By Morgan Phillips
In 2018 having regained Fulham’s Premier status the club’s owners lavished so much on new signings that Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic was able to field virtually a new team at the start of the season.
Many of us, while admiring the owners’ ambitions, felt uneasy about the wholesale change. The new goalkeeper for instance seemed markedly inferior to Marcus Bettinelli, and the defence had no-one so reliable as Tim Ream.
As the season progressed Ream, Bettinelli and others worked their way back into the side but Jokanovic struggled to find a winning formula – as did his successor the experienced Claudio Ranieri.
By February 2019 it was clear that Fulham would be relegated, and Ranieri lost his job. His replacement, Scott Parker, knows that he will suffer a similar fate if he cannot swiftly organise a team capable of winning promotion.
For much of the close season it appeared that the club had lost the urge for multiple signings.
Two new attacking players, Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert, arrived on loan to make up for the departure of Ryan Babel and the transfer of Ryan Sessegnon to Tottenham.
Cavaleiro made a satisfactory debut in Fulham’s first game of the season away to Barnsley, Knockaert stating on the bench. The Yorkshiremen, recently promoted from Division One, matched the visitors throughout and won by the only goal, scored by Luke Thomas after a stumble by Joe Bryan.
The transfer window was still open, allowing Harry Arter, Harrison Reed and Bobby Decordova-Reid to join the squad.
Josh Onomah, the Spurs midfielder, also arrived as part of the Sessegnon deal, giving Scott Parker further options.
The Coach included Cavaleiro, Knockaert and Arter in the starting line-up for the home match against Blackburn Rovers, and it is to the credit of all concerned that the team played with such cohesion and effectiveness. The three newcomers were to contribute to Fulham’s opening goal.
Despite the high winds we were treated to an exciting and entertaining encounter.
With both sides intent on attack, Fulham dominated possession - even if their slow build-up irritated some supporters.
In the 22nd minute Aleks Mitrovic ran through, but his former accuracy was still wanting.
Thirteen minutes later, Knockaert’s corner on the right was half-cleared allowing an exchange of passes on the left involving Cavaleiro and Arter, that led to Tom Cairney’s unstoppable 250-yarder.
Unusually Fulham were playing towards the Hammersmith End in the first half, so those of us enthroned there had a glorious view.
The industrious Blackburn wasted their few chances, Bettinelli not facing a single shot on target - apart from a stinging effort judged offside, which he saved anyway.
The entire defence gave a fine display. In the 81st minute the match was settled when Joe Bryan dazzled the Rovers’ defence and presented Mitrovic with a goal, his first from open play since January.
It could be a prolific season for the Serb and Tom Cairney.
This was the happiest of starts to the home programme. Fulham supporters even cheered the high visibility decked employee who sat alone in the (set for renovation) Riverside Stand, collecting the occasional football that bounced his way. He is in danger of becoming a talisman.
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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