Managers Scott Parker of Fulham and Manuel Pellegrini of West Ham United

Squad need real steel as new season approaches

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Managers Scott Parker of Fulham (left) and Manuel Pellegrini of West Ham shake hands ahead of a pre-season friendly at Craven Cottage on 27 July. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

By Morgan Phillips

Morgan Phillips
Morgan Phillips

Scanning some old photographs I came across one from August 1989 taken in the warm-up before Fulham’s first match of the season.

With the pipe-smoking chairman Jimmy Hill chatting to the players there is an air of relaxed optimism (which proved unfounded). Much more pressure will be felt by the 2019-2020 squad, most of whom underperformed in the Premier League.

The Times commissioned eleven of its sportswriters to nominate top flight teams in various categories.

Asked to name the most disappointing club, eight of them plumped for Manchester United (‘Darkness, a false dawn and then more darkness’). Alyson Rudd and the two remaining commentators chose Fulham (‘More than £100 million spent but only when relegated did they show real steel.’). In fact Alyson was overgenerous - the steel looked decidedly brittle by the end of the season.

FFC chairman Jimmy Hill chatting to FFC players in August 1989
Pipe-smoking FFC chairman Jimmy Hill chatting to the players in August 1989

For good or ill the summer break was extremely short, Fulham playing a friendly at Motspur Park on 6 July.

The team that day, with its many substitutes, had a familiar look though Scott Parker gave some younger players like Jayden Harris, Tyrese Francois and Nicholas Saint-Chase a taste of first team football.

The inclusion of Abou Kamara was quite a shock. He must have been granted yet another final chance. He is not of course the only player who needs to atone for last year’s failings.

Pre-season friendlies give only a vague indication of a team’s potential so there should not be too much concern over three defeats in Portugal; nor too much celebration of a victory at Brighton (though it was good to see Tom Cairney scoring a superb equaliser in the latter match).

New loan signing Ivan Cavaleiro made his Fulham debut in Portugal. He has featured four times in my blogs, each mention signalling a Wolves goal against Fulham.

Back in December 2016 he participated in the remarkable 4-4 draw at Molyneux. Fulham had built up an early 3-1 lead, but Wolves fought back to 3-3 with Ivan providing the equaliser.

The return match turned out to be a comfortable 3-1 away victory for the Midlanders with Cavaleiro scoring after Helder Costa had dispossessed Ryan Fredericks.

On 3 November 2017 the forward caused further trouble for a Fulham defender: Ryan Sessegnon’s foul on him led to Leo Bonatini heading in from Wolves’ free kick.

My ultimate mention related to last season’s Boxing Day fixture. Cavaleiro came on as a second half substitute and made a goal for Romain Saiss.

This was the half-way point of the Premier League season, and Fulham had amassed a meagre 11 points compared with Wolves’ 26.

Our club’s final away match in the Premier League took place at Molyneux. Ivan watched the whole game from the subs’ bench – but still signed up for Fulham a couple of months later.

He has been joined by Antony Knockaert from Brighton, who has also troubled Fulham in the recent past.

Last September when Aleks Mitrovic put the Whites 2-0 ahead, it was Knockaert that led the fightback.

The 2-2 draw was no disaster, but it should have reminded the players that points are more easily lost than won.

This lesson was underlined by July’s final friendly, a home match against West Ham. Fulham’s narrow defeat stemmed from a weak defensive clearance.

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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