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The Craven Corner: Looking Up - Top Six & What’s to come in January

Fulham and Derby Clash Fulham & Derby Clash - And not just on the pitch!

A lot has happened since my last article as Fulham look to push on for a top six finish.

Despite dropping points against Wolves, Fulham have been relatively successful in the last month and with their performances improving every week, they are slowly being recognised as potential promotion candidates this season.

First of all, we have seen a huge improvement in our midfield with Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney operating incredibly well together. By having McDonald and Johansen paired together, it allows Cairney the freedom to operate more centrally and play a more advanced role - a position he has flourished in. Many of the players should look up Stefan Johansen for how much he has achieved in such a short time, and is an inspiration to anyone on the fringe of the starting eleven. Despite the Norwegian being substituted in the first half of his debut at Fulham, he has adapted his game to suit the needs of Head Coach, Slavisa Jokanovic and has cemented his place in the starting eleven, picking up a number of man of the match awards along the way too.

Johansen’s emergence is the same journey that the likes of Jozabed and Neeskens Kebano will embark on shortly – both of which have failed to make an impact since joining. With the January transfer window around the corner, I’m hoping Jozabed and Kebano prove their worth as their combined fees were around £8m – a hefty percentage of our total spend this summer and the fans still have high hopes for both midfielders.

But, with the January transfer window just around the corner it seems that the rumour mill is in full flow and will cause more disruption than benefit to Jokanovic’s men, with loanee Chris Martin taking the headlines already. The Scottish forward pulled out of the match-day squad this evening for our fixture again Reading, despite being fit enough to play. It seems the player is/was reportedly demanding a return to Derby County next month.

While this certainly shocked many fans, it appears that Derby County have offered the forward a new contract – a bizarre set of events for sure. It’s no secret that McClaren disapproved of the loan deal to bring Martin to the Cottage, but to offer a player who is out on loan (with a view to permanent) a new long-term deal is surprising, and more of disruptive act than anything else. Interestingly so, Martin had previously spoken highly of his time at Fulham and playing under Slavisa Jokanovic, so wanting to suddenly leave the club and return to Derby has been a bombshell for everyone. I’d expect this fiasco to be wrapped up in the next two weeks, as I’d believe this is more his agent trying to force Fulham to activate the permanent transfer option in January rather than waiting until next summer, so the player has more stability in his personal life and can make long-term arrangements about moving his family to the capital or not. Slavisa hasn’t hidden his admiration of the forward and now that Mike Rigg has left the club, the Serbian may attempt to force the board into securing a permanent move for Martin next month rather than at the end of the season.

Personally, I’d like to see Martin stay at the club and I feel that after a short time settling in at the club, he’s proved to be the missing ingredient for Slav’s eleven. I’d like to see Martin as a stronger version of Ross McCormack, due to his ability to create goals for others as well as being a clinical finisher, but he has a bigger and more physical side to the game that McCormack lacked in order to play the lone striker role. While it remains uncertain as to what the future holds for the club and player, it will be interesting to see how this pans out, especially as Martin was not wanted by the previous Derby manager, Nigel Pearson and Slavisa put his faith in him and gave him a chance to play regularly.

On the other hand, if Martin is banished to the reserves or returns to Derby, Fulham will be in the market for another forward. There has already been talk of Cauley Woodrow joining Ipswich Town on loan, while a loan exit seems possible for Matt Smith too. Fulham have continued to track the progress of Eibar forward, Sergi Enrich who would be a like for like replacement for Martin should his time at the Cottage end sourly. Sergi Enrich would still be a risk at around £4.5m, considering he hasn’t played in this division before, but he is a player that Slavisa wanted in the summer, and with the club still interested in a deal I wouldn’t be too surprised if Enrich was the plan B to Martin after all. Fulham have also been linked with a move for Grimsby Town forward, Omar Bogle. The free-scoring striker seems to be the complete package in terms of size and speed, but it would be a huge jump up in competition if the Grimsby Town hot-shot was expected to fit straight into the side in the Championship. Not only that, but Nottingham Forest have tracked the forward heavily in recent weeks and an approach from them is more than likely when the window opens.

Personally, I was hoping for Marcus Bettinelli to be recalled to the side over the last few weeks, but this has materialised with Slavisa sticking with David Button, despite a number of mistakes. This suggests that Button will be the number one goalkeeper for the season and I’d assume Bettinelli or Joronen will leave the club on loan for the second half of the season to stay match-fit.

There has been some interest in securing some defensive reinforcements after Tomas Kalas suffered an injury, but no names have been mentioned. But, in attack there has been talk of an extension to the loan spell of Chelsea loanee, Lucas Piazon until the end of the season, which I’d expect to be done early in January. In an ideal world, Fulham would be able to sign both Piazon and Kalas on a permanent deal in the summer, but Chelsea signed Kalas for £5m a number of years ago, and after his development in English football, they would be looking for a sizeable profit which could force him out of our price-range. Nevertheless, both players are looking for a permanent club, and with Fulham just a stone’s throw away from their current clubs, we could be the preferred option.

While the focus will be on player recruitment next month, it must be noted that the club have opened contract talks with manager, Slavisa Jokanovic and his coaches. Over the past 12 months with him in charge, Fulham have been revitalised and have slowly gained an identity. With Malaga looking to hire Slavisa for next season, signing Slavisa to a long-term deal in January could be our best business mid-season for a very long time. Now that Mike Rigg has left the club, I’d hope that Slavisa gets the power in the transfer market that he desires and signs a new deal. With talks already starting over a new deal, let’s hope we hear good news about an extension very soon.

Finally, I’d just like to thank everyone for their ongoing support of the Craven Corner and I honestly cannot believe how much it has grown in 2016. I honestly couldn’t have done it without you and the opportunity to blog and write about the team I support is a true honour.

The next article of ‘The Craven Corner’ will appear in the match-day programme against Brighton. For those attending, please make your voices heard and back the players as much as you can. If we can secure 3 points against Brighton, our push for the top six could become even stronger.

Let’s hope 2017 is a successful year, and Fulham can mount a serious promotion push.

Please do share the article and feel free to tweet any feedback or thoughts to me on Twitter @ABronsSmith.

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