The Nigerian forward and his compatriot Ola Aina can bounce back from this weekend’s disappointment vs West Ham United
Ademola Lookman has been vilified for his late panenka penalty miss on Saturday evening, as Fulham threw away a late chance to salvage a point against West Ham United and mantain their upturn in form.
While the youngster was criticised by manager Scott Parker, and ridiculed by supporters on social media, his arrival at Craven Cottage, and the impact of both he and fellow Nigerian Ola Aina, offers hope that the Londoners can beat the drop.
It only took until week seven, and has become easy to forget amids this weekend’s drama, but Fulham finally secured a first league win of the campaign on Monday, beating fellow newly-promoted side West Bromwich Albion by two unanswered goals.
Within the context of their poor form up to that point, there was an added significance to the visit of the Baggies. Slaven Bilic’s side have also had a dismal start to life back in the top flight and so, despite coming quite early in the season, it was a game that had the feel of the proverbial relegation six-pointer.
In the end, what ensued was a relatively comfortable, bloodless win for Parker’s Cottagers. It was a result, and a performance, that further served to highlight the disparity between these two clubs with regard to player quality: Fulham have it; West Bromwich, starved of significant investment in the summer, do not.
The hosts went into the break with a two-goal lead, and never really looked like relinquishing it at any point.
Suddenly, things don’t look so glum on the Thames anymore, even taking into account Saturday’s narrow miss and Lookman’s moment of madness.
Of course, that renewed optimism does not hinge solely on a result against a severely overmanned Baggies. That would be reactionary in the utmost. Instead (and in addition) there is a sense that the club’s outlay in the transfer market is beginning to bear fruit.
Despite having what most observers believed to be the best squad in the Championship, Fulham have added even more quality upon promotion. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa has returned from his loan in Spain; Ruben Loftus-Cheek arrived from Chelsea on loan; Kenny Tete, Antonee Robinson, Tosin Adarabioyo, Lookman and Aina have also been brought in to bolster the club’s survival prospects.
The integration has been measured, a legacy of a severely shortened transfer window, but slowly the added quality is proving decisive.
Against Sheffield United in mid-October, Lookman produced an inspired finish to earn a well-deserved point, and on Monday it was Aina’s turn to blast a rasping effort into the top corner with his ‘weaker’ left foot, practically ending the Albion’s resistance for good.
That Fulham have been able to recruit players of this calibre is intriguing in itself.
Lookman and Aina have walked a similar path to this point in their careers: both were rated highly as youngsters at bigger clubs (Everton and Chelsea respectively), both have spent two years abroad (Germany and Italy) trying to prove themselves, and both have now returned to English shores on loan deals after their form and reputation floundered in their second season.
It is worth comparing the club’s approach this time to the wasteful, scattergun supermarket sweep of two seasons ago.
Then, there were huge names arriving on big fees and even bigger wages; this time, there appears to be an emphasis on a different profile: the hungry players, and/or those with doubters to silence. Adarabioyo also falls into this category, having been let go by Manchester City for a modest fee despite impressing over the course of two loan spells with West Bromwich and Blackburn in the Championship.
There are, of course, no guarantees either way. As has been stated, on quality alone, Fulham were expected to overpower West Bromwich, but it was very much a matter of the blind wrestling the infirm. That result may not necessarily be indicative of a turnaround, although their performance against the Hammers was encouraging, despite the defeat.
There also remain doubts over the managerial ability of Parker, snappy dresser though he is.
Under him, Fulham have regularly appeared less than the sum of their parts: able to play some good stuff in their own half, and pressing reasonably well, but utterly incapable of constructing consistently coherent attacks. At least against his old club West Ham in Saturday’s London derby, Fulham played with confidence and ambition, with Lookman arguably their brightest light…until the death, at least.
It seems increasingly likely that Fulham have just enough to keep their head above water, even if that is to be regardless of their manager.
Tales of their demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Certainly, if Lookman and Aina can spear efforts into the postage stamp every week, and if the former can improve his decision-making, it would do their chances no harm. That’s what quality buys you.
With Zambo Anguissa running the middle of the pitch and Aleksandar Mitrovic poaching upfront, the key to survival for the Cottagers may be as simple as getting out their way and letting them play extempore.
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