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Three Players to Watch: Matchday 14 vs. Bolton

For Fulham to get back on track at home, they will have to better these three players.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Let’s be blunt. That was an awful performance by Fulham last week against Aston Villa last Saturday. It is one thing to lose to a side that is also seeking promotion back to the Premier League. It’s another to lose in the manner in which they did. Fulham was outshot 7-15 despite having almost 70% of the game’s possession. Once again, these were the common complaints Fulham had when Kit Symons was managing the club regarding their style of play.

Like what usually happened during Symons’ tenure, Slavisa Jokanovic seemed to implement where players were well out of position and thus, have his entire team not play to the best to their capabilities. Last week’s example included starting Rui Fonte out wide before coming out admitting he’s best played out as the lone striker or behind the center forward. Last time I checked, none of those positions is out wide, no matter what formation you pick.

Then when it was time to bring on substitutions, Jokanovic never seemed to want to deviate from a 4-3-3 formation that was failing. First, he never substituted Aboubakar Kamara to give Fonte a chance in his best position. Instead, Jokanovic simply replaced a midfielder with another twice, followed by finally putting Fonte out of his misery with Neeskans Kebano.

Personally, when a still recovering Tom Cairney came on, he should have been tried out as the number 10 for either Fonte or Kamara in a 4-2-3-1. Then, as part of a double substitution, I would have put on Yoann Mollo or Kebano for Oliver Norwood that would create passing lanes, familiarity among teammates and proper spacing to create the attacking impetus that was missing all day.

Now, Fulham is just playing like a side that is nowhere near good enough to make promotion anytime soon. They have been outshot and outplayed via expected goals for the whole season. They have been quite fortunate to still have a positive goal differential that could benefit them in the table long term. Now, they face the first of two sides that are not known for preventing shots at home before taking on world beaters Wolves before the latest International break.

Bolton is the first of those clubs coming to Craven Cottage who don’t seem to have much hope with regards to maintaining their Championship status beyond this season. While still recovering from their financial crisis, the club is still nowhere near where it was from its good old days in the Premier League. With not being able to spend big to keep the club sustainable at this level, manager Phil Parkinson has simply played with five at the back in hopes to spring counter attacks and hoofing the ball out of their own end.

This certainly sounds like a prehistoric way of playing football, but Bolton is not the first nor the last club to unleash such tactics. At the end of the day, it’s all about collecting three points and building your club and the way you play from there. If Fulham couldn’t even beat the worst team in the Championship, based on stats, in Burton Albion, what’s the point in expecting that they can roll over Bolton?

Fulham simply has to get the job done and come away with a professional performance. Otherwise, it will be another miserable day in Southwest London and the scapegoats for such failures will be bandied about like no other. But before that all happens, let’s take a look at Bolton’s key performers this season.

Mark Beevers

Among the five at the back, Parkinson will implement, the 27-year old Beevers is easily his most dependable. After spending four years with Millwall, the 6’4” center back moved to Bolton on a two-year contract in 2016. With that, he formed the strongest center back partnership in League One with David Wheater as both made team of the season.

Statistically, no other player does a better job in accumulating defensive actions (combined tackles and interceptions) for Bolton more than Beevers and no one has come within 42 clearances from Beevers’ 100 this campaign. He has been tested to his limits this season, but any improvements along the way can really help Bolton stay up in the Championship.

Mark Little

Tied with Beevers for the club lead in tackles (29) this season just so happens to be Bolton’s right back. The 29-year old Little has lost a step since joining from Bristol City in 2016, but he has always had a lethal cross and a strong will to win aerial duels. Still, Little has been prone to get beaten on the dribble this season. Fulham can really exploit that with their attacking midfield and either Ryan Sessegnon or a fully fit Rafa Soares from fullback.

Before joining Bolton, Little spent five seasons with Peterborough United and helped guide the club to the best runs in the football league pyramid since the early 1990s. He was even a graduate from Wolverhampton's academy and played 32 times for the club before moving on to the rest of his footballing career.

Gary Madine

Up front, Bolton really lacks the strength in talent and depth to really scare anyone in the Championship. That being said, Adam LeFondre, Adam Armstrong, Felipe Morais and Craig Noone have what it takes to scare teams once in a while. Still, the leader in the clubhouse as the most dangerous threat is easily Madine. No other player for Bolton has bettered Madine’s tally of two goals and one assist, as well as his 58 attacking actions (shots plus chances created).

At 2.85 shots per 90 minutes, Madine is certainly a lively center forward that can lead any line in the Championship, but his goal conversion rate has never been better than 7.1% in all his seasons tracked at That latter piece of information will always limit his chances of making it to a better footballing career than where he is now. At 27, Madine simply is running out of time to improve that situation. Still, that doesn’t mean that Fulham can leave them out of their sites at any moment.