Saturday’s match against Burton Albion was supposed to mark the start of Fulham’s turn-around. Fulham had come off a vital, if at times nervy, home victory over Hull City in midweek. A trip to lowly Burton, who had managed just one league win all season, presented the perfect opportunity to make a statement of intent.
Instead, Fulham fell to a debilitating 2-1 defeat. Poor officiating no doubt played a major part in the loss (most notably the baffling awarding of the match-winning penalty), yet the reality remains that Fulham lost to Burton. And no side who wants to be promoted can treat this as an acceptable result.
The defence yet again failed to keep a clean sheet; Fulham have now only kept two clean sheets out of eight matches in the league this year. And naturally, questions need to be asked of the Fulham backline. Burton had scored four goals in the seven previous matches before they played Fulham, and to concede two goals at the hands of the Brewers certainly shows a lack of discipline in defence. Surely Denis Odoi, who has performed brilliantly all season, deserves a starting spot in the back four?
The Whites also lacked a commanding presence in the centre of midfield on Saturday. The absence of captain Tom Cairney laid bare Fulham’s deficiencies; oftentimes Burton too easily strode into attacking positions. Oliver Norwood, despite scoring the lone goal, is simply not good enough to fill Cairney’s shoes.
Worryingly, the gap left by the injury of our Scottish captain looks set to continue for at least another couple of weeks. This timespan includes three massive matches: Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, and Queens Park Rangers.
Fulham simply cannot afford to lose any of these games; to do so would create even more distance between the Whites and the automatic promotion places. The gap between the Whites and second place currently sits at 7 points. Massive improvement is needed if Fulham want to bridge this divide and take their rightful place at the business end of the Championship.
The return of Rui Fonte to full fitness will be widely welcomed, as the Portuguese marksman will contribute a finishing product to an attack that left dozens of chances go unfinished on Saturday.
The next week will be crucial for the Cottagers. On Saturday, Boro visit the Cottage. Just three days later, Fulham travel to Nottingham Forest before finishing the week away at Loftus Road. Three matches in six days; it certainly will not be a dull spell.
Fulham need to tighten their open defence and pray for Tom Cairney’s speedy recovery. If this week ends with even more points dropped, the Whites will start to truly drop behind the chasing pack.
It’s only September; there is no need to panic. But Slavisa Jokanovic and the Cottagers must figure out their game plan soon or risk falling behind. COYW!