By Morgan Phillips
On Saturday Fulham began its fourth stay in the top tier of English football, with a defeat.
In 1949 the promotion winning eleven lost to Wolves at the Cottage. In 1959 team suffered a 4-0 defeat at Manchester City, but finished a commendable tenth.
Many fans will recall 2001, when Fulham visited Manchester United: and the almost instantaneous goal from Louis Saha. Ultimately United won 3-2, but their manager Alex Ferguson was so impressed that he later signed both Saha and Edwin van der Saar.
Subsequent to my last blog, Fulham's number of pre-season signings doubled from six to 12: with Calum Chambers (Arsenal), Sergio Rico (Sevilla), Joe Bryan (Bristol City), Luciano Vietto (Atletico Madrid), Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United) and Andre Zambo Aguissa (Marseille) joining the roster.
Some of these are on loan, but Shahid Khan has forked out a record £ 100 million.
It is staggering to think that Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic could, fitness permitting, put out a starting eleven of brand new players with a spare keeper on the bench.
My editor asks if there is any precedent for such a huge squad overhaul at Fulham. The only equivalent that I can suggest is the golden period of 1903 and 1904 when Fulham, a suddenly wealthy Southern League club, used a loophole in the regulations to sign Football League players without paying transfer fees. Oh Shahid, those were the days.
Jokanovic must be a happy man though he faces the short-term problem of finding the right blend and the long-term issue of keeping the squad content.
His decisions have often surprised the fans but have generally been proved right.
On Saturday for the visit of Crystal Palace he sent out a brand new defence: goalkeeper Fabri, and back four Cyrus Christie, Calum Chambers, Maxime le Marchand and Joe Bryan. Christie joined Fulham in January last season and though Jokanovic praised him highly, he hardly used him.
The full back looks a potential replacement for the departed Ryan Fredericks. Further upfield Cairney, McDonald, Mitrovic and Sessegnon were reinforced by Andre Schurrle and Jean Michael Seri.
The drastic reorganisation initially looked justified. Fulham dominated much of the first half and only Wayne Hennessey prevented the home side from scoring. Then Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt enabled Jeffrey Schlupp to slip past Chambers and score against the run of play.
After the interval Fulham had strong claims for a penalty when Schurrle went down in the area but even if VAR had been available the correct decision would not have been easy. Thereafter the home side became less adventurous.
Perhaps Palace had made a shrewd choice when they elected to face the Hammersmith End in the second half (who is their manager these days?)
The visitors’ second goal near the close of play arose from Wilfred Zaha’s artistry and a lack of organisation in the Fulham defence.
The Sunday Times helpfully reminded us that three of the last four Championship play-off winners have suffered immediate relegation. Huddersfield Town avoided that misfortune, and surely Fulham can do the same.
Having fallen at the first hurdle in 1949, 1959 and 2001, Fulham comfortably retained their place in the top tier.
Jokanovic knows what is required. The Premier League means, as he says: “More power, more speed, more quality, and we must adapt.”
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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