Go on, which one of you started belting out God Save The Queen in South Wales? Fulham made a westerly trip to the Liberty Stadium and ruffled Swansea City’s feathers with a sensational first-half raid, a ruthless invasion that left the hosts belly up in the water.
So, that’s four wins in four for Scott Parker and his men and it’s also two consecutive victories away from home. The Whites began the weekend in the best possible way, but it was nail-biting stuff. That’s exactly the type of game that we would have faded out of in years gone by, though, so the character and ambition on show was highly promising and pleasing on the eye.
Bristol City, a worthy foe, are up next at home and it’s another calendar meeting that promises elation, trepidation and drama by the barrel load. It’s Bovril time in the terraces and whilst the festive period isn’t quite upon us just yet, we’re set for a December adorned with cliched Christmas crackers. Bring it on.
Guys Get Grinding
Doubt him. Critique him. Distrust him. Whatever you’re underlying opinion of him really is, Parker has altered Fulham’s fortunes for the better. Grinding out victories. Steve Cooper’sSwansea City, stubborn and regimented in the early stages, pressed high, constricting Fulham to brush the ball across the back patiently. The opening 15 minutes were enthralling, with both sides probing, but the visitors maintained their composure to relinquish the hosts’ animated firepower. Even Ivan Cavaleiro, again, pulled his weight defensively, intercepting and blockading set-pieces and would-be crosses. The Whites’ clear-cut chances were at a premium, but our weaponry was ultimately sharper and we waltzed into the break two goals to the good, against the run of play.
The second-half carried a similar narrative. The Swans grabbed a glimmer of hope in the 65th minute through George Byers’ nod and Fulham knew that an onslaught was on the horizon. Swansea prodded the Cottagers’ resolve with Andre Ayew, Byers and Sam Surridge hunting as a trio but our compact defensive department kept their discipline. Tim Ream’s evasive headers, Stefan Johansen’s tireless hounding, Joe Bryan’s resolute shadowing of Connor Roberts, we have the mettle, the collective desire, to contend at the summit of this division. Cooper’s camp carved out textbook opportunities and we can be satisfied by our resilience. We held a well-oiled squad at an arm’s length, adding insult to injury with a smash-and-grab game plan.
The manner in which we fought for those points, that will gain you promotion. It’s a marathon, there’s very a long way to go yet, but this is the period of the season where the front runner get into their groove and stride away from the chasing pack. We’re not in the top two, no, but we’re cranking up the heat and we’re destined to be in the leading peloton with a head of steam. We’ve always been about vibrant, attractive, incisive football, but our identity’s evolved. We’re no longer selective or scared of asserting ourselves, we’ll take the ugly wins home with us and we’ll tuck them in for good measure, too.
Mitro’ Manufactures Margin
15 Championship goals this season. It doesn’t take much to predict how Aleksandar Mitrovic’s season will pan out, but he’s got to be a 30+ striker in the company he keeps. We’re spoiled, blessed to have the division’s top scorer in our ranks and you know what the best thing is? He’s settled and wholeheartedly privileged to pull on our famous jersey every single matchday. Early doors, Mitro’ was marked tightly by Mike van der Hoorn and was unceremoniously barged off the ball but that in itself is a hazardous method to enforce. Provoke the powerful Serb and you will be chastised.
For other lesser strikers, ‘right place, right time’ would be the correct term of phrase but for Mitro’, his brace was naturally dispatched. Bryan punctured Swansea’s penalty area with a flat cross and Aboubakar Kamara, shifting his shape to jab a half-volley, clattered the crossbar. Alive, alert, Mitro’ pounced on the rebound to butt past a sloored Freddie Woodman in the 22 minute to break the deadlock. Vulture’s finish, that. Imperious presence of mind.
The 25-year-old, for his second, drifted into an advantageous spot in the penalty area, received the ball rather fortuitously and picked a particular square in the roof of the net to violate. His movement, awareness and proficiency is unparalleled. We’re not even half-way through the campaign and he’s romping away with the golden boot already. Without him spearheading our attack, wrenching back fours, dispatching bread and butter opportunities, mid-table would beckon. He is the difference between promotion and mediocrity.
