Fulham extended their winning run of 16 points out of 18 – all against teams in the top ten – with another win but this was the most hard-fought and least-deserved of them all. Still, we have to credit a defence that stuck to their job – Dennis Odoi replacing the injured Tomas Kalas – was superb at the heart of it whilst Matt Targett at left back did not put a foot wrong. The game changed after a seemingly bizarre substitution by our head coach Slavisia Jokatovic. He took off one of our best players this season, right back Ryan Fredericks, and replaced him with Cyrus Christie.
He was hardly on the pitch when he set off on a galloping run -the sort that Fredericks would make, and cross for another player brought in the January window – Alex Mitrovic – who netted his sixth of the season. When Bettinelli made a fine save it seemed Preston’s hopes were dashed but from a free header from Maguire, Bettineli fumbled his save and the home side were on level terms.
To be fair this reflected the play but in the dying minutes Tom Cairney teed up a cross for Mitrovic to head home the winner. Virtually every player I have praised was brought in the January window.The retention of Cairney and Fredercks and addition of Mitrovic, Targett and Christie has propelled Fulham up the table.
Drinking from my half-empty glass, I have to say that Cardiff and Aston Villa above us carry on winning so we are still in 4th place. Our next seven games are against teams who can neither go up or down but three are London derbies (QPR, Brentford and Milwall) and we have always had more difficulty with lower-placed teams than the top teams obliged to pay a more expansive game.
In my last report I made a comparison with the 1982-3 season when Fulham missed out on promotion. There was no play off then and Fulham finished fourth. The failure to sign Andy Thomas who scored 3 in 4 was one of the reasons given. No such censure can fall on the Fulham board this time as it’s the activity in the window and the retention of key players that has turned our fortunes round.