facebook groups far too much and it really shows.
In all seriousness, Scott Parker’s men resembled a team that’s geared for a scrappy, arduous battle this term and that is all we’ve ever asked for. We don’t need Andre Schurrle and his tunnel visioned claptrap or Jean Michael Seri’s forged reputation. We want warriors that respect the badge, just like our devoted gaffer did at every waking minute in his pomp.
At the John Smith’s Stadium, the Whites could have wilted at 1-1 after Karlan Grant’s routine header crept over the line by a whisker, but they dug deep to grant the travelling faithful a triumph they categorically deserved. We’ve been dragged through desperate times of late, so maybe now it’s our queue to have the last laugh. Sorry, Jan Siewert, but we’re loving life in the Championship.
Yes For Sess’
Parker’s had us marked down as chumps since the start. There was no need for us to delve into the transfer market for another right-back, not when we’ve already got a ready-made swashbuckler in the shape of Steven Sessegnon on our books. That family’s genes are elite, aren’t they?
I, for one, have been shrieking, blue faced, for the forgotten Sess’ to emerge on the senior platform and the U17 World Cup winner did not disappoint. The early stages highlighted his naivety, having incurred a caution, but as the game progressed, Sess’ grew with the challenges he confronted, banishing those niggling nerves and apprehensions in a nanosecond. For a senior debut, on a dismally drizzly evening up t’north, he conducted himself magnificently. Anything you can do, Ryan.
Sess’ marshalled his flank admirably, and the assured composure he projected whilst safeguarding possession eased pressure to springboard offensive offensive phases of our own. Dashing tirelessly along the touchline in support of Anthony Knockaert, the 19-year-old also featured heavily in Fulham’s sumptuous second goal, after dispatching a deft searching cross into a congested 18-yard box. Flying into 50/50s, springing into aerial duels, he is everything an aspiring fullback should be. Cyrus Christie’s quivering in his shadow.
Pop Cava, Cav’
I know there’s a few of us out there that thought Ivan Cavaleiro was slightly careless in the first-half, and I also know that we few were forced to eat our words after the interval. Hacking at elementary passes, slamming cross-field switches into advertisement hoardings, it wasn’t a particularly glowing performance but then, with transient moments of mastery, Cav’ flexed his sublime superiority to keep his lesser competitors in check and at bay.
Firing on all cylinders or not, though, the 26-year-old is capable of boring opposing fullbacks into the earth’s core with electrifying shifts and shimmies, and whilst he wasn’t singing from the same hymn sheet at times before the break, he endeavoured to peril Huddersfield with audacious, sinister expeditions in possession. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but besides being markedly average in comparison to his potential, Cav’s majesty trickled through in equal measure.
Throughout the encounter, Joe Bryan and Cav’ interlinked efficiently and it’s evident that their connection and understanding as a partnership is undoubtedly strengthening. A prime example of that point being the Portuguese national’s 8oth-minute winner. Jockeyed by Florent Hadergjonaj, Cav’ stalled his sorcery until Bryan distracted the Switzerland international then, as our eager left-back charged into the danger zone, Cav’ unleashed an arcing whopper, top bins, past a hapless Kamil Grabara. The curse, and beauty, of being the game’s “hit and miss” hero.
StefJo the Saboteur
Reckless, short sighted, as flat as his rain-sodden locks, Stefan Johansen was another inclusion that was, well, vastly uninspired for various spells. But once the limb-wielding Norwegian reacquainted himself with the taste of sweet, sweet destruction, nothing, not even the typically summery weather, was going to dampen his outing.
StefJo was surplus last season but he is our undisputed shithouser in chief, and when we needed our resident midfield honcho to push buttons and ruffle feathers under the floodlights, he hurdled into action like a gazelle that’s midway through escaping the jaws of a famished lion. He was mediocre at best in possession, but you’ve got to love and appreciate a trier.
The 28-year-old saboteur locked horns with Jonathan Hogg and Juninho Bacuna and gave as good as he got. Hounding possession in an almost demented manner, StefJo squeezed space, clipped heels and dismantled the hosts’ flagging fortitude. In the second-half, bounding from one corner of the turf to the next, he did not cease his quest to wreak havoc. In the Championship, amidst the droves of no nonsense enforcers, Johansen’s defiance will be invaluable to our cause.
Friday’s Fantastic Fluidity
Slick sequences were a delight to behold on Friday evening, a fluidity that’s been on vacation for a full season, virtually. In months gone by, we’ve been culprit to static, pedestrian phases on the break, but in the splendour of North Yorkshire, the Whites yanked the Terriers apart with incisive, synchronised combinations.
Constructed by Tom Cairney, Harry Arter and Cavaleiro, the visitors carved Huddersfield wide open with neatly formed triangles, flicks and pirouettes. On a greasy surface, Fulham manoeuvred possession proficiently, and whilst the ball didn’t stick to its intended destination religiously, Parker’s men maintained a frequency that distressed Siewert’s outwitted camp. These are very encouraging blueprints indeed.
As a flattering result, away from home, Fulham held 66% possession and completed 667 passes, nearly twice of what Huddersfield mustered. Parker wants his squad to play liquid football, a brand that emulates our esteemed 2017-18 collective. With the intelligence and creativity within our ranks, we’re equipped to brandish the division’s most attractive football, and if we can incorporate a systematic cutting edge to our poetic style, we could go one step further than Slavisa Jokanovic’s Play-Off victors and, dare I say it, walk this league.
Mitro’s Acting Up
He’s a heavyweight of his profession and a lethal weapon, we know this, but pressed by Tommy Elphick and Christopher Schindler, Aleksandar Mitrovic (almost) met his match. Balls zipped into the Serb’s midriff but Huddersfield’s centre-half pairing constricted, Mitro’s couldn’t shunt himself into an imposing area often enough. Initially, this wasn’t exceedingly alarming, although to reap the rewards of having an attacker like Mitro’ in the final third, he has to lay down the law from the very first touch.
To unsettle Mitro’, a defender must butt heads with a self-proclaimed gym enthusiast, and that’s not a proposal for the faint-hearted. Elphick and Schindler snared the 24-year-old adequately, but it was only a matter of time before a blaze of Mitro’-sized proportions ignited. Rule No.256 of containing a striker of Mitro’s stature: Do not, under any circumstance, lace an erratic clearance, skywards across your own box, into his general vicinity. Bacuna didn’t sample that critical guideline. Ball in orbit, defenders in a state of frenzied panic, 1-0 Fulham.
Now, without dwelling on retrospective punishments, Mitro’ could have plunged himself into very hot water indeed, thanks to his feigned eye injury fiasco. Sprawled on the deck, Rajiv van La Parra’s boot seemingly brushed Mitro’s eye, although after examining the footage, the Dutchman’s studs were nowhere near the area of supposed distress. A wag of the index in your direction, Aleksandar. We actually need you on the pitch, not on the sofa serving a needless ban. Channel your inner Rivaldo elsewhere, please and thank you.