Although the first home game of the season with Middlesbrough hadn’t given us the result we wanted (or probably deserved) it was still a joy to get to the Cottage to see a game for the first time in 18 months.
This joy was assuredly increased by the two away games since. I was on a family holiday last week and was elated to have had my Saturday afternoon brightened by the score updates from Huddersfield. Not even a sending off was able to curtail our ability to score at will and the stories from those in attendance were fulsome in their praise of the way we played. Luckily I was able to link up to the live coverage of our trip to Millwall on Tuesday and was able to see for myself the instant impact Marco Silva has made. Seldom can there have been a more comprehensive one goal margin victory and although we had to endure a rocky last few minutes, our attacking potential was there for all to see. The performance rekindled memories of the Tigana promotion campaign when we regularly put teams to the sword with the sheer quality at our disposal.
The major worry ahead of Hull’s visit was whether, in the words of the song, it was ‘too good to be true’ to expect this form to continue. There is always a danger that confidence can sometimes lapse into complacency when faced with an opponent you are expected to beat. The feelgood factor was enhanced further by the announcement of Rodrigo Muniz’s arrival on the eve of the game. It will be fantastic if he can take the goalscoring pressure off our back-to-form talisman Mitro or even better dovetail with the Serbian to twin prong our attack. Time will tell on that score but on Saturday, Silva unsurprisingly went with an unchanged line up. When you viewed the talent on the bench and the fact that the likes of Kongolo, Cairney and Reed (more short term hopefully) are on the injured list with Wilson suspended then there was plenty of room for optimism for not just the Hull game but the campaign ahead.
Confidence was not misplaced as we went on to have a comfortable afternoon and clinch a two goal victory that took us back to the Championship summit. However, as I’m sure most will be familiar with the salient points of our victory I thought I’d give my take on each individual’s contribution to the win and the season so far.
Paulo Gazzaniga – The jury is still out on our new stopper. It’s harsh on Marek Rodak that he wasn’t given a chance to prove himself but as a Silva signing it’s understandable the Argentinian was given first dibs. In fairness, he hasn’t had much to do in the games so far but he’s still managed to look a little shaky and although his first clean sheet should instil more confidence, his juggling act in stoppage time on Saturday gave more credence to the doubters. On the upside if we keep dominating games the way we have then even I would fancy an outing between our sticks.
Kenny Tete – The Dutchman has looked too classy for this division in our opening games so it was very sad to see him hobble off with what looks like a potentially serious muscle injury. Let’s hope the damage is not too severe.
Antonee Robinson – I feel sorry for Joe Bryan that we have two such good left backs at the club. Bryan’s humility, humour and his two goals in the Play Off final against Brentford make him a cult hero for me and in my opinion he crosses a ball better than the young American. Robinson’s pace though is vital to the way we play with his ability to get back to cover reminiscent of the way Ryan Fredericks played in Jokanovic’s side. On Saturday his delivery was much improved with his cut back for Carvalho’s goal and a cross for Mitro in the second half that should have been buried. We’re lucky to have two such good players vying for this position.
Tosin Adarabioyo – Tosin was a revelation in the Premier League last season considering his lack of experience, so it’s no surprise to see his effortless efficiency transfer so well to the Championship. His long range rasper in the first half was also a pleasant surprise – it certainly nearly caught the Hull keeper out. It would certainly be nice to see our centre backs on the scoresheet more regularly. I’m old enough to remember Roger Brown getting double figures in a promotion campaign 40 years ago. No pressure Tosin, one will do for starters.
Tim Ream – The new King of Twitter has had to prove doubters wrong ever since his arrival at the club 6 years ago. His engagement with the fans this season shows just how grounded a guy he is. it’s a quality that has been much needed in the way he’s overcome criticism and indeed outright rejection for pretty much all of last season to bounce back even stronger to take the captain’s armband this term. Tim may not have the searing pace to crack the Premier League but he is an absolute master at Championship level. In his brief spell on Saturday, his expert positioning helped him make two vital headed clearances and his slide rule pass to Robinson at the other end demonstrated his comfort on the ball. As much as I enjoy Tim’s tweets, I hope his injury doesn’t restrict him to keyboard duties only for too long.
