“I don’t think I can say too much!”
Harrison Reed laughs as he tries to find the right words to describe the cream jacket worn by his Fulham boss Scott Parker during the London side’s surprise win at Anfield last weekend.
“It brought us three points, so I expect to see him with the same jacket on Saturday!”
Reed concedes Parker is “probably one of the best-dressed managers in the league” but there’s substance behind the style for Fulham now.
Promoted from the Championship last season playing front-foot football, they were dealt a shock in the opening weeks of this campaign, losing five of their first six and written off as relegation certainties.
But through a combination of clever recruitment, smart tactical changes by Parker, and a remarkable spirit in the camp, Fulham are fighting back against the odds. With just two defeats in their last 10 league games, the great escape is on.
Their 1-0 win at Liverpool pulled them level on points with Brighton and just one behind Newcastle. Those two sides have a game in hand but Fulham have the momentum – and the belief.
It was striking that both in the build-up and in the aftermath of that victory on Sunday, Fulham’s players and manager made it clear they had travelled to Merseyside intent on beating the defending Premier League champions. There was no parking the bus or hoping for fortune to fall their way.
After their early season setbacks, Parker and Fulham have strengthened their defensive base – and from there they now have the confidence to put their attacking game into action. Even against the biggest sides.
“From the first whistle at Anfield we were on the front foot, we were controlling the tempo of the game,” Reed tells Sky Sports, a few days after the standout victory.
“I felt we fully deserved the lead we went into half-time with but of course they’re Premier League champions and the game can change a lot and we had to suffer a lot in the second half without the ball and dig in. Then we showed a different side to us from the first half, so that was really pleasing.
“It’s a great feeling. You look at the league table and, yeah, we’re down the bottom and we’re fighting for our lives, of course. But when you watch us play we don’t look like a team down there – and we certainly don’t feel like a team that’s down there in the way the game pans out.”
Meticulous detail is what it’s all about for Parker, who prepares his team thoroughly for each test. As a result, Fulham have learnt to swing from different systems and set-ups and become far harder to beat than their league position suggests.
Fast-improving Reed, 26, is one of the rising stars in this Fulham side who have felt the benefit. His hunger to raise his own game is clear – and Parker and his coaching staff have created an environment of positivity and improvement which is lifting standards.
“The first thing I noticed when I came in on loan at the start of last season was the amount of detail that Parker, Wellsy [coach, Matt Wells], and Stuart Gray [assistant manager], all go into,” said Reed, who made his switch from Southampton permanent last summer. “They leave no stone unturned.
“Preparation for the game usually happens with a two, three-day build-up. Then, throughout the game, in and out of possession, we understand everything the opposition can throw at us and the way we can counteract that and hurt teams. We go into the game full of confidence because of that – and it’s showing now with the results against top teams.
“If you see our day-to-day training, the amount of detail and focus we have in there is very, very high. It’s incredible really, working with this manager.
If you see our day-to-day training, the amount of detail and focus we have in there is very, very high. It’s incredible really, working with this manager. My knowledge of the game now, from working under him day in, day out has grown massively.
“My knowledge of the game now, from working under him day in, day out has grown massively. I think you can see it on the pitch. The players are comfortable in any formation we play and any set-up we can change in the game and the transition is pretty fluid. That’s a real positive and a real strength of our team.”
Reed, a defensive midfielder like Parker was in his playing days, has also seized the opportunity to tap into the experience his manager picked up during his career.
“Especially early on in my time here we spoke a lot and I picked his brains about the position,” said Reed.
“I watched the manager when he was a player and I understood what I felt he wanted me to bring to the team and the attributes he was looking for me to bring to each game.
“Of course, I speak to him a lot still about individual games and reflecting on games, but I feel I really understand what he wants me to bring to every game and to the team, and that’s doing the basics really well and giving the team a platform to go on and perform in the game.”
Technically proficient, as you’d expect from a player raised in the acclaimed Southampton academy, Reed looks after the ball as well as Parker did, leading the rankings for passing accuracy and dribbles among regular English holding midfielders in the Premier League.
But he credits Parker for improving him out of possession and becoming one of the most destructive midfielders in the division, too.
“In the academy it was very technical but I felt the side of the game I needed to improve on most was the tactical side of it. My understanding of the game and reading of the game – and I think that’s what Scott’s given to me massively,” said Reed.
“I listen to every word he says. He’s on the sideline and he can probably see every picture I’m going to see and he knows where the pressure is going to come from.
“In my position, out of possession, if I can’t get pressure on the ball I need to be blocking passing lanes, I need to be making interceptions, winning duels – and that’s something he has given me a lot more than any other manager has.
“As a team we want to be a good footballing side and I want to be a player who is technically good, who can control the game, make passes, make assists, look good in possession… but where I feel I’ve improved a lot this season is out of possession. Doing the nasty stuff, doing the dirty work, putting my foot in, disrupting the game, making interceptions.
“I spoke about those things with the coaching staff and the fitness coach early in the season about how I can impact games more out of possession and I think that’s something I’ve improved on and it’s given me a platform to perform in games.
“Stats are looked at more and more in football these days and I was aware of the areas of my game I needed to be better at and I wanted to be competing with the best in my position. I feel like over the course of the season that has allowed me to step up and put in much better performances than at the start of the season and help the team.”
Parker’s commitment, improvement, and hard work took him onto the international stage and Reed’s form has sparked talk of a call-up, with England’s central midfield far from certain ahead of this summer’s European Championships.
But for now, his attention remains on the short-term. “My sole focus at the moment – as cliched as it is – is keeping this club in the Premier League and I believe we can do that,” he said.
With Manchester City coming to Craven Cottage on Saturday and Parker’s in-depth preparations for the fixture ramping up, there’s little time to be wondering what this summer could hold.
But, unsurprisingly, Reed says he and his team-mates will embrace the challenge with what is becoming their signature enthusiasm and ambition.
“It’s obviously going to be a very difficult game against Man City,” he said. “Their style of play, how clever the manager is, how he sets up his team, how clever the players are, the ability they have… That’s clear to see.
“But it’s a challenge we’re going to relish. We’re going to set up to attack them. I think away from home against City it was one of the only games where we weren’t really in the game and we want to change that this time. We want to be front-foot, we want to be in their faces.
“We’ve got a lot of belief coming out of the Liverpool game and it would be a shame not to carry that belief and momentum into this one and give it a real good go.
“So we’ll prepare for it as best we can and we’ll go into it with belief and confidence and let’s see what we can get from the game – hopefully three points.”
With that attitude – and Parker’s lucky jacket – Fulham just can’t be written off.