It is often said that once out-of-form strikers find that one elusive goal, the floodgates will open.
Raul Jimenez’s first goal in 33 Premier League matches against Aston Villa on November 12th has gone on to be a watershed moment for the centre-forward, who now has four in five after a brace against Nottingham Forest and one more against West Ham United.
Eyebrows were raised in the summer when the 32-year-old was brought in for a mere £5.5m as a replacement for the prolific Aleksandar Mitrovic, but Fulham boss Marco Silva understands how to get the best out of a player struggling for form.
Speaking on the Mexican international, Silva said: “His mental strength is really important.
“I had some conversations with him over the past few months and he never showed he was under pressure or looking for the goal, but I know how he was feeling inside at that moment.
“The good thing is that if it looks dark around you, it’s not going to always be like that if you keep working hard. The sunshine will come again.”
And it certainly has reappeared for both Jimenez and Fulham – ten unanswered goals in two games is an astonishing achievement considering it took the side 12 games to score their first ten goals this season.
There were standout performers all over the pitch against Forest and West Ham – Tom Cairney started both games in midfield alongside Joao Palhinha and was superb, the pair of them dictating play with physicality and poise.
Both full-backs – Antonee Robinson and Timothy Castagne – also had excellent games, neutralising the threat of Forest’s Callum Hudson-Odoi as well as West Ham’s Mohammed Kudus and Jarrod Bowen.
Even the centre-back pairing of Calvin Bassey, who has looked shaky at times this season, and Tosin Adarabioyo, who hadn’t started a game for Fulham since May, looked dominant and composed, and thoroughly deserving their consecutive clean sheets.
But it was Jimenez who sewed everything up with ruthless efficiency for Fulham; balls played into him were invariably taken down and laid off to a white shirt, while his movement between the lines continually caused problems for opposition defenders.
“The goal against Villa was a relief for him,” Silva added. “From that moment, you see a much more fresh and confident player. Now he is showing he has kept the quality he had in the last five or six Premier League seasons.
“I told him after the match at Anfield (where Fulham lost 4-3 to Liverpool), there are going to be consequences from this type of hard work. A better performance from us in parts of the game gives the striker better conditions to score.”
Fulham now have 16 goals in four games and find themselves in excellent form heading into the busy festive period, thanks largely to Jimenez and fellow summer signing Alex Iwobi significantly upping their performance levels since the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa.
By moving Iwobi out to the right and bringing Tom Cairney in alongside Joao Palhinha, allowing Andreas Pereira to float between the lines with Willian on the left and Jimenez up top, Silva seems to have found his best attacking formation.
His substitutions against West Ham made an impact as well – Fulham’s fifth goal involved some lovely combination play between Harrison Reed, Carlos Vinicius and Harry Wilson, who also scored the finest goal of the game with his left foot from outside the box.
Goals are suddenly coming from all over the pitch, and when asked if something had changed in the last four matches on Sunday, Silva said: “Confidence builds confidence – the best example is Raul.
“After the first four or five games, he lost a bit of confidence, but it’s part of the game. We are not doing anything really different. The trust in our players was always there. The process is the same.”
Silva’s ability to work with players who have been written off is becoming one of the defining themes of his Fulham stewardship – think Willian off the back of his disastrous Arsenal move, Pereira after years of Manchester United inconsistency and now Jimenez.
The faith he’s shown in his striker is being repaid, and to the Fulham fans who have grown accustomed to seeing a big bruising number nine scrapping with defenders and hitting goals for fun at Craven Cottage, Jimenez’s rich vein of form is the Christmas present they didn’t expect this year.