With the glitz and glamour of the Premier League on the horizon, Daniel Smith and Luke Sargeant reflect on the performances of those that got us to the promised land this season.
The 21 players who made at least 10 league appearances plus Marco Silva himself, will be ranked in ascending order. Up first is Danny with part one and the players ranked from 21-11…
It was unclear what Gazzaniga’s status in the team would be when we picked him up on a free transfer back in July. I assumed he would be competing with Fabri for a place on the bench, given he had spent the majority of his career as a backup ‘keeper. So it was a bit of a shock to see him start the season in favour of Rodak.
Considering Fulham made a relatively solid start to the season and our superior quality was apparent as early as the second week, with two very convincing wins away to Huddersfield and across London at The Den. At no stage was I convinced by Gaz between the sticks. He started the opening 9 games of the campaign and despite not having to do much, it seemed every time the opposition had a sniff at goal, it would result in the Argentinian picking the ball out of his net. The stats back this up with Fulham conceding 12 goals in our opening 9 games, keeping just 2 clean sheets.
Many fans were calling for Marek to reclaim his place in the side, but whilst Gazzaniga wasn’t doing very much right, he also wasn’t doing much wrong. It felt like we were just waiting for an opportunity to bring Rodak in and the last straw came at Coventry away. Admittedly, all good teams concede goals and all goalkeepers make honest mistakes, but the body language and lack of effort, especially as the third Coventry goal trickled over the line was very disappointing. In actual fact, I think it’s the most absurd goal I’ve seen Fulham concede because it wasn’t calamitous, it wasn’t a rush of blood, it was just nothing. He literally just watched it crawl in without a care in the world.
He was brought back in for a stalemate with Derby County in November when half of the squad came down with a virus and to be fair to him, he made a couple of good saves and looked more assured than at any stage during his first run in the team. But we saw at Sheffield United in the final game of the season that he was as much in “on the beach” mode as the rest of the squad, which is disappointing for a backup keeper who doesn’t get many opportunities. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence, perhaps it’s rustiness having spent most of the season on the bench but if this was to be his last appearance for the club, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
He came, he saw, he conquered Huddersfield away and then he put his feet up for the rest of the season. Job done in August! To be fair, I think I would have sat back and admired that brace from the bench if I’d spent a season playing as a false striker in a Scott Parker team. They were both sensational goals and arguably Cavaleiro was the benchmark of what was to come from the Silva approach. It was a breath of fresh air to see a manager make a positive, ballsy tactical change when going down to ten men. A far cry from bringing on Maxime Le Marchand to protect a narrow lead the last time we were at the John Smith’s Stadium.
In total, Cav made 18 league appearances, starting just 5 and those 2 goals were to be his only goal contributions to the team’s efforts. The resurgence of Neeskens and a front 3 that dominated the first half of the season, even inspiring their own song meant that Ivan was merely a squad player on this journey back to the Premier League and it’s hard to remember anything else worth sharing.
Since scoring the goals at Wembley in the 2020 playoff final, I’m sure Joe Bryan’s career hasn’t gone the way he intended. What should be considered good competition for the left back slot has seen two managers favouring the athleticism of Antonee Robinson and as a result, Joe’s importance to the squad has significantly diminished.
He made 15 league appearances, starting 13 and providing 1 assist. Those appearances produced a mixed bag of results and that inconsistency was reflected in Joe’s performances. There were some games where you’d wonder why he wasn’t our first choice left back, but equally, times where he looked rusty and you could see why Robinson was preferred. His value to the team felt similar to Alan Nielson in the Tigana promotion. Someone clearly not in the frame for a start but dependable enough when called upon. Perhaps Marco Silva didn’t make enough use of the huge strength in depth at his disposal. Moving onto next season, I’m not sure where Joe’s future lies but he’s the kind of person I love to see playing for the club and a good role model for young Fulham fans. Although, it might be best for his career if he moves this summer for a fresh start.
At the start of the season, I remember thinking that Seri, Josh and Fabio in midfield had a really nice balance to it and Onomah’s physical attributes complimented the role Seri could make from a deeper position. Similarly to how StefJo used to do a lot of the running for Kmac in the Slav promotion team. But it was inevitable that over the course of a long Championship season, the likes of the injured Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed, plus new signing Nathaniel Chalobah would make competition for places really tough.
