By Morgan Phillips
After the Whites’ 2-0 victory over Aston Villa the Mail on Sunday’s Oliver Holt averred: “There are many who feel that Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham are the best footballing team in the division. Momentum, certainly, is on their side.”
Oliver’s words confirm the mighty change since October and November of last year when the team lost to Villa, Bristol City and Wolves. From four Championship matches at the time only one point was gained in a home draw with Bolton. Regretfully I commented that Fulham’s ‘repetitive short passing looked more like a training session’.
The return legs have been significantly different.
Though the team got its revenge on Aston Villa (17 February), their next opponents Bristol City proved harder to beat. Making his Fulham debut Cyrus Christie provided a simple goal for Aleksandar Mitrovic in the first quarter of an hour but it was a hard slog thereafter. Twenty minutes of pressure led to Bristol City’s equaliser, and the home side looked dangerous throughout, so Fulham did well to draw. Denis Odoi and Tim Ream were outstanding in defence.
The Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers had also been held to a draw in midweek, so they came to Craven Cottage on Saturday in search of three points. The first half hour of the match resembled a short-passing contest, quite attractive to watch but leading nowhere. I lost count of the passes in one of Wolves’ movements, which ended tamely with an intervention by Tim Ream.
Some direct play in the 38th minute enabled Ryan Sessegnon to increase his tally. Mitrovic shot on the turn, John Ruddy the keeper saved and Ryan seized on the rebound. From that point Fulham took control. Although Wolves started the second half strongly they wasted their few chances. After Mitrovic hit another perfect shot on the turn in the 71st minute – this time eluding Ruddy – Fulham’s victory was assured. The fans were convinced: ‘Now you’ve got to believe us, the Whites are going up’.
It was a great team performance. Tom Cairney seems to have thrown off his injuries, but it is unfair to single out one player. I would find it almost impossible to choose man of the match.
Confidence of course is easily dented. After the match I heard disconsolate Wolves’ supporters sing: “We’re in the play-offs. We’ve mucked it again”. It is true that second placed Cardiff are closing in, but Wolverhampton has a 10-point lead over the next club Aston Villa.
Anyway the evening was Fulham’s. At half-time we heard Les Strong pay a typically modest and heart-felt tribute to Bobby Moore and watched academy players give a confident (and occasionally cheeky) display of spot-kicks. Past, present and future – all good.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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