Three goals, three victories on the bounce and a 100% midweek winning record. Forget Saturdays, Tuesday and Wednesday nights by the river are the in thing and we’re wholeheartedly here for that. The last time Derby County came to town, Fulham were heart breakers. This time, with the Rams wanting to exact revenge, the Whites stamped the visitors’ dignity into pitiful pulp.
Phillip Cocu’s continental philosophy wilted under Scott Parker’s homegrown regime. In the post-match presser, the Dutchman praised his opponents, labelling the Cottagers as the best side in the Championship. Flattering, but the article is by no means finished – we’ve still some editing and aligning to do before that title’s claimed as ours indefinitely.
Parker’s first true test came after that abnormal defeat against Hull City. Galvanising his camp was imperative and the young manager has since answered his critics and disbelievers. His corner has been fought by each member of the squad, with fringe players making their mark to revive our campaign. Navigating the next 5 matches, though, could define his fledgling career in the dugout. Swansea City, you’re up.
Front Foot Fulham
Energy is what we asked for from the off on Tuesday evening and Fulham, taking stock of our pleads after an early Tom Lawrence scare, ambushed Derby at a breakneck, fever pitch speed. Zipping the ball across the turf, fashioning piercing patterns of play, the Whites set the tone for the encounter in the 7th minute through Bobby De Cordova-Reid, his first for the club, at last. The Rams couldn’t handle the intensity behind Fulham’s approach and were drowned out in the early stages. From that moment on, Parker’s men dictated the tempo and completely monopolised possession.
Ivan Cavaleiro was a menace on the break, brandishing deceptive shoulder dips and dazzling trickery, luring Jayden Bogle out of position. As per, Joe Bryan hared up the channel on the overlap and took Derby’s penalty area hostage. Collectively, Fulham’s work-rate was astonishing. Cav’ very rarely tracks back to cover but the searing winger chipped in defensively to relinquish the brewing threat posed by Martyn Waghorn. The 26-year-old still s dwells on the ball on the edge of the 18, but the way he manoeuvres possession within the final third is dizzying. There were many catalysts moving forward, but he was an incessant initiator on the break.
From the back, Denis Odoi intercepted and charged with the ball at his feet, drunk on momentum following his inspired outing against Queens Park Rangers. In essence, every department practised the club’s potent philosophy, a unified harmony that was deeply pleasing on the eye. The game was managed at a steady pace for the vast majority following the Cottagers’ 40th-minute second and Fulham were issued the license to record 62% possession, a resounding strangle hold that Derby – though they rallied briefly in the second-half – couldn’t wriggle free of. 659 passes compared to their 387 tells the tale perfectly. We did drop off slightly with a few laboured sequences creeping into the frame, but the visitors were limited to cold scraps at Fulham’s piping-hot buffet. A swagger been restored and now, Fulham are swaying to an infectious beat.
Stefan Johansen was nothing short of immense beneath the lights on Tuesday. Versed, acclimatised to the expectations of the Championship, I can’t really express just how valuable he is and will be to our cause this term, but the Norwegian supremo literally ran the show alongside Tom Cairney in the heart of the Whites’ engine room and, surprisingly, he didn’t rise or retaliate to any hostile antics Derby hurled his way. Are we witnessing the birth of a new, level-headed StefJo? A very large part of me hopes not but in all sincerity, it was unquestionably his most accomplished performance for the Whites this season.
Chopping up and cutting out hopeful through balls pledged by Krystian Bielik and George Evans, the 28-year-old was a persistent calming influence. Patrolling the midfield and shielding back four, Johansen was also a makeweight between defensive consolidation and offensive authority,a filter that purified Fulham’s spells in possession. Unyielding, persevering the Nordic playmaker was the mastermind behind Fulham’s controlled, measured disposition. Everything ticked systematically under his supervision.
There’s an obvious cohesion within the midfield with Johansen involved. Yes, he’s a tad irrational and over-invested but I’d still rather him than Harry Arter and as for Harrison Reed, the Southampton loanee’s much more effective from the bench as a disruptive element in the final 15-20 minutes. Johansen marries method with madness and that’s a formula that certainly works in England’s second division, an environment where soft ethics and pussyfooted principles simply don’t cut it.
