360 days since he made his first appearance after a 10-month lay off, Tom Cairney came off the bench again on Saturday, to great effect against Bournemouth.
There is something about Cairney, in that when he is fit and firing, he always appears at ease on the pitch, regardless of the occasion or stature of the opposition. It’s a testament to his character, that, in the seven years since he signed, Cairney has remained an omnipresent pillar in a side that has transformed season to season, in spite of any fitness issues.
And last Saturday against Bournemouth, when he emerged for the second half in place of Harrison Reed it was no different. For context, Fulham started the game poorly and were one goal behind after just two minutes when Dominic Solanke latched on to Phillip Billings pass to fire the Cherries in front.
Summer signing Issa Diop levelled the scores infront of the Putney End, but just seven minutes later, we were back behind again as Jefferson Lerma stroked home his second of the season. All before the half-hour mark.
Some of the defending on show had been suspect, to say the least, and our midfield struggled to keep up with Bournemouth’s. A Marco Silva masterclass during the break was needed, if anything was to be salvaged from what was a very winnable game at 2.59pm on Saturday afternoon. And indeed there was.
The introduction of Cairney changed our fate completely. The 31-year-old looked calm and collected in the middle of the park, and added a degree of guile and silkiness that wasn’t present with a midfield two made up of the powerful Palhinha and relentless Reed.
It was a fast start after the interval, and the damage of the first half was repaired by yet another Mitrovic goal, from 12 yards out.
Cairney was at the heart of most of our good work. In our moment of need, it was a typical captains performance from Cairney, who looked galvanised, motivated and technically superior to most others on the field. Not something you’d typically expect from a man who’s only full 90 this season came in a loss to a League Two side.
The hope now is that he can use this performance to kick on and stake a claim for a regular place in the side, yet central figures at the club will be conscious of an injury record which has a habit of rearing its head at critical moments.
Cairney’s football has been monitored and his games have been managed to a near perfect level since his return on October 20 last year against Cardiff City, as he was ushered, gently, through the majority of last season in an attempt to avoid a reoccurrence of the knee injury that sidelined him for 288 days. The game finished level and whilst both sides will have arguments for it being two points dropped, Fulham owe a lot to Cairney that they can even entertain that prospect, as it would definitely have been a point gained at half-time.
It was a midfield performance that rolled back the years in many ways, and TC was watched by one of his former midfield partners, man mountain Kevin McDonald, and the pair reconvened after the game- much to the delight of both. KMac’s enforcer role is now filled by Joao Palhinha, and it is to Cairney’s credit that he has remained a constant in a side that evolves around him, be it for better or for worse.
Despite the volume and frequency of change, players such as Cairney, Ream and Mitrovic have ensured that the core of the side has remained strong amidst a turbulent couple of years, and TC’s unquestionable quality continues to shine through.
Whilst the team performance on Saturday was far from perfect, and there are things aplenty to put right ahead of Thursday’s game against Aston Villa, Saturday’s Cherries clash served as a reminder of our Captain’s undying talent, commitment and class.