Fulham fans feel early anxiety as season kicks off

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Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic. PICTURE: REUTERS


Morgan Phillips

By Morgan Phillips

The Championship season has begun – and already some Fulham supporters are feeling the strain. Perhaps their anxiety carries over from last season when the Whites failed to produce their winning form in the playoffs?

Newly relegated Norwich, with a much altered line-up, provided the attractive opposition for the first home match. Fulham’s starting line-up had only one newcomer, Oliver Norwood on loan from Brighton, and initially the team displayed the fluency and discipline of last season. When Stefan Johansen put Neeskens Kebano through, his centre only just eluded Floyd Ayite.

Norwich countered with Yanic Wildschut putting Ryan Sessegnon under pressure. David Button, replacing the injured Bettinelli in Fulham’s goal, made two early vital saves but generally the central defenders Ream and Kalas dominated the visiting forwards. In a match notable for good passing and wayward finishing the Whites went ahead when Ayite’s cross was deflected off a Norwich boot.

After the interval Fulham looked certain to increase their lead. Sone Aluko seemed to have scored but Ryan Fredericks, the provider, had run offside. Then a fierce shot from Kebano cannoned off the upright.

With 25 minutes to go Jokanovic introduced two debutants – Aboubakar Kamara and Ibrahima Cisse. Kamara made an immediate impact, foraging for goals and coming close to scoring. Unfortunately, Norwich were improving all the time, and an equaliser looked imminent. Increasingly I heard people admit that a draw would be a fair result.

The visitors were denied a penalty for handball but Fulham’s luck expired in the 88th minute. A cunning lob from Wes Hoolahan left Nelson Oliveira in the clear and Button had no chance of preventing a goal. Yielding points late in the game is a familiar problem, so the supporters’ anxiety was well founded. Goalscorer Oliveira received a yellow card for removing his shirt and reminding the manager of his name and squad number. It was a blessing for Fulham that he and Hoolahan had spent most of the match off the pitch.

In last week’s blog I hoped that Jokanovic would give the talented striker Cauley Woodrow a chance this season. No sooner had I hit the ‘Send’ button than the club signed Aboubakar Kamara. This was good news (though probably not for Cauley). Despite a decent goal tally last season there were times when a single minded goalscorer was needed, not least in the play-offs. Kamara could well be such a player. As Richard Osman wryly predicted, either he will be the leading scorer in the Championship or we'll never hear of him again.

Aboubakar wants to be known as AK47 and he has the appropriate number on his shirt. It is clever, but I wish he had found a more peaceful image of speed and accuracy. With Fulham drawing so much income from gambling and gaming, the club is moving further and further from its origins.

The League (now Carabao) Cup has had a low priority at Fulham since the days of Jean Tigana even though it could still be won by a Championship side. At the very least it gives match practice to squad players, so on Tuesday evening Jokanovic fielded both Woodrow and Kamara against Wycombe Wanderers. Neither striker scored, the vital goals coming from Piazon and Odoi. An unusual feature of the match was that for the closing the Sessegnon twins were playing in Fulham's colours.

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