Many Fulham fans were desperate to get one over on former manager Scott Parker, and even though the result wasn’t definitive, the way the game played out felt like validation for The Cottagers. Since Marco Silva took the reins at Motspur Park, his side has developed from a possession-based, safety-first approach, to a dynamic swashbuckling force of goals. After 90 minutes of watching the conflicting philosophies play out, there will be very few in white, if any, who prefer the former.
Bournemouth for their part can play. They have talented individuals, led by Dominic Solanke, who proved that his manger’s recent praise was more than just sound bites, even if Whites fans still would not trade him for the incumbent Fulham no.9. On several occasions in the first half they threatened on the break and caused the Fulham back line problems when initiating a high press. The hosts were still the better side, and created more, which is why it was such a kick in the teeth to concede seven seconds into the second half. The lapse in concentration doesn’t take away from the ingenuity of the attack, which is why makes it all the more puzzling that Parker seemingly didn’t believe his players would be able to breach the hosts rearguard again. So much so that they didn’t even try. With 45 minutes remaining, it was backs to the wall.
Silva, is the opposite. He encouraged his team to push all the way, and they did just that, even after Tosin’s equaliser sent the Hammersmith End into delirium. With four minutes, plus added time remaining, there was no settling from Silva’s charges. Parker, having started to batten down the hatches with substitutions 35 minutes earlier, was just hoping his resolute side could hold out. To their credit, they did. But having lost points from winning positions in their last four matches now, one has to question how much patience the Cherries fans will show if this approach continues. Having watched two full seasons of Parkerball, regular visitors to Craven Cottage can tell their south coast counterparts that change is unlikely.
And so despite not getting the win, and despite not getting the opportunity to celebrate an Aleksandar Mitrovic goal, not for a lack of the Serbian’s best efforts, there was a sense of contentment among the home fans as they filtered back out onto Stevenage Road. Confidence remains that this is the best team in the league, having got the best of their closest rivals for much of the contest, and seeing the differences in a team that goes for the win rather than one that appears inhibited when in a leading position.
It’s beyond dispute that attacking talent is reinvigorated under Fulham’s Portuguese tactician, and Neeskens Kebano continued to make that point as he turned Jack Stacey inside-out repeatedly. His performance was only missing a goal, which unfortunately eluded him when he was unable to divert a rebound into an open portion of the goal in the second-half. But his ability to leave defenders dumbfounded by his quick feet and turn of pace continues to thrill his adoring public. However, for all of Kebano’s endeavour, it was a more traditional hero that had the biggest impact on the game.
History will be kind to Tom Cairney. He has achieved so much in his six years at the club. But one can’t help but think he has not been appreciated enough during his time at the club. Long have debates raged about his ability to effectively captain the side, or if he should forfeit his starting place. The club captain mostly seems to get the adulation he deserves when he isn’t a regular starter, or during a period of injury. I would posit that the club couldn’t want much more from a leader. Time and again, TC comes up clutch just when his side need him, whether at Wembley or by The Thames. He did it again on Friday night, improving Fulham’s attacking prospects as soon as he arrived on the turf, and eventually delivering the cross from which Adarabioyo opened his Fulham account. He won’t be here forever. He should be appreciated while he is, and not just after the fact.
Another of Silva’s proactive substitutes also contributed to the building of attacking momentum. Bobby Decordova-Reid lost his starting place, primarily due to far-off international duty, and was then among the group afflicted by the now infamous illness. Prior to that, he had performed admirably. Fabio Carvalho returned from injury and once again showed the impact he can have, meaning the former Bristol City player had to bide his time and wait for his next opportunity. Carvalho has been superb since his return, blocking out the noise of speculation to prove his professionalism with influential performances. He was solid again against Bournemouth, but Decirdova-Reid’s movement and energy certainly took The Whites up a gear when he was introduced with 20 minutes to go. It further demonstrates the strength of this Fulham squad, as on this form, it’s hard to think of a team that the Jamaican international does not improve in this division. Having the option to remove Carvalho from the firing line once in a while, safe in the knowledge that his replacement is just as impactful.
While Silva was introducing game-changing, forward-thinking players into the fray, Parker introduced the ball-winning attributes of Ben Pearson, and despite watching his side relinquish any control the lead may have afforded them, he didn’t make another change until the equaliser had been scored. He then sent on two defenders.
As the season rolls on, it could well be the case that when these two sides meet at The Vitality in April, it is once again first versus second. After this game though, Fulham fans will feel confident that in the intervening period, they will watch the more thrilling football, and are equipped to pick up the results that mean it’s not just one point between them come the reverse fixture. And that has a lot to do with Marco Silva and his refreshing brand of football. Parkerball is in the past, and the future is bright.