Fortress Cottage


Image: Fulham FC

Our initial 13 year stay in the Premier League wasn’t always plain sailing, but what gave us the foundation to be competitive and grow into an established outfit was our home form. Even in the days when we were at the peak of our powers, Fulham’s away record was ordinary at best and the majority of the time it was the results at Craven Cottage which carried the burden of the club’s travel sickness.

This season, that same home form is what saw Fulham rise to 6th in the table on Tuesday night. The job Marco Silva has done this August is nothing short of genius and he is probably a missed penalty at Wolves or an ignored handball at Arsenal away from being awarded the manager of the month.

This contrasts with the previous slow starts under Slavisa Jokanovic and Scott Parker, who it’s fair to say were inexperienced at this level. Silva has clearly used his experience from past clubs to have his players flying out of the traps. He has already shown in the opening 5 games that he knows exactly what is required, has adjusted the playing style to suit the level we are competing at and he’s executed it to perfection. It’s not only his time spent in the Premier League that bodes well for Fulham either. Whilst at Hull City, he finally lost his impressive 41 game unbeaten home record, built up from spells with Olympiacos, Sporting Lisbon and eventually ending with The Tigers. So he certainly has form for building home fortresses.

Last season, he referred to the fans many times asking for their help to create a strong atmosphere at the Cottage and the Fulham faithful have responded. The crowd can be the 12th man at any football club, regardless of how big or small the stadium is. You don’t need clappers to raise the roof, you just need a team of players the crowd can believe in. We are certainly bouncing off of their energy at the moment and they are taking inspiration from ours. All of us are in this fight together, which is just how it should be.

The team are still playing an attractive brand of football which is something the club has prided itself on for many years, but as opposed to the slow build up out from the back, we are now playing more direct. We are more aggressive, faster, playing a lot more one touch football, all with an intent to hurt the opposition where it matters. It’s the best of both worlds at the moment and he has done it in a way that gets the best out of everyone in the team.

We are taking calculated risks in and out of possession. When defending, the closest man will anticipate the pass and gamble by trying to nip in ahead of his opponent, knowing a team mate is readily sweeping behind for any second balls. There’s more reliance on Robinson and Tete to be the brilliant defenders they are rather than depending on them to overload the attack. Silva is being brave and showing that he believes in them one v one with any attacker and so far I can’t think of any wide player who has got the better of either of them.

The tenacity and dominance in midfield is perfect for Palhinha and Reed, whilst Ream looks like a different player now that we are going more direct and not expecting him to thread the ball through the eye of a needle on top of his own box. Through a combination of simplifying the centre back role and his wealth of experience, we are witnessing his best season as a defender and it’s those attributes that are being noticed lately, more than what a pretty footballer he can be.

Mitrovic and Pereira have the freedom of Fulham to play their own game and, as a player, that must give you so much enjoyment and desire to do well for the manager. In return you can see that they would run through brick walls for him and it’s impressive when a manager can convince a whole team to share that attitude.

We are able to recognise when a player is trying to be positive on the ball and if it doesn’t come off, there’s more acceptance for the mistake because going sideways and back for the sake of it and always opting for the easy option is not the mentality of winners, it’s actually the complete opposite.

As fans, we are proud of our home and it’s always complimentary to hear neutrals describe it as their favourite away day or a wonderful place to watch football. We are a nice, welcoming, family club and there’s no point pretending otherwise, but it stops there. Let them admire the scenery and be envious of how unique our ground is, and let them also leave knowing that this Fulham is here to stay, doesn’t fear anyone and that any opponent competing on our hallowed turf will need to be at their very best to take any points off of us.

It seems fitting then to mention Bournemouth’s result last weekend. Scott Parker who oversaw the worst home record in Fulham’s history, saw his side humiliated with a 9-0 loss at Anfield, whilst Marco’s team fought hard to beat an in-form Brighton team who were yet to lose this season, and in doing so maintained our own unbeaten start to the season at home.

Fine margins or perhaps in this case, not so much…