There are few better sights in football for a Fulham fan than watching the club captain return from a long injury and smash a perfect half-volley into the roof of the net at the Hammersmith end against Cardiff City.
Sentiment shared by the goalscorer as well it seems, as the emotion on Tom Cairney’s face in the immediate aftermath was palpable.
A nasty knee injury kept him off the pitch for ten months, but the 30-year-old clearly didn’t lose his exquisite ball-striking ability during his layoff, nor did he lose his passion for the club that holds him in such high regard.
“It was really important for Tom to come back with the goal,” Marco Silva told Sky Sports after the game. “And he deserves it after the last few months that have been so tough. It is easy to understand how he celebrated the goal, his feelings at that moment.”
That goal was followed by a full 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest four days later – Cairney’s first since December 19th 2020.
Now a true custodian of the club, Tom Cairney’s presence around Motspur Park and at the Cottage is a major boost for Fulham at a significant time.
Cairney’s midfield versatility
Cairney has played in a number of midfield roles during his tenure at the Cottage with Slaviša Jokanović making him a midfield pivot in his promotion-winning side, encouraging him to get on the ball as much as possible, often making him the catalyst for most Fulham attacks.
Under Scott Parker, he wasn’t afforded the same freedom and couldn’t influence the game as much due to Parker’s possession-based brand of football meaning more patient build-up and backward passes, with nowhere near as much aggressive, front-foot attacking.
Against Forest last week, Cairney replaced dogged ball-winner Harrison Reed in midfield, who has been allowed to roam further forward this season under Silva.
In that role, Cairney proved that along with his arsenal of refined passing and devastating finishing, he still had the tenacity needed to fill that gap and make life difficult for the opposing midfield.
Could this role be his future under Marco Silva? Busy work in front of the back-four combined with the freedom to get involved in bursting counter-attacks.
Jean Michael Seri has excelled this season in a similar but slightly deeper role than Cairney under Jokanović – constantly drifting into space and forever on the lookout for a killer pass.
Furthermore, the arrival of Domingos Quina and Nathaniel Chalobah have provided a lot of competition for places, so Cairney will have to continue delivering Silva the evidence that he’s the man for the job.
But even if Cairney doesn’t start every game, having the club captain fit and ready to come on in an already stacked midfield is a great option to have heading into a hectic winter period.