By Morgan Phillips
At the end of November I summed up the Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton matches by writing that ‘Fulham played some good football but lapses of concentration and the lack of a regular goal scorer have undermined the performances’.
This left me unprepared for the goal feast (and the defensive clean sheet) against Reading. The whole team played well with Chris Martin and Sone Aluko vying for the role of ‘regular goal scorers’.
At Molineux the Wolves, for a team that had lost its previous four home games, started brightly and took an early lead. Then Fulham took control with three classy goals (Johansen, Ayite and Cairney) in 11 minutes. Two of these resulted from pinpoint crosses by Ryan Fredericks.
What could possibly go wrong? Surely the visitors’ much improved rear-guard could defend a two-goal lead for the whole of the second half.
For the first 20 minutes all went smoothly. Fulham nearly scored again, but Wolves’ keeper Harry Burgoyne, a debutant and last-minute choice, saved brilliantly from Cairney and then Aluko. Almost immediately Matt Doherty scored and then enabled Cavaleiro to thump the ball past Button and put the teams level.
The tension extended beyond Wolverhampton. In our household at any rate the Fulham website froze, and Gentleman Jim could be heard no more. Hastily I switched to Radio 5 in time to hear that Edwards had scored (from the proverbially impossible angle) in the 90th minute to give Wolves the lead. Yet there was still time for Ayite to save a point with his second headed goal of a remarkable match.
Jokanovic and his players were winning new admirers; the Express & Star’s Tim Spiers of the Express & Star likened the Londoners to Roger Federer – ‘incredibly easy on the eye, graceful and displaying wonderful technique’. This flattery is not entirely undeserved but Fulham’s two subsequent matches provided a reality check.
The team that struggled to defeat bottom side Huddersfield certainly did not look ready for promotion. The players were shown in a better light by the 2-2 draw with Derby though the goals conceded will have dismayed Jokanovic. Ragnar Sigurdsson can be excused his rare lapse which led to the first but the whole defence seemed to stand and watch while Alex Pearce headed in from a corner.
There was nothing remarkable about the Fulham-Rotherham game three days later. A scrappy first half was illuminated by two pleasing goals, yet once again Fulham conceded early on (Joe Newell); Stefan Johansen equalised.
After the interval Fulham finally got in front (Ayite again), and should have sealed the victory when awarded a penalty. Chris Martin failed to deceive Rotherham’s keeper Lewis Price, who looked worthy of a better side. Despite the home side’s dominance it was a relief to hear the final whistle.
If Jokanovic felt good before Christmas he was even happier on Boxing Day after his team’s 2-0 victory at Ipswich.
Unusually, Fulham opened the scoring, with Martin’s free kick proving more effective than his penalty against Rotherham. The home side rallied in the second half without troubling the Whites, and a headed goal from Sigurdsson completed a most satisfactory team performance.
December had been a great month for Fulham, with three wins, two draws and no defeats. So hotly contested is the Championship that after the Christmas fixtures the club was no higher than eighth, four points adrift of the play-off places.
Regrettably the match at Reading on 30 December was fogged off at half-time, but three days later the Whites faced another promotion hopeful, Brighton. Supporters who had seen the away fixture knew what to expect: the Seagulls defended in depth, allowing the opposition to dominate the midfield.
This unimaginative strategy should have misfired when the referee gave Fulham a penalty but Johansen’s tame shot was easily anticipated by our former keeper David Stockdale.
Fulham did take a lead in the second half, a lovely curling effort from Lucas Piazon, only to squander their advantage. Sigurdsson fouled, and though Tomer Hemed’s penalty was no better than Johansen’s it rolled past a static David Button. Brighton struck again when Lewis Dunk scored from a rebound. The visitors’ strategy had succeeded.
Our defence still has lapses of concentration, and without Ayite (on international duty) and Chris Martin (unwilling or unfit to participate) Fulham look even more bereft of a goalscorer. What reinforcements can we expect during the transfer window?
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.