BY RICHARD CAWLEY
A first Premier League victory of the season. A first clean sheet since promotion to the Premier League. Out of the bottom three. Fulham have had plenty of worst nights.
The Whites may very well be still back in the Championship next season. But Monday evening’s display at Craven Cottage suggest it will at least not be without a fight.
Fulham need to finish above three clubs to halt their yo-yo existence of recent years. And Burnley, Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion look the most likely candidates, along with Scott Parker’s side, to fill those dreaded relegation slots.
But there are reasons for optimism. Pundit Jamie Carragher was convinced the west Londoners would go down after a shambolic defensive performance in the 3-0 home reverse to Aston Villa.
Conceding 10 goals in three matches isn’t exactly going to exude positivity.
But Fulham have tightened up with Alphonse Areola only beaten four times in as many games.
Fulham’s shape has been better and they have not been cut through so easily, although the caveat must be added that a tougher run of fixtures lie ahead from November 21 – Everton and Liverpool at home either side of successive tough away assignments at Leicester and Manchester City.
Parker knows it is how the Whites cope with the inevitable setbacks which will be key in shaping their survival prospects.
“I’ve been pretty level this season and I’ve tried to relay that to the team, in terms of us understanding where we are this year and how our season is going to look,” he said. “Along the way we are going to have a lot of bumps – I’m not afraid to say that.
But Fulham were the ones intent on causing damage against the Baggies in a meeting of two promoted teams.
One of the strengths under Parker in the Championship had been winning matches once they went in front and it was Bobby Decordova-Reid, preferred in a wide right role instead of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who headed the hosts into a 26th-minute lead.
Not long after and Fulham had the luxury of a two-goal cushion, and the finish was superb.
Aleksandar Mitrovic teed up Ola Aina on the edge of the box and the Southwark-born defender found the top corner of the net with his weaker left foot.
The rest of the match was relatively comfortable for the Whites with Joachim Andersen unruffled on his debut. Tosin Adarabioyo has definitely added composure and quality in the middle of what had been a beleaguered backline.
Antonee Robinson, a cut-price pick up from Wigan, has adeptly stepped up to Premier League level and his power, athleticism and aggression have seen him push out Wembley hero Joe Bryan.
In short, there was plenty to like from this latest Fulham display. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa continues to rewrite his Premier League reputation at the second attempt with Tom Cairney shining in a more advanced central role.
It’s West Ham United next up this weekend on the road. Another good result and those bleak predictions for the Whites might look premature.
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