Before the Championship restart, Fulham had eyes firmly fixed on automatic promotion, sitting third and within touching distance of the top two.
But after just two wins from the last five, including back-to-back defeats to promotion rivals Brentford and Leeds, the Cottagers are fourth and realistically contemplating a Play-Off place.
Aleksandar Mitrovic’s three game suspension for an elbow incident during the 3-0 loss to Leeds has further compounded their misery, with it becoming abundantly clear how much they rely on the Serbian front man.
Before his suspension, Mitrovic had the highest share of any team’s goals in the Championship, scoring an incredible 44.2% of Fulham’s total this season.
Over-dependence on one player is both unusual and risky for a team vying for promotion and against Queens Park Rangers and Birmingham City it became apparent Fulham needed a Plan B in Mitrovic’s absence.
But how could Fulham boss Scott Parker add another dimension to the Cottagers attacking impetus with or without Mitrovic in the future?
Reid through the middle – but it needs time
Perhaps the most obvious answer is to utilise Bobby Reid as a central striker with Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro on the wings.
It was the front three Parker opted for in the opening two games without his top scorer and although there was some unfamiliarity in the set-up there were glimpses of promise.
During his time at Bristol City, Reid was deployed as either a second striker or attacking midfielder, dropping off to provide a passing option for midfielders both centrally and in wide areas.
Against QPR, Reid’s movement occasionally drew an opposition defender out of position or left space in the box for an onrushing midfielder to attack despite the Hoops frustratingly suffocating the midfield when Fulham had the ball.
It was a similar case for Fulham’s 96th minute winner against Birmingham but these sequences were few and far between with Fulham struggling to find an attacking focal point without the physicality of Mitrovic.
Too often in both games they struggled to move the ball forward and create chances despite enjoying the majority of possession and were instead reduced to shots from outside the box and long diagonal balls from the back which rarely reached the front three.
Opportunity knocks for Anthony
Fulham’s most threatening passage of play in this system comes when the ball is switched to the opposite flank, allowing the winger or full-back on that side to cut in and expose the gaps in the opposition defence as they shuffle back across.
This is where the dribbling abilities of Knockaert or Cavaleiro are best suited – running towards back-peddling defenders to either fashion a shooting or crossing situation.
As the team with the second-highest average possession in the league, overlapping full-backs are a custom in Fulham’s build-up play – particularly with Joe Bryan’s seven assists from left back this season.
On a few occasions in the past two games, Knockaert found himself unmarked in the box after good play from Cavaleiro and Reid but the final ball was never executed.
It shows that even though this front three failed to register a goal or an assist in both of the last two games, there was still enough slick interplay to give Parker encouragement going forward.
The return of Aboubakar Kamara
One man who has already proved he can step into Mitrovic’s shoes is Aboubakar Kamara, scoring twice to clinch victory over QPR following the Serbian’s yellow card suspension back in November.
As he returns to full fitness, the 25-year-old’s involvement would not be as much of a digression from Fulham’s normal style of play as using Reid up front as he provides more of a physical presence both aerially and in behind the defence.
Similarly, his goal threat makes for impressive reading – scoring or making an assist every 112 minutes this campaign, the highest in the side.
To accommodate Kamara, Parker could sacrifice Harry Arter in central midfield to revert to a front two of Reid and Kamara in either a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 formation with the tenacity and defensive assurance of Harrison Reed complementing Tom Cairney or Josh Onomah in a double-pivot.
This partnership would be akin to Reid’s with Famara Diedhiou during his Bristol City days with Reid dropping off as a second striker to collect on the half-turn and linking up with Kamara.
Parker needs to be brave
Although Fulham only have one more game to endure without Mitrovic, the suspension has highlighted how far they have yet to go in retaining their attacking threat in his absence.
Teams reliant on just one outlet are typically the easiest to thwart and although it is credit to Mitrovic’s effectiveness it has made Fulham too one-dimensional at times.
Arguably Parker has enough attacking quality within his squad to add something new to Fulham’s game but with the season at the hectic business end, it is more a question of whether he has the time, patience or indeed courage to do so.