Our guest writer, Brian Gower, returns with another thoughtful and interesting article.
If like me, you have been a supporter of Fulham Football Club for many years, you have been accustomed to the ups and downs of this wonderful ‘family friendly club’ and ‘away team supporter’s joyful trip’ to the banks of the River Thames in South West London.
There have been many more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’ as we all know, but once the addiction of following this quaint club captures you, you are captured for a lifetime.
With the end of another year upon us, what a year it has been. Starting 2018 near the bottom of the Championship, it looked like another year of disappointment was about to occur after reaching the play-offs and failing at the first hurdle against Reading the season before. How wrong we were.
Jokanovic rallied the players and gave the supporters everything they could have wished for on that great 23-game unbeaten run. Although it ended abruptly meaning another play-off saga was to come, Fulham thoroughly deserved their Wembley win against Aston Villa and a return to the EPL after a four-season absence.
Now we look forward to 2019 and what that may bring to the loyal supporters of this wonderful club. Watching the last game of 2018 against bottom of the table Huddersfield and comparing it with the previous season, is quite a baffling experience but not an unexpected one for seasoned Fulham followers.
Our promotion last season playing some very attractive possession style football was a joy to watch. Turning the possession style tactics encouraged by Jokanovic, into victories gave Fulham and their players rave reviews in the media. Bettinelli for England, Tim Ream fans player of the year, Tom Cairney captain, and the young 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, who made the headlines most weeks and watched by top clubs in Europe and at home, and not forgetting the ‘fantastic loaned striker’ from Newcastle, Mitrovic, scoring for fun.
Suddenly, the excitement of promotion quickly became a nightmare for all these ‘wonderful gifted players’ as soon as the reality of what their Premier League opponents had in their lockers. From the first match at home to Crystal Palace and the first defeat with no goals scored hit home, the players, and the manager Jokanovic must have realised, there is a huge gulf between playing Championship football and that of the EPL.
Even after spending £100m on 11 new players, it seemed obvious to Fulham supporters that unless you have a team of players such of those at Man City or Liverpool, where players can cost £100m+ each, the possession style of football would not work. Everyone that was, apart from Jokanovic, who repeatedly stated that he would not change their style of play. This, unfortunately, cost him his job.
In came a master Italian defensive minded tactician, Claudio Ranieri. His first task was to stop the defensive errors and become harder to beat. In came Rico in goal, and soon followed a back three with two wing-backs. This total change of tactics was hard for some players to adapt to. Suddenly there was not an emphasis on keeping the ball at all costs. It was to defend in numbers and attack quickly on the break.
Favourites from the season before were being omitted. Bettinelli, Ream, McDonald, Johansen, Cairney and the wonder-kid Ryan Sessegnon were overlooked as Ranieri was after stronger, faster, more ball-winning style players rather than the ball-keeping, passing side-to -ide and backward tactics these players were encouraged to produce for Jokanovic.
So here we are, with Arsenal up next away, second from bottom, and a tough 17 matches to follow. The players must quickly adapt to Ranieri’s style of play. Cairney is a very skilful player but needs to be tougher and make those important tackles. Sessegnon, although only 18 must be included regularly and build up some physical body strength. Seri must get up to speed and show more effort to match his obvious skills.
It was woeful the first half against Huddersfield. No tempo, no fight, no desire to push forward and go for the win. Luckily it improved in the second half. As for the Kamara penalty decision to wrestle the ball away from Mitrovic, was appalling to witness at the time, it showed how much he wanted to win.
He decided to put all the pressure on himself to convert the spot kick. If he had blasted the ball into the top left corner of the net all fans would have made him a hero. He missed with an awful attempt and would have learned a lesson he will never repeat again in his career. We all make mistakes. Luckily for all Fulham fans, Mitrovic gave his team the three points with a late winner.
Fulham fans must stay loyal as they always do. Support the team, support the manager. Ranieri is a superb tactician who lives in Fulham. I believe his heart is with the club and he will do everything he can to keep Fulham in the Premier League, but it will be tough.
As always, enjoy the rocky ride, it is part and parcel of the life of being a loyal Fulham FC supporter.
Previous article by Brian Gower