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Rocky Road to Safety

Written by Mike Forrest on 3rd December 2020

It was quite apt that two days after boxing veterans Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. returned to the ring, we also showed that there is still fight in us. Parker had previously used pugilism as an analogy to describe his approach to the season: “With the right mindset we’ll make sure the downs don’t knock us out,” he said. “A jab on the nose, guard back up again and start punching.”

This was said before the first game of the season against Arsenal. Four games later, with eleven goals conceded and zero points earned, and he could have been forgiven for thinking that his team was already knocked out cold before being able to muster a counter punch.

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The media were quick to throw scorn in Fulham’s direction. After a pummelling defeat inflicted by Aston Villa, pundit Jamie Carragher was salivating with criticism on Sky’s Monday Night Football saying, “I’m more certain of Fulham going down than Liverpool winning the league”. This stinging condemnation came after only three league games.

Absorbing such blows so early in the season could have been a morale killer. A spat between Parker and the Director of Football arose after the latter publicly apologised for the Villa defeat. More self-inflicted uppercuts in the form of missed penalties and poor defending were to come as the season progressed.

Given all these issues it is not unreasonable to expect that one of Parker’s biggest challenges would be to keep camaraderie in the dressing room high. German managerial star, Julian Nagelsmann, is quoted as saying, “Thirty percent of coaching is tactics, seventy percent social competence”. At times that scale has probably been more like 10% tactics and 90% social competence for Fulham and Parker.

Off the pitch, a bloated squad has seen Parker having to exclude the likes of Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen, and Jean Michel Seri from Premier League registration. All three were unable to find a move away from the club and still report to training. Michael Hector suffered a severe loss of form and was removed from the starting eleven. Even Aleksandar Mitrovic has failed to find his form.

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Our first-choice centre-back pairing of Tosin Adarabioyo and Joachim Andersen were both signed on the last day of the transfer window. The squad consists of five loanees where again it is presumably a challenge to integrate them into the squad and to get everyone fighting for a common cause. For much of the season, Parker has been fighting with one hand tied behind his back.

With all this baggage and heading into the Leicester City game, Fulham had not yet earned the right to be confident of achieving a positive result. However, after surviving an early scare where Leicester had hit the post and then the bar, Ademola Lookman was played clean through on goal after a powerful run from Frank Anguissa.

Lookman, letting the perfectly weighted pass run on ahead of him, took one touch to compose himself. Positioned twelve yards from goal for the first time since that infamous West Ham penalty, but to the left of the penalty spot, he opened his body up and coolly slotted the ball into the corner of the net. A perfect finish added to his assist against Everton in the previous match, and his continued productivity will go a long way in atoning for that penalty sin.

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The form of a less courageous player would have completely crumbled after the public ridicule he received. Ten minutes later and another Fulham player had the opportunity of redemption. A good long ball from Ola Aina and a persevering run from Bobby Reid saw the latter earning a penalty from a clumsy Leicester defender.

Ivan Cavaleiro eagerly grabbed the ball. The spectre of his own penalty embarrassment against Everton, and the pressure of the team having missed our last three penalties, both cast a large shadow. Facing a goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, with twenty-two career penalty saves, Cavalerio smashed the ball into the net.

The two goals secured our second victory of the season. It is a testament to Parker and his coaching staff that the players got their guard back up and left a few blows on Leicester. It also showed that the dressing room is still responding to his management. There is a long way to go to achieve Premier League survival, but this victory could see us standing tall at the end of the season.

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