Demolishing a Winner
I think I stand for everyone when I say that I don’t think anyone saw a complete demolition job on Saturday occurring when Fulham played Huddersfield. 5–0 wins are rare enough as is, let alone against teams that are 3rd in the table. Yet this was a frustrating watch for me. Because we’ve been capable of playing like this this season but something has been holding us back and I think Slavisa Jokanovic figured it out for this game.
It all came down to one thing: dropping Scott Parker.
I love Scott Parker, firstly, and he’s such an important player for us in terms of his defensive ability, his effort and leadership and finally, the role model that he is towards the younger players. He’s been a hugely influential player and person in Fulham for a while now and it was a real delight to see him come back for one more year. His ability may be in decline but he still contributes immensely to the first team.
But dropping Parker gave the team such freedom to play with. Without Parker, there was no slow down of the ball at the middle of the pitch, no pondering about who to pick out (by which point, the opposition defence had already set their shape and prepared for anything). Instead, with Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen regularly switching roles from CAM to CM and back throughout the game, Huddersfield were left to be honest and attempt to close them down rather than to sit back like other teams have done at the Cottage. With Cairney and Johansen, Fulham have two players who are comfortable on the ball and very happy to pick up the ball, drive it forward and lay off to the likes of Martin, Aluko and Piazon. They move the ball from A to B so comfortably and easily and make Fulham tick much better. Kevin McDonald being the sole man sitting in front of the defence as a screen of sorts also gave Cairney and Johansen more space and comfort to dictate play.
We shouldn’t underestimate the effect of Ryan Fredericks coming back into the starting lineup as well. I’m quite bullish on Denis Odoi and don’t think he’s been bad as others have stated, but Fredericks offers that extra bit of pace that can help him join up the attack as a second winger of sorts while also being able to get back extremely rapidly into position and defend. He was fantastic on Saturday and should be pencilled in as the starter there for the foreseeable future.
It should also be mentioned that Slavisa Jokanovic got his tactics absolutely spot on for this game. I outlined in my preview how important Aaron Mooy was to Huddersfield’s passing game and he almost came through with a gorgeous pass to Nakhi Wells at the back post which David Button wasn’t able to deal with, only for Ryan Fredericks to slide in at the last minute and prevent the ball reaching Wells at the back post. Mooy was extremely limited after that point, with Kevin McDonald and the rotating pair of Johansen and Cairney constantly closing him down and rarely allowing him time on the ball to dictate play. Fulham were also fine with allowing long shots from distance, as long as they didn’t allow little to any opportunities in their box. Only Harry Bunn’s header at the end of the half and Mark Hudson’s header from a corner were the two “major” opportunities that the defence gave up, which is a real pleasure to see. Tomas Kalas and Ragnar Sigurdsson were fantastic on Saturday and it’s going to be interesting to see how Michael Madl gets his way back into the XI.
I said in my preview that I believed this was the most important game for Fulham this season so far and they responded in the best possible way imaginable. This result is such a confidence boost for the fans and the team ahead of 3 very tough fixtures in November. Brentford, Brighton and Wednesday are all top 10 teams in the division as well as playoff contenders and Saturday’s result shows that we can beat these teams now. Can we compete for the top 6? I don’t know. But top 10 is definitely possible and that’s a welcome relief after 2 horrible seasons.