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Newcastle United crashed to a fifth home defeat of the season, as they were thoroughly outplayed by Fulham, eventually condemning the Magpies to a 3-1 defeat. There was one man who was the chief architect of the Cottagers’ brilliant performance and he goes by the name Tom Cairney.
Days after sending the fans into a tizzy with a 96th-minute equaliser with a marvellous strike against Leeds, Cairney was once again at it, this time at St. James’ Park. Picking up the ball from 30-yards out, Cairney carried the ball for five meters, before lashing out a left-footed strike that rose in the air before dipping viciously and ending into the back of the net beating Karl Darlow.
That moment alone gave an indication as to why Fulham rate the playmaker so highly and value him at £20-million. It was reported earlier in January that, Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez made an enquiry for Cairney, only to baulk at the sight of the price quoted by the Cottagers. £20-million would be a record-breaking fee for the English second tier. The fee is something that Newcastle would not entertain paying – especially after Mike Ashley decided to tighten the purse strings. Since then, the 26-year old has driven Fulham’s late charge towards a playoff position.
Yet if there was any clear justification as to why any team must shell out £20-million on the midfielder, who hasn’t played a single Premier League game since 2010, his performance against Magpies was it. Apart from what was another contender for the Goal of the Month, Cairney ran the show from the middle of the park for Fulham, constantly threading through balls one after the other for the dynamic front three of Sone Aluko, Ryan Sessegnon and Neeskens Kabano.
Cairney then went on to dictate the play in the second-half with such composure and poise, picking off the home team with some excellent passes through their defence. The 26-year old completely outshone his Newcastle counterpart Jonjo Shelvey, who is his closest competitor for the best central midfielder in the Championship.
The sublime strike against Newcastle was Cairney’s ninth goal of the season in the Championship, from 34 appearances, along with 9 assists to his name as well. He has been absolutely brilliant in the centre of the pitch for the Cottagers.
The fact that he has played 2639 passes from the deep midfield position – highest in the Championship, and at a mind-blowing accuracy of 92%, demonstrates how he pulls the strings sitting in the midfield. It must also be noted that the average pass length that Cairney has attempted this season is 16m, indicating that it is not just simple side passes, but it is usually the long diagonals and the defence-splitting through balls that he attempts, in order to release the forwards in behind the opposition defence.
The 26-year old also has played 86 key passes this season, once again the best in the Championship and has won an amazing 77% of his 69 take-on attempts.
At 26 years of age, Cairney is yet to reach his peak and judging by what he has been dishing out in the Championship, Newcastle could do with that drive and creativity in the midfield, especially in the Premier League next season. The price that Fulham are quoting might seem a little steep, but on the evidence of Saturday’s enchanting Man-of-the-Match performance, the investment seems worthy enough.