By Morgan Phillips
The first Saturday in May 2016 marked the conclusion of Fulham’s second season in the Championship. As I wrote at the time:
‘Many people stayed behind after the match to acknowledge the Fulham squad. Probably the players with the best memories of 2015-16 will be Scott Parker, Tom Cairney and Ross McCormack.’
Over the two seasons Chief Coach Slavisa Jokanovic built a team which, though not the best in the division, was good enough to challenge for promotion. A thrilling visit to Wembley in May 2018 earned Fulham a return to the Premier League. Parker and McCormack had departed, but Tom Cairney was one major reason for the team’s success.
Then it all unravelled. Unbelievable sums were invested in new players but results in the Premier League were dire, leading to Jokanovic’s dismissal. Shahid Khan chose Claudio Ranieri as the new manager, seeing his appointment as the club’s best chance of avoiding relegation. Despite his abilities and his past achievements Ranieri effected scant improvement and his contract was terminated at the end of February 2019. Scott Parker, who had recently returned to the club, suddenly found himself in charge.
In his time as Fulham’s captain Scott was always publicly supportive of his managers though he must have had private doubts about every one of them. Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen, Felix Magath, Kit Symons and Slavisa Jokanovic all failed to make a positive and lasting impact, and Magath was a disaster. (To be fair Meulensteen hardly had any time in the post. Jokanovic was allowed a longer stay than the others and his epiphany came some months after Parker’s retirement as a player.) On his return to the club Scott had witnessed the travails of Jokanovic and then of Ranieri, yet still he accepted the chalice.
For the visit of Chelsea the caretaker manager chose a team and a style of play that resonated with the supporters. Unlike some matches between these clubs Sunday’s fixture produced a vast amount of entertainment and no little skill. Fulham almost had a perfect start when Kepa Arrizabalaga fumbled Kevin McDonald’s cross. Unfortunately Ryan Babel, the closest player, had already turned away.
With the tedious tribalism of the modern game the home fans had vituperative words for all the visiting players, especially Gonzalo Higuain for his supposed girth. That did not stop him from scoring with a shot almost too fast to see. Ryan Sessegnon, back to his best, gave Aleks Mitrovic a similar chance but the Chelsea keeper was in no mood for further errors. His defenders were more careless, leaving Calum Chambers unmarked in the 27th minute to score a glorious equaliser from Babel’s cross. Four minutes later Jorginho from a distance restored Chelsea’s lead and only a remarkable save by Sergio Rico prevented a further goal.
1-2 at the interval, the game promised more goals but produced none, partly because of the outstanding keepers. Substitute Floyd Ayite’s dexterity created another opportunity for Mitrovic but Kepa withstood his powerful header. In the closing seconds Sessegnon seemed to have scored the equaliser but he was just offside. The team still received a richly deserved ovation at the end.
Scott Parker impressed on his debut, and he may well be the man to solve Fulham’s weakness in defence.
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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