It’s easy to forget the role Josh played at the start of the season because despite making 20 appearances, in 2022 – he hasn’t started a league game and the cameos equate to 132 mins give or take for injury time. But even then he looked lively when he came on and served his purpose in bringing energy for the last few minutes of the match.
With Mitro remaining at the club, game time was always going to be hard to come by for any other strikers in the squad. There aren’t many established strikers who would settle for being an understudy and from that point of view Muniz turned out to be a decent squad player. Given the astonishing, record-breaking form Mitro has shown all season, there was very little opening for the Brazilian to impress, and in his defence, his goal to minutes ratio is nothing to be ashamed of. According to whoscored.com, he played 490 minutes in the Championship, scoring 5 goals which amounts to a goal every 98 minutes. In 25 league appearances, he started just twice and in one of those starts produced one of the goals of the season with a thunderous strike into the top corner at Stoke. He also played his part in helping Fulham make history as the first English team to record a hat trick of 7-0 wins in the same season, by scoring the 6th and 7th goals at Ewood Park and forcing the 7th at the Madjeski when his saved effort fell kindly to Mitro to tap home the rebound.
We didn’t see enough of him to make a fair judgement of his ability but his enthusiasm was infectious. Constructively criticising I would say that he had a bigger impact in games that were already won – like the 7-0 victories I’ve already mentioned. Rather than when he was chucked on as a last resort when we were desperate for a goal. But he’s a young man in a new country, learning his trade and would probably benefit from a loan move next season to get more experience. The jury is out on whether the reported 8 million Euros was money well spent but there’s certainly potential.
Like most in the squad, he has played his part this season and proved to be a smart addition by Marco. If I was being picky, he was a more valuable member of the squad when coming off the bench to see games out rather than starting. We didn’t seem to get out of second gear with him in the side which would probably work better next season when we need that kind of player in the team to keep things tight. But at this level, the onus was always on Fulham to take the game to the opposition and the football flowed better with Reed or Seri in that role. Nevertheless, he was a more than adequate squad player and in order to be crowned Champions of the Championship, you need players who are up for that physical battle and don’t shy away from a fight when the going gets tough. We certainly ground out a few ugly wins thanks to Nathaniel and he provided yet more valuable experience to an already hugely experienced team.
If I asked you which Marek Rodak was the more in form keeper, the one from the Parker promotion or the one Silva has right now. I’d imagine most people would go for the former. And yet, surprisingly, the stats suggest it’s pretty close and that he’s been marginally better this season. But what the stats won’t show you is the lack of confidence and conviction he has been playing with for the past few months. Rarely do you see him command his penalty area. Instead, he has become a bit of a liability when defending set-pieces/crosses, opting to punch the ball back into the danger area rather than relieving the pressure and catching it. Even his shot-stopping doesn’t seem to be as consistent as it was two years ago when he was often called upon to make match-defining saves. I can’t think of any points won this season thanks to the heroics of Marek and for a few months, I’ve wondered if his mind is elsewhere because he knows his future doesn’t lie at Fulham.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s had a poor season because he’s certainly been the best choice available to us between the sticks but he hasn’t been overly convincing either. I’ve accepted that he’s a Championship level goalkeeper who was promoted thanks largely to a very good team around him and it’s a shame that he didn’t get the opportunity to test himself in the Premier League last time. But if he feels that he has to be playing first-team football next season, I don’t see him staying in SW6. Of the players who are currently first choice in their position, he’s probably the first that I’d prioritise replacing.
Oi Oi Oi Denis Odoi! Everyone loves our former hipster right back and it was the perfect way to say goodbye, seeing him return to receive his Forever Fulham award, as we clinched the title last month. Perhaps remembered more fondly for his back tricks and crossbar climbing rather than his ability, Denis resembles the perfect cult hero.
Yes, we could sit here and list the flaws in his game but I’d prefer to show admiration for a player who didn’t start a single season as the first choice for his position but always worked his way into the side and won over the faith of his manager. His versatility over the years has been invaluable to our trio of promotions and his efforts in the first half of this season are testimony to that.