Joshua’s Jaded Jog
I’m not here to debunk Joshua Onomah’s reputation before his career at Fulham even really begun, but I really don’t know what Parker sees in him. Bobby De Cordova-Reid was sidelined and the former Tottenham Hotspur prospect was selected by the gaffer to fill the Jamaican’s void. My word, they are complete polar opposites. For a young, athletic sportsman, the 22-year-old travels the turf like a man wearing concrete blocks for boots. Trapped in traffic, he bares the reactions of the Titanic’s captain. Nope, I’ve tried, but can’t say I rate him at all.
The lad is clearly low on confidence and I commend Parker for believing in him, but I haven’t seen anything, yet, that adjusts my negative assessment of his ability. Erratic jerking movements whilst attempting to issue simple passes, trudging after his the ball carrier with a severe lack of urgency, bundling into his marker to concede soft, unnecessary free-kicks in problematic zones, it wasn’t a performance worthy of a start, let alone a cameo appearance. His miscue in the build up to Mitro’s second has been attributed with an assist – have a day off.
You have Luca de la Torre and Matt O’Riley on the bench. Relatively unknown entities in this division but ridiculously talented, no less. You can’t seriously tell me, straight faced, that Onomah is better than those two? More experienced, maybe, but he isn’t ready for regular first-team football whatsoever. We’ve been waiting for O’Riley to explode onto the scene for some time now and de la Torre’s also gunning to sink his teeth in. He wasn’t dynamic, innovative, energetic, so why not blood an academy product to harness their energy and enthusiasm?
Slovak’s Supreme Saves
We all owe Marek Rodak for the three points. Mitro’ may have bagged a clinical brace, but the 22-year-old stopper was the real hero on the night. We’ve been plagued by insufficient ‘keepers for a few years with various candidates fluffing their lines but Rodak, he’s mustard. I’m sure they’ll be a highlight reel on YouTube in a few weeks glorifying his saves and exploits because his perfronace at the Liberty Stadium demands that kind of attention.
Show me that outrageous point-blank block in the 6th minute. Surridge couldn’t have done anything more, his anticipation deserved reward, but Rodak shielded his net to deny the hosts instant celebration. Connecting to the rebound Kyle Naughton flashed the ball back at the target but the Slovakia international was already set to flick the ball wide for a corner. Seizing the resulting set-piece, Rodak addressed his teammates, gesticulating for calm and order, slowing the tempo to extinguish Swansea’s momentum.
In the 35th minute, Byers read Surridge’s cross and struck towards the target but Rodak was poised again to glove the ball wide of the mark. Byers and Rodak sparked up a rivalry throughout. The Scotsman did eventually beat his foe, of course, but the aspiring stopper was the versatile midfielder’s unmovable nemesis. Revoking Byers’ swirling effort from the edge of the box in the 58th minute with an acrobatic save, Rodak was genuinely the mastermind behind our 4th consecutive victory. That’s our No.1 right there, a Man of the Match performance once again in my biased estimation.
Defining Dancing Denis
An exemplar of calm and patience, Denis Odoi enlightened us, again, to why’s he’s without question our first-choice right-back. Cyrus Christie is nothing more than a replacement nowadays and Steven Sessegnon, worryingly, is nowehere to be seen, so the 31-year-old is bedding himself into Parker’s preferred contingent pretty nicely. Kristoffer Peterson, tried, Kyle Naughton failed, the Belgian utility man policed his flank scrupulously, blockading Swansea advancements without reluctance or delay in his actions.
Squint when he’s on the ball, weaving up field, you’d fool yourself into believing he was a mid-flight Lionel Messi. Expansive, expeditionary surges typically factor in Odoi’s game and as time’s gone on, he’s possibly our most effective dribbler. Bobbing out of crowded pockets and obstructions, Odoi initiated various counter attacks, shepherding possession to available outlets logically and reasonably. Balls fizzed into his feet off the slick surface but his first touch, whilst being hassled, stuck like Velcro. Aware and perceptive, Odoi picked simple options and flexed his own trademark originality in equal measure. Those little bursts of enthusiasm, you love to see it.
As the game progressed, Swansea rallied for an equaliser and Odoi shuffled across to form a back three, with Christie deputising at wingback. That extra body, despite it being just shy of 6ft, makes a huge difference to our solidity. He understands the importance of standing firm and holding the line is a core responsibility of his anyway, so he’s the ideal auxiliary anchorman. Under a shower of long balls and speculative switches, Tim Ream, Alfie Mawson and Odoi combined to expel the Swans’ attempts to restore parity. We’ve a team full of ballers, but Odoi is low-key my favourite representative. A jack of all trades that’s thrived in this environment before and another effective outing to add to the scrapbook.