Harrison Leeds Fulham Halfway Home


Image: Fulham FC

A quarter of the way into the season, Fulham are practically halfway to Premier League survival. Two wins in a week, following a somewhat disappointing draw with Bournemouth, has propelled The Whites to seventh place and more importantly, to 18 points. The three-game stretch has also been significant for Harrison Reed. 

Following his half-time withdrawal, as Fulham trailed The Cherries, Tom Cairney made a strong claim for a starting berth in the fixtures to follow, providing control and incision in his 45 minutes. It continued the trend of the club captain entering the fray ad improving the team performance from the bench throughout the season. He has been brought on in every game, making a significant impact in rescuing a draw against Bournemouth, and inspiring the late win over local rivals Brentford.

With sections of the fan base calling for a first start of the season for Cairney, Reed has reminded everyone of what he brings to the team, and asserted his position as first-choice alongside the dominant Joao Palhinha. His goal against Aston Villa set the team on their way to comfortable 3-0 win, and he could have scored the opener at Elland Road too, but for a goal-saving block on the line from Leeds’ Marc Roca. But despite remaining absent from the score sheet, he impacted the game in plenty of other ways.

His trademark intensity was on display throughout, and he also showed great skill and composure to tee up Willian for what was ultimately the winning goal. Marco Silva wants his side to press when out of possession and Reed does just that, as well as providing energy in the transition. As well as winning seven of his eight ground duels, he continuously popped up on the right-hand side to receive the ball in space after Fulham had won the ball, providing an attacking overload on that flank. It was this combination of retrieving the ball and an overload that led to Willian’s first Fulham goal.

With a throw-in deep in Leeds territory, Aleksandar Mitrovic attempted to hold the ball up but was partially robbed by Liam Cooper. Reed was there to take the loose ball into the box, and with some quick footwork leave Robin Koch in a desperate heap before squaring for the Brazilian winger to turn home. It summed up everything Reed has been good at this week. Securing possession, arriving in the final third and having a decisive impact on the result of the game. It all means Tom Cairney may have to wait a little longer to force himself into the statin XI.

Marco Silva’s ability to get the best out his players is a theme that started last season, and it continues to bear fruit in the top flight. Willian is the latest addition to list of players finding their best level under the Portuguese schemer. Having arrived after a less than impressive spell with Arsenal, he has looked much more like the player who won numerous honours down the King Road a few years ago. At 34 years old, he still has a turn of pace and plenty of tricks to cause opposition full-backs to worry about the prospect of facing him.

His countryman Andreas Pereira also arrived with some question marks, having spent nearly a decade at Manchester United without having a significant impact. But under Silva he is rejuvenated and playing a key role in Fulham’s refusal to be drawn into a relegation battle. His two assists in Yorkshire take him to five for the season. Only Kevin De Bruyne has provided more in the Premier League. And while he should have added a second goal of the campaign at Elland Road, he continues to play a vital role in The Cottagers attacking play.

Pereira’s first assist of the afternoon was seized upon by Mitrovic, who is also proving doubters wrong. Those with connections to Fulham have long advocated for the Serbian’s ability to perform at he highest level. His international record backs this up, and his eight Premier League goals are only furthering the argument that there is a top class centre-forward playing football on the banks of the Thames. However, there is a slight concern over the fitness of The Whites’ talisman. After suffering a knock on international duty he has not looked at his bullying best, despite three goals in his last three appearances. With The World Cup approaching, and his undoubted importance to the national team, he will be wanting to maintain the excellent form he has shown since the start of last season. Fulham will want that too, as it has resulted in 52 goals in 56 matches for the club.

He went down again at Leeds, but continued nonetheless. Silva revealed there’s was a discussion at half-time regarding his ability to continue, and in typical fashion Mitrovic insisted he was fine to play on. Without knowing exactly what the issue is, it is difficult to speculate whether it is in everyone’s best interest for him to continue to play through an ailment that is having at least some impact on his game. What is clear, is that even at less than 100%, Mitrovic is key to Fulham’s fortunes. Whether or not he can navigate the next three fixtures, and then Serbia’s World Cup exploits without further aggravation will be followed with keen interest in SW6.

It’s been a fantastic start to the season, and if that is to continue beyond the enforced break that approaches, Silva will have to continue to get the best from the likes of Mitrovic, Reed, Willian and Pereira, the same way continues to tease performances out of Bobby Decordova-Reid and Tim Ream. It’s something both the manager and the players deserve huge credit for.