Although Fulham have yet to record a win in their first three games under new head coach Slavisa Jokatovic there are encouraging signs of improvement. Only 3 goals have been conceded by a defence that was the worst in the divsion and could be relied on to concede two a game. Getting the central defensive pairing right is vital to a team’s success, we think of Roger Brown and Tony Gale, Chris Coleman and Kit Symons and best of all the Thames Barrier of Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. I have lost count of the number of pairings employed thee past two seasons. Yesterday one was tried that could have been used two years and six managers ago under Martin Jol, Amorebieta and Burn. They coped reasonably well to quell one of the better attacks in the division. Upfront Ross MacCormack and especially Mousa Dembele looked lack lustre. Perhaps it was the new shape but more likely their heads were turned by transfer talk. Both missed out on moves though MacCormack earned a more lucrative contract thereby with his employees Fulham who also reared Dembele to be the player that is the fancy of the leading European clubs.
It was a windy day and Derby chose to face it and deprive Fulham of their normal first half preference of attacking the Putney End. Of the three new loanees, Michael Madl, Zakria Labyad and Rohan Ince, only the latter started. He soon slotted into what he does best, breaking up play and protecting the back four. He is a big unit in the style of Dickson Etuhu and Papa Bouba Diop. Fulham scored early and fortuitously when Ollson deflected a low cross into his own net. Play then became rather turgid but we were generally in control till just before half time when a glorious volley from Bryson levelled the score. In the second half both team had chances to level the score but a draw was probably the right result. Derby skipper Chris Baird was one of the heroes of the Roy Hodgson side though when signed by his predecessor Lawrie Sanchez was not immediately popular. He is now coming off to a rousing ovation from the home fans. Nice.
We are still just poised above the relegation area but a diffcult cycle of games is over. We go to QPR next week and need at least a draw there over our West London rivals. We are still some way from a stable team. Jokanovic chose a midfield of Christensen, Ince, O’Hara and Cairney. This lacked width and pace and was off balance as Christensen is right footed on the left. Cairney is in my opinion our best player and should play more centrally. When he did towards the end come into the middle he nearly score a winner. Personally I would build the side around him in central midfield but no doubt the analytic boffins will provide a very good reason why this would not work.
After the game I spoke to Ivan who wanted to know how Ince played. I thought he did well enough not to be subbed at half time. This meant O’Hara had to go deeper and after 60 minutes his legs have generally gone. The ploy was to introduce some width and pace through Kacaniklic. The team would have a better balance with left footed Ben Pringle on the left. He is out of favour and form. I wonder if this is something the Moneyball boffins factor in?