After the poor run of form between the International breaks and the abject surrender at Coventry, we were all delighted to see the early season version of Fulham return for Saturday’s ritual dismantling of QPR.
Having been quite impressed with what I’d seen of Rangers this season I was fearing the worst at the weekend and thought the stage might have been set for a Stef Jo masterclass on his return to the Cottage. As it turned out he did pick up his standard yellow card but otherwise struggled to influence the game in a below-par Rangers side and perhaps in deference to us didn’t resort to the out and out shithousery we so loved him for.
Having put Rangers to the sword it would be easy to think this fixture with struggling Cardiff would be a piece of cake. The Welshmen have been out of sorts this season and came into this game off the back of a resounding defeat in the South Wales derby. However, we’ve struggled with their direct style a little in the past and as we’ve already found to our cost this term there are no gimmes in the Championship.
Having penned this introduction before the match I’d normally now move on to a considered analysis of the game itself. However, that idea has been rendered completely pointless by the triumphant return of a certain Thomas Cairney. Tom joined the club in 2015 and as our current longest servant has seen many ups and downs. His personal highlight and probably a lot of ours was his winning goal in the 2018 playoff final. I’d also give a special mention to his stunning last gasp equaliser against Leeds a year earlier that sent the Hammy End into raptures and also epitomised the class he has at his disposal…
On the downside his constant battle with injury has hindered his impact; particularly in our two recent failures to establish ourselves back in the Premier League. In fact, he became the forgotten man last season after he succumbed to his fragile knees and wasn’t seen on the park at all in the second half of the campaign. When his absence extended into this season I was probably not alone in thinking we may have seen the last of him in a Fulham shirt.
Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to see him in the squad on Saturday but given the injuries sustained and how well we played he didn’t get the chance to get on nor indeed force his way into the starting XI for this game.
The first half turned into a frustrating one and apart from a Kebano effort that hit the post, we struggled to break the shackles of a tenacious Cardiff team. The Bluebirds also had a few moments of their own while our normal precise and incisive passing was somewhat awry. Harrison Reed was one of our better players in the opening period so it was concerning when he picked up a knock just before the break.
Silva thought better of risking him in the second half and instead decided this was the moment to reintroduce Cairney to the fray. He entered to a hero’s welcome and was immediately moving the ball swiftly and accurately in that old familiar style. This comforting sight was just the prelude to what made an otherwise pretty undistinguished match turn into one that will live long in the memory of those of us lucky enough to be at the Cottage. For a moment it looked as though another promising move had broken down with the intervention of a Cardiff boot. However, the ball was only diverted into the path of a lurking TC on the edge of the box who absolutely lashed it into the roof of the Cardiff net at warp speed. It was as though all his frustration of the last year was put into the shot. Unsurprisingly it also triggered a huge outpouring of emotion from Tom as he celebrated in front of the ecstatic and adoring masses. In true storybook fashion, it should’ve been the winning goal but in fairness, nobody was complaining when Mitro gave us the insurance of a second goal after a Cardiff mistake was pounced on.
The visitors carved out a few decent chances of their own after this but with the reassuring presence of Rodak in goal, we repelled all they had to offer to emerge with another very welcome victory.
It was far from a vintage Fulham display but come the season end we won’t be measuring quality of performances and with West Brom losing it turned out to be a very good nights work. What will certainly overshadow the collective effort though is the contribution of one man. There certainly ‘ain’t nobody’ like Tom Cairney. Hopefully, he can now stay injury-free and put a third promotion on his Fulham CV. For the here and now I’m just mightily pleased to see him back.