When Fulham are on form, there’s not a team in this league that can beat us on our day. Bold statement? Yes. Is it fair? Probably.
Going into the fixture last weekend, most fans would have taken a point before the kick off. Reading went into the game on a run of five straight wins, and were the in-form team in the division. Jaap Stam had got them playing some decent football and pushed them up into third in the league, while we had been going through an inconsistent patch and in the Brighton game we had dominated until second half where we capitulated.
So what happened against Reading then? Ryan Fredericks returned to the starting eleven, which was the correct tactical move and we continued to press and try to kill off the game when in control – something that we didn’t do against Brighton in that second half. Fulham have a terrific squad this season, and we’re at our best when we are going forward; getting the full-backs in the attacking third and doubling up in vital areas. As soon as we turn off or decide to sit back, we no longer dictate the tempo and as we’ve seen so many times this season, it costs us. We took the foot off the accelerator in the second half when we were leading, and Brighton got more of the ball, and then two lapses in concentration saw a 0-1 lead turn into a 2-1 defeat, and we have to make sure we continue to play for 90 minutes.
Against Reading, we continued to attack at every opportunity and that dominance lead to an impressive performance and a statement of intent from the club. With the likes of Chris Martin, Stefan Johansen, Tom Cairney, Sone Aluko & co in the final third, we have some of the best attackers in this division. With Martin leading the line, we have one of the most prolific target men in this league, as long as we keep attacking and providing chances for him, he’ll finish. Yes, some people will miss McCormack when we have been goal-shy, but McCormack moved on, and we became a better side because of it. Martin is a focal point in attack, while Ross tried to drop back and get the ball, leaving a gap further up the field. As long as Martin is leading the line, the ball will stick – the potential issue is that the supporting attackers don’t get close enough. But if we continue to press, there will be willing runners from midfield supporting the target man.
While there are issues around consistency with the team, what has been clear in recent weeks is the quality and reliance on midfield trio, Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald & Tom Cairney – all of which, compliment each other. McDonald at £1.25m and Johansen at £2m seem to be the best investment by any club this summer. Recruiting that level of quality at those basement prices in today’s market is a master stroke and the board deserve a round of applause for securing both. While McDonald isn’t the fastest to cover ground, he is becoming more and more disciplined and his range of passing is terrific. He has the ability to architect a move from a deeper position while his understanding of the game and predicting the pass is something that is vital to his game. This is then complimented by Cairney and Johansen ahead of him. Cairney is given free reign to float about and cause problems where it matters in an advanced playmaker role, while Johansen has a bigger engine than most military vehicles. Johansen doesn’t stop running and being able to be a box-to-box midfielder for 90 minutes makes him a key player and his goal against Reading shows his class -the finish was of the highest standard.
Now, if we can manage to find a level of consistency, Fulham can achieve a top six finish position this season. This is the test now: To make sure we don’t get complacent and aim to kill the game out when we’ve been in control. We’ve dominated every game in terms of possession, now we just need to keep going until the game is out of sight. That’s not winning 5-0 every week, but that’s getting at least a two goal cushion when we are on top. 1-0 Isn’t a safe score line these days, and if we find that level of consistency there’s not another club in this division that should stop us on our day.
We now have 5 games before the end of the year, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t aim to at least win 3 or 4 of those. Wolves, Derby, Ipswich, Rotherham & Reading await us, but if we replicate the form against Reading, we could force ourselves into the top six at Christmas. These aren’t the easiest fixtures coming up, but they are the type of games we need to win to be top six material. Let’s get consistent, not complacent.
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