Usually, surprises do happen in Cup competitions such as these. It was not eye brow raising that Slavisa Jokanovic would give a go with different players within the squad. In particular, it was great to see Steven Sessegnon and Luca De La Torre given a shot at center back and wide forward, respectively. Even 15-year old Harvey Elliott was given a substitute to break the record for youngest to play for Fulham. Most importantly, it was fantastic to see Tim Ream play his first game for Fulham this season. But what was surprising was Jokanovic continuing to chuck and change systems for the betterment of his XI.
In tonight’s case, the manager tried a 3-4-3 formation that hasn’t been seen since Fulham’s defeat to Reading in the 2016/17 Championship campaign. On that night, Fulham were lifeless in attack and the Royals took advantage of it. Tonight, Fulham looked in sync and were able to comfortably defeat a Millwall side short on form and confidence. In fact, the opposition was so poor, that the club commentary had to constantly apologize if the radio signal picked up any “industrial language” from the home support. Yeah, it’s that grim going to the Den these days. But this is a Fulham website, after all. Let’s talk about them instead.
De La Torre looked brilliant on the night and was able to set up Fulham’s first goal for Joe Bryan in the seventh minute of the game. In 2018, the system was perfect for the players at hand. Bryan and Cyrus Christie were able to bomb up the pitch as wing backs without any consequences. The Sessegnon-Ream-Maxime Le Marchand back three was full of mobility and a double pivot of Kevin McDonald and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa was introduced for the first time. Lastly, the formation forced Aboubakar Kamara and De La Torre to stay inside in support of the false nine in Floyd Ayite. By the end of the first half, Fulham outshot Millwall 10-1 and had 63% possession of the ball.
The second half started with a tad more effort from Millwall, but not before the lead increased to 2-0. Floyd Ayite was able to pick a thread-by-the-needle pass to De La Torre who was able to have time and space to tuck it passed a diving Ben Amos to get his first goal for the club and for his professional career.
That said, Neil Harris’ side weren’t giving up, especially after the substitution of Mahlon Romeo to start the half. On their fifth corner of the game, Shane Ferguson found the head of Tom Elliott that somehow tucked it passed the goal line to cut the lead in half. The Lions might not have generated many chances at all tonight, but with the amount of opportunities they had from corners, they were surely going to capitalize somehow.
The Den was rocking and it seemed like doom was approaching this precarious Fulham XI. Fortunately, Cyrus Christie calmed all fears with a earth-shattering strike to make it 3-1. It was a strike that just returned the game back to its normal axis and the rest was history.
With that, Jokanovic was allowed to bring in 17-year old Matt O’Riley, followed by the wonderkid Elliott. The amount of academy products out on the pitch surely made everyone feel ancient, out of shape and full of regrets with what they should have done in the past. But otherwise, it was an absolute glorious day to watch a Fulham win. With that, the club advance to the fourth round and is scheduled close to the end of October.
Once more, a round of applause to Fulham, good outings by the players young and old, a return of Tim Ream and an unforgettable night for a boy wonder.