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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Craven Cottage

Fulham ticking over nicely again thanks to the elegant guile of their often undervalued midfielder

Fulham 5-0 Nottingham Forest

On nights like these it seems a trick of the mind that Fulham have played so many games in the past year without Tom Cairney in the starting XI.

He is not the sort of player who needs looking after in terms of wear and tear. His game is too smooth to invite burnout.

The Scot does not so much run as glide around a pitch. Linking play, calming nerves, playing telling passes. He is still only 32 and has plenty of miles left in the tank.

There are no signs that he is any less effective now than before the knee injury in the 2020/21 season which kept him out of the game for the best part of a year.

It feels relatively late in the day for Marco Silva to have fully appreciated his value - although the Portuguese would deny that he ever has - but it is surely no coincidence that Fulham have rediscovered some kind of potency since he was given the nod in recent games.

He set the standards early on. A turn past his opposite number, Felipe, was followed by a neat shift of gear and another of those perfectly-weighted passes out to Willian - to be instantly followed by the cross which gave Alex Iwobi the night's opening goal.

By then he had already created the game's first opening, recovering from a stumble to set Raul Jimenez in for a shot at goal.

That confidence and calmness spreads. The hope it engenders is infectious and it was no surprise that Jimenez added the second and third goals to claim his first strikes at the Cottage for the Whites since his move to west London.

It was only Cairney's fourth league start of the season, although he has come off the bench nine times. Last season, it was often a similar tale. In total, he has made 69 sub appearances in addition to the 230-odd games in which he was a starter.

It is a sign that Silva has options in midfield, but whereas Joao Palhinha catches the eye with his vital, robust presence alongside the complementary ballast offered by Andreas Pereira, there is an argument that no one provides the sort of vision and style that Cairney does.

No win feels complete without seeing that wand of a left foot setting the tempo. He was one of the prime reasons Fulham fans could start Ole-ing at 3-0 up. This was a game made for the Scot's love of control and monopoly of possession.

Cairney had a hand in the fourth goal with a lovely pass to Harry Wilson which led to a cross that invited Iwobi to steer in his second goal of the night.

It was fitting that he should have the last word on the scoring front - bursting through a king-sized gap in the Forest defence before slipping home goal number five. His first league goal of the season was a perfect reward for another classy contribution.

"We've got the ball," chanted Forest fans in the rare moments the Whites yielded the floor to the visitors, who were never really at the races once they had fallen behind. When Cairney is involved like this, all is well with the Fulham world.


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