A look at free-scor­ing Ful­ham – and their play-off prospects

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By John Lyons

THERE´S of­ten a team that comes with a late run to make the play-offs – and Ful­ham could be the ones to do just that in the Championship.

The top six – New­cas­tle, Brighton, Hud­der­s­field, Leeds, Read­ing and Sh­effield Wed­nes­day – have been sit­ting pretty in re­cent weeks, but the sev­en­th­placed Whites are the team best placed to chal­lenge them for post­sea­son ac­tion.

Ahead of yes­ter­day’s stern test at ta­ble-top­ping New­cas­tle United, Slav­isa Jokanovic’s men were five points be­hind Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, the team in the fi­nal play-off berth, seven away from Read­ing and eight be­hind Leeds, with a game in hand on all three.

The football purists will be hop­ing Ful­ham can achieve a top-six fin­ish as they have be­come one of the divi­sion’s most en­ter­tain­ing teams un­der Jokanovic.

Per­haps one of the rea­sons why they are so pleas­ing on the eye is the num­ber of left-foot­ers they pos­sess.

Against Leeds, half of the out­field starters were left­ies – Tim Ream, Scott Malone, Sone Aluko, Tom Cair­ney and Ste­fan Jo­hansen. There is a cer­tain stylish­ness to their game – and a goal threat.

Pre-week­end, only New­cas­tle (69) and Nor­wich (61) had scored more goals than the Craven Cot­tage side, who shared third place in that par­tic­u­lar chart with Brighton (60).

And, while Ful­ham are al­ways likely to con­cede a goal – they had let in 41 pre-week­end, more than all the cur­rent top six, bar Read­ing (46) – they have tight­ened up com­pared to last sea­son when they con­ceded a whop­ping 79 in their 46 games and fin­ished 20th.

The fact the Lon­don­ers are so ex­cit­ing to watch is in large part down to Jokanovic, right, and the club’s clever re­cruit­ment.

Many pun­dits won­dered where the goals would come from after they lost pro­lific duo Ross McCor­mack to As­ton Villa and Moussa Dem­bele to Celtic last sum­mer.

Ful­ham haven’t got the divi- sion’s lead­ing scor­ers this term, but they have a num­ber of dif­fer­ent weapons at their dis­posal.

It is a team set up to at­tack, as shown in last Tues­day night’s pul­sat­ing 1-1 draw against Leeds United at the Cot­tage. Both full­backs, Ryan Fred­er­icks and Malone on this oc­ca­sion, like to push for­ward.

In mid­field, Kevin McDon­ald tends to sit and al­low the tal­ented Jo­hansen and Cair­ney to use their cre­ative skills. These two are at the heart of Ful­ham’s best work, pass­ing and prob­ing all the while.

Nor­we­gian Jo­hansen, 26, is a plea­sure to watch, while for­mer Black­burn mid­fielder Cair­ney, also 26, has grown in stature over the last cou­ple of years.

The skip­per’s stun­ning last­gasp equaliser against Leeds – a pow­ered, curl­ing left foot shot into the top cor­ner that left for­mer Eng­land goslkeeper Rob Green grasp­ing thin air – was sim­ply sen­sa­tional and showed he is the man for the big oc­ca­sion.

Vi­tally, it also helped Ful­ham to main­tain their mo­men­tum, ex­tend­ing their un­beaten league

run to six games and making it 14 points from 18.

Tar­get man Chris Martin was not at his best against the Y shire side, but he’s a proven Championship scorer who can also bring oth­ers into play.


Ei­ther side of him are two rapid wingers in Aluko and Neeskens Ke­bano who have been given the free­dom to bam­boo­zle their mark­ers and cre­ate DR may­hem. Again­stCongo in­ter­na­tion­alLeeds, French-bornKe­bano,

who turned 25 on Fri­day, was a real livewire. He was des­per­ately un­lucky when his thun­der­bolt of a shot in the first half ap­peared to have crossed the line but a goal wasn’t given.

Garry Monk’s Leeds – ad­mit­tedly with­out in­jured top scorer Chris Wood – ar­rived in south­west Lon­don and had to weather a storm to earn a valu­able point. It would have been a trav­esty if Ful­ham had come away empty handed and the sta­tis­tics back that up. They had a re­mark­able 73 per cent pos­ses­sion, 23 shots, five on tar­get and 14 cor­ners. Leeds had seven shots, two on tar­get, and four cor­ners. Ful­ham pro­duced wave after wave of at­tacks after cen­tre-back Ream’s hor­ren­dous fifth-minute own goal gave the vis­i­tors some­thing to hang on to. The late equaliser left Monk with mixed emo­tions, though he did praise his side for stick­ing to their game plan and saluted Ful­ham, too.

“I was very proud of that per­for­mance,” said the for­mer Swansea boss. “We were play­ing against a good side that have been free-scor­ing here at this stadium.

“It feels a lit­tle bit like a sucker punch be­cause of the way it came right at the very end but that’s football.

“Ul­ti­mately, it’s a very good point against a very good side.”

Ful­ham boss Jokanovic said: “I’m re­ally proud of how my team played. We put all the football on the pitch, we moved the ball from one side to the other, we cre­ated many chances. I believe my team de­served three points.

“Tom Cair­ney scored a fan­tas­tic goal. He is a very im­por­tant player for us and prob­a­bly one of the best in the com­pe­ti­tion.”

The 48-year-old Ser­bian be­lieves there is plenty of time for his side to mount a play-off bid in the clos­ing months of the sea­son.

“There are many games in front of us,” said the ex-Watford man­ager. “I believe we play with con­fi­dence, we play with our style, we move the ball, we cre­ated many chances (against Leeds).


“My team believe they can play very good football. We scored two (with the Ke­bano ‘goal’), we needed to score three to win the game, but it’s im­por­tant for con­fi­dence we carry on and push hard to be in the top six.”

And the for­mer Chelsea mid­fielder made it clear that be­ing known as a team that plays good football isn’t high on his list of pri­or­i­ties.

“It’s not a ques­tion about en­ter­tain­ing football,” he said. “We believe this is the best way for us to win the game. I don’t want to have pos­ses­sion of the ball for noth­ing. Our pos­ses­sion gen­er­ally serves us for to shoot.

“We are one of the teams who shoots most in the Championship. This is the rea­son why we want to play this kind of game.”

On pa­per at least, Ful­ham’s run-in doesn’t look the most dif­fi­cult.

Home games against Black­burn (on Tues­day night), Wolves, Ip­swich, As­ton Villa and Brent­ford all of­fer good op­por­tu­ni­ties for points, while their next three away trips – Rother­ham, Derby and Nor­wich – don’t look for­mi­da­ble.

A lot could de­pend on their fi­nal two away matches: Hud­der­s­field Town on April 22 and then, on the fi­nal day of the sea­son, May 7, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day.

That Hills­bor­ough clash be­tween the Owls’ galaxy of for­ward power and Ful­ham’s en­ter­tain­ers could be some­thing spe­cial – and cru­cial for both sides.

BY THE LEFT: Ste­fan Jo­hansen is one of Ful­ham’s numer­ous nat­u­ral left­ies

TAL­ENTED: Sone Aluko has the free­dom to bam­boo­zle

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

CROWD-PLEASER: Tom Cair­ney sends the Ful­ham fans wild after his late, late equaliser

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