With plenty of talk of needing a new right back, it felt like Marco Silva reluctantly turned to Denis with Kenny Tete out injured and Cyrus Christie surplus to requirements but as mentioned already, the Belgian found a way to keep his place in the side and his departure at the end of January came as a big shock.
In hindsight, it worked out well for all parties as Denis got to move back home and secure a new contract at the age of 33, meanwhile freeing up space in the squad for the quality of Neco Williams. Denis bowed out in his final season at the club with 3 assists and a trademark header at St Andrews. Those 3 assists are more than his fellow fullbacks Neco Williams, Joe Bryan and Kenny Tete contributed this season and only 1 off Antonee Robinson who played double the games (36 appearances to Odoi’s 18). That shows you that Denis more than played his part and deserved to be on the podium to receive his medal. Add to that, the fact that he looks like Fulham Focus’ Luke Sargeant and I think he deserves a respectable rating for his troubles…
By Kenny’s high standards and my expectations of him, he wasn’t as influential as I expected, nor missed anywhere near what I imagined when he was out injured. In fact, I was quite content with Odoi filling in and preferred watching Neco Williams who was more exciting and a bigger threat going forward.
Nevertheless, it would be ridiculous to expect Fulham to have anywhere near as much possession or control of the game in the Premier League and Kenny remains the best fullback at the club from a defensive point of view. So I fully expect his skill set to be tested more next season and for him to be a more important member of the squad. Like everyone else, he played his part across the 46 games and didn’t put a foot wrong. It was great to see him back to his best in the Luton game, scoring with a sweet strike of his left foot and looking like the Premier League fullback I believe he is.
Only Tim Ream and Aleksandar Mitrovic made more appearances than Bobby Reid’s 41 this season, but 9 players played more minutes than the Jamaican International overall. That sums up Decordova-Reid’s place in the squad pretty well. The Jack of all trades but a master of none and his versatility has been a lifeline to prolonging his Fulham career as he lacks the quality to make any position his own. But all good teams need a Bobby Reid in the ranks. A player who never causes a fuss when he’s on the bench and always gives his all when he’s on the pitch. He’s been a top professional during his time at the club and with the Premier League rule of 9 named subs, he will no doubt be used in a similar fashion next season.
Tigana’s legends of 2000/01 have been compared to Silva’s champions at times this season, and one stat where Silva’s men have come out on top is goals scored. 106 to Tigana’s 90. After Tigana’s famous trio of Saha, Boa and Hayles, Lee Clark was the next highest goalscorer with 7. Bobby took his tally to 8 during that incredible victory over Luton Town last month and signed off with 7 assists in the league as well. It may come as a surprise but his 15 goals/assists combined is the same as Neeskens who made a big impression this season.
Attitude aside, I’ve never been a huge fan of Bobby Reid personally but the numbers do beg the question, is he underappreciated?
There aren’t many players in the squad who would have done the air miles of Antonee Robinson this season. Even his fellow countryman Tim Ream didn’t make it into every USA squad throughout the season. Sure, it doesn’t excuse his failure to deliver a decent cross but it’s a factor that is easy to overlook when analysing his performances. Especially amidst a gruelling Championship schedule.
It’s natural to focus on the bad things somebody does when you’ve already made up your mind that they aren’t good enough. I feel like this happens a lot with Robinson. It’s only when they aren’t in the team that you begin to notice that they do contribute something positive and with Robinson, it’s in his one v one defending. I like Joe Bryan, I think he’s got a sweet left foot, but Robinson is the better defender. First and foremost that should be the priority even if the modern-day full back is expected to be part of the attacking regime.
Do I think Antonee Robinson is a good footballer? Not particularly. But in a similar way to Ryan Fredericks, his speed counteracts a lot of his weaknesses and if you play to his strengths, it can be argued he’s had as solid a season as any other fullback at the club.
Never spectacular and impossible to miss when he’s falling over his own feet, but quietly does a lot of good things that gave the likes of Kebano in front a license to express himself and Ream alongside him the protection a slower centre back benefits from. That pace and his ability to defend became a very handy insurance policy for such an attack-minded team. Plus, 4 assists and 3 goals from a left back is not something to be sniffed at.