Dan Cooke considers who is in line to replace the suspended Tosin Adarabioyo for the next three matches.
Saturday was great; our Serbian pyromaniac set the Baggies ablaze, putting ourselves four points clear of them. However, there was one sour moment. After another towering performance, Tosin made a rash decision and was deservedly sent for a (quite late) early bath.
Tosin has been very impressive this season, so the likely prospect of a three-game ban is a concerning one. So, who is Marco Silva going to trust to play alongside Tim Ream and will they be be able to retain the defensive solidity that has seen us concede just one goal in our last four games?
Alfie MawsonEmbed from Getty Images
Since moving to The Cottage, life has been pretty tough for Alf. Repeated knee problems have meant he has not played much football over the past three years. However, this season his fitness seems to be in a better place, and he has spent the majority of the season so far as Marco’s third choice centre-back.
If Tosin’s replacement was being selected based on pedigree, it would be a no-brainer. We paid a not insignificant amount of money for the former England under-21. A man who, months before we signed him, was named in a full England squad. Clearly a player who, at least three years ago, would have been considered far too good for the Championship.
Two very assured League Cup performances saw calls for him to come into the starting XI, and Marco duly answered, giving him a starting role against Coventry City. We all know what happened next, and whether you apportion any blame to Alfie for that result or not, Marco seems to have lost trust in him. He was relegated back to the bench for the next two matches and has not been in the squad at all since.
Something else that counts against Alf is that despite being right-footed, he is more used to playing on the left of a back two. This may go some way to explaining why a Mawson-Ream partnership never seems to have flourished. Both are more comfortable playing as the left centre-back, so Mawson has been shoe-horned into a role that doesn’t suit him.
Michael HectorEmbed from Getty Images
So how about a natural right-sided centre back? Michael Hector was a large reason why we secured promotion under Scott Parker; he played every single minute of league football after we were finally able to register him in January. However, the peak Virgil van Mike era feels like a while ago. 10 goals conceded in the first three games of last season saw Big Hec only manage 25 minutes of Premiership football after that.
Like Alfie Mawson, he started both League Cup games. He looked rusty, but definitely grew into both games. He has also been the man that has replaced Mawson on the bench for the past two matches, possibly a sign that he has gained the trust of Marco Silva?
Once a professional header of bricks, if Marco can get him channeling the Virgil van Mike that we fell in love with two years ago, then we’ll be in a good place. However, that’s a big “if”.
Terence KongoloEmbed from Getty Images
What an enigma this man is. Despite joining on loan just before his 26th birthday, Terence Kongolo has more minutes for our Under-23s than he does for our actual team. A man perennially making his way back from an injury, Terry completed 90 minutes for the U23s a little more than a week ago, and seems to be gathering fitness.
What’s frustrating is that he looks like a very competent player, who once again has a fair amount of pedigree, having been capped by the Netherlands as well as playing both Europa and Champions League football. He put in a promising display against Wolves last season, his long limbs helping him make some impressive sliding tackles, and his physicality meaning that for all but the final seconds of the game, he dealt very well with Adama Traoré. For those that remember his tackle against Manchester City in the FA Cup, well, we know that he’s probably quite a good player.
It takes roughly four hours to drive from Craven Cottage to Kongolo’s previous home, The John Smith’s Stadium. Since making that four-hour drive, Terence has managed four hours and 10 minutes of first team football. He’s not quite Kostas Mitroglou, but my God he’s close.
Terence also poses the same problem that Alfie Mawson does in that he’s a left-sided centre-back. Therefore all things considered, I don’t think we’ll be seeing him starting on Wednesday, but he may be coming to a substitutes bench near you soon. For a bit anyway.
Denis OdoiEmbed from Getty Images
Say what you want about Denis Odoi, the man’s a hero. The “back thing”, the play-off semi final, his song, and his hipster specs – he’s become as Fulham as me and you.
Perhaps not the most obvious choice, but we have witnessed Denis’ exploits at centre-back, and in the Championship, him and Tim Ream were the main pairing that saw us go on our fabled run under Slav. What you are guaranteed from Denis is effort, but what you may also get is a blunder.
However, Marco clearly trusts him. He has probably surprised some people with how well he has done in the absence of Kenny Tete, churning out consistent and solid performances. With Kenny back in the squad, and Denis the only one of the four players on this list to have played a serious amount of football this season, there is the not insignificant possibility that Odoi could shift inside with Kenny Tete slotting back in at right-back.
As any Football Manager player will know, match sharpness is important. Denis is the only option that won’t be rusty, and as this is just a temporary solution, maybe it’s what Marco will go with.
I’m really struggling not to sit on the fence with this one. Alfie Mawson at his best would not just be the obvious choice, but he’d probably be first choice ahead of Tim Ream. However, he’s not at his best, and he’d be playing with Tim, a combo that is only fruitful for opposition forwards.
Michael Hector fits the mould; right-sided, aerially dominant and comfortable in possession. However, Premier League PTSD may be in full swing with Mike, and he’s played a negligable amount of football for the past year.
It’s almost definitely too soon for Terence. So his customary one league appearance per season will have to wait.
And then there’s Denis. A trooper, whose marauding runs from centre-back have been greatly missed from an entertainment perspective. However, he has had his mishaps, and he is not a natural centre-back.
All things considered, both what I think is the right decision, and what I think Marco will do, is choose Michael Hector. As I said, he fits the hole left by Tosin, and has previously operated very well alongside Tim Ream. The fact that he has been the centre-back option on the bench for the past two matches, would also suggest he is currently first in line for this sort of scenario.
Roll on Blackburn Rovers away – and Viva Virgil van Mike.