Abou’ Acquires Ammo
Reborn again, Aboubakar Kamara started his second consecutive domestic meeting and continued where he left off against QPR, epitomising Fulham’s verve and dynamism. Terrorising Bogle and Max Lowe with virtually every breath he drew into his iron lungs, AK47 morphed into a tiger tank with ammunition in the turret. Sounds like an innuendo, but the scorer provided a sublime crafted assist for Bobby’s volleyed opener. Mimicking Odoi on the right channel, Abou’ lifted his head and pinpointed the lingering Jamaican attacker with a deftly-weighted cracker of a cross. Another string to ad to the bow, it seems.
Direct, stomping his markers into oblivion, Kamara sounded the bugle and the hunt was well and truly on. There was no hiding place for Derby’s back four, the bamboozling Frenchman came at our guests barrel chested and full of fire. Okay, the odd pass rifled from his boots, nearly cleaning out its intended target in the process, but I was impressed yet again by his animated exploits. I was in raptures when he collected possession in the middle of the park, treating two-or-so Derby midfielders like bowling skittles, zigzagging into the open like a distressed house cat. He really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Kamara covered a lot of ground and pulled his weight defensively, making himself a mischief as usual but sadly, and hopefully not detrimentally, his night was over in the 54th minute. Sat on the deck, fatigued, the 24-year-old was in discomfort, clutching his ankle with a grimace. He did stumble off the park and obviously I hope it’s not too serious. He’s come back into the fold with a reinvigorated devotion and is no longer singular. Speaking openly, I’d prefer him to start in place of Anthony Knockaert on a weekly basis, and I never thought I’d ever utter that statement willingly. Get well, Abou’, you’re no longer surplus in my estimation.
Superb Serb Supplies
The king returns. Aleksandar Mitrovic, back in the fold after serving a 1-match ban, ruled the final third typically without mercy or remorse. Curtis Davis grappled, Craig Forsyth cowered, the tyrannical super Serb reigned supreme and was, well, bloody amazing. That’s 13 Championship goals this season and, to the dismay of defences far and wide, the last few weeks have only been a dress rehearsal. Bit of a broken record, but we definitely have the best striker outside of England’s top six on our books, and that’s being modest.
A sign of the Apocalypse, Fulham finally scored from a corner, befitting that it came against the Rams, and it was Mitro’ that glanced past a rooted Kelle Roos. Sardined between a melee of spearmint jerseys, Mitro’ bustled through numerous bodies to divert before the interval, a debilitating sucker punch and a pill too sour for Derby to swallow. AK fed off Mitro’s aerial prowess and the brutish duo dismantled Derby in tandem – on that basis, it’s now officially deemed possible for the brawny attackers to grace the starting XI, side by side, to form a mega beast that will frighten rearguards shitless.
Incorporating raw power with a deadly acumen, the striker sensed his teammates and linked up with his midfield string pullers excellently throughout. Stealing Bielik’s ridiculously weighty touch, if we can call it that, in the 89th minute, Mitro’ jinked towards the danger area and was geared for punishment. TC made a supporting run and the attentive assassin unselfishly threaded his skipper into the 18-yard box. Given the flickering form he’s in, you’d have expected him to wield his right cannon for a brace, but this particular emperor takes care of the people. A goal and an assist, not a bad day on the throne.
Duo Douse Derby
Double acts have featured heavily in this article and there’s one pairing that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Tim Ream and Alfie Mawson kept Derby at bay and a positive partnership is blooming between the two enforcers. Fair enough, Derby’s offensive armoury have been awful this season and their blunted strikers on the night, Chris Martin most notably, basically nullified themselves, but it’s a sturdy foundation to build upon for our boys at the back, who contributed towards another well-earned clean sheet.
Ream mopped up when and where he was required to do so and Mawson filed in behind, just in case the Rams spilled through the American enforcer. Calling the line, leading from the back, Ream was a diligent drill master and his experience, command and authority certainly elevated Mawson’s performance. The 32-year-old administered possession timely and switched the ball productively, nominating AK as his preferred outlet. That studied left peg makes him the USMNT’s head honcho at set-pieces nowadays and he put it to good use.
Mawson still worries me whenever the ball ventures into his path, but for a 25-year-old defender that’s been blighted by injury, he’s still got so much to give in his career and there’s no better tutor in the squad than Ream for that nurturing purpose. An understanding is vital because the heart of the defence is such a vulnerable, sensitive sector and Ream and Mawson, tasked with the duty of safeguarding Marek Rodak’s penalty box, set the standard. Now, for the 5 testing games that lay before us, they have to maintain that benchmark without quivering at the weight of expectation or necessity.