Neeskens Kebano – It would be hard to find a Fulham fan who doesn’t love Neeskens for his effervescence, energy and flair. He’s never really had the chance to establish himself as a regular in his five years here but that has never kept the smile far from his face. He’s certainly looked like the ‘Wizard of Wriggle’ in the last couple of games and could have a vital role to play as the season progresses.
Josh Onomah – Josh was one of Scott Parker’s first signings but the ex-Spur took time to win us over in his first season. His winner in a vital game with Leeds kickstarted his Fulham career though and he ended the season as a hero with that sublime goal in Cardiff teeing up Play Off success. He was not alone in becoming a forgotten man last season but he has quickly earned Silva’s trust and is recapturing the form that helped carry us to promotion two years ago. This campaign is a big one in terms of his career and the way he’s started it suggest he’s about to fulfil his undoubted promise.
Jean Michael Seri – The Ivorian’s contributions this term are probably the biggest and most pleasant surprise so far. A lot of fans were critical of his efforts in the disastrous 2018-19 campaign and he’s hardly been seen in SW6 since. Most expected to see him disappear on another loan or permanent transfer but Harrison Reed’s absence meant Silva entrusted him with the holding midfield role at Huddersfield last week. His performance there and in the two games since are evidence that the hype surrounding him when we initially signed him may not have been misplaced. It seems Silva is getting the best out of him and he certainly seems to be enjoying his football again. Long may it continue.
Ivan Cavaleiro – Cav took a lot of stick last season for not only missing chances but also keeping Mitro out of the team when we couldn’t buy a goal. It was harsh to pin our pitiful scoring record at one man’s door though and the Portuguese winger always gives his best even when his shooting boots are misfiring. I was hoping his two goals at Huddersfield would restore his confidence but a big chance to clinch victory at Millwall was missed in the week and he was similarly off target against the Tigers. Hopefully Silva and Luis Boa Morte can restore their compatriot’s mojo quickly before those misses start to cost us.
Fabio Carvalho – For those in the know there were serious whispers about his talent long before he was given his chance at the back-end of last season. For such a naturally gifted player, it’s no surprise to see him fit so seamlessly into first team football and by all accounts the big clubs are already circling. Hopefully the maturity he’s showing on the pitch is matched off it and his head isn’t turned too soon. Fab must realise that the best place to develop his game is (obviously) here at the Cottage. He only need hang around with us for the next ten years or so and then I’ll happily wish him good luck elsewhere. I’ll even lend him a pen to sign the contract. Get to it Fab, you know it makes sense!
Aleksandar Mitrovic – The Serbian’s fire was well and truly doused last season and I think it’s fair to say that he and the manager weren’t seeing eye to eye. Without Parker’s departure, I felt it very likely that we would have seen the last of him in Fulham’s colours but Silva’s arrival has rekindled our talisman’s flame. It’s clear that to be at his best Mitro needs to feel loved. He certainly has been getting on intimate terms with some opponents already this season but more importantly has rediscovered the route to goal.
Alfie Mawson – To say Mawson has had a chequered career at Fulham so far would be a disservice to chess boards. His first year was blighted by injury, his second by Hector’s arrival and his third saw him shipped out and injured again. However Ream’s unfortunate injury may have given Alfie the chance to at last establish himself. He didn’t put a foot wrong on Saturday and although tougher tests may follow, it was a good way to start.
Bobby Decordova-Reid – Bobby’s versatility is becoming an absolute godsend. He excelled as a wing back in some games last season, was a playmaker with three assists last Saturday and this week stepped manfully in as emergency right back on Tete’s departure. If Gazzaniga and Rodak both get injured then we should start knitting Bobby some goalie gloves.
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa – The Cameroonian splits opinion in a way not quite done since the halcyon days of Bobby Zamora. He’s an outrageously gifted footballer but at the same time if the word languid didn’t exist you’d have invent it to describe some of his displays for us. He can absolutely own the Championship this season on two conditions: 1. If he wants to; and 2. If he’s still with us when the window shuts.
So 4 games into the campaign and we already have the Silva lining of being top of the table.
Punderful stuff or what? Up the Fulham!