It was a struggle last Sunday staying true to my previously expressed belief that it's never a good idea composing blog copy in anger. How many of us recall busting up with old girlfriends via letters we maybe should never have sent, or e-mails to the boss telling him exactly what you thought of him and his lousy company. It feels great at the time...
Holiday commitments meant watching the West Ham horror show in the pub with other Fulham diehards from my village - a group of us with fond memories of last winter's away legs in the Europa League. Now we were suffering humiliation against the bottom side, a shambolic performance with no redeeming qualities. I sensed it coming, hinted as much in my last post prior to the holiday fixtures, but not wanting to cast too negative a shadow on Christmas Eve.
I did say to my closest Fulham buddy on the phone I had a 'really bad feeling' about the West Ham game, and so it played out. He happens to be strongly anti-Hughes, and, like many FFC fans I suspect, was not too unhappy with a loss which he saw as only precipitating Hughes exit. By Monday many papers were warming to the theme, with the odds on a Hughes sacking tumbling to 5/1. Those same papers had our gaffer explaining the team was lacking a 'cutting edge.' A quote akin to me posting via Wikipedia that the earth is indeed round.
Failing to turn possession into a 2nd goal during the 1st half of that Hammers loss cost us dearly, while the three goals conceded would never have been tolerated under Hodgson. A too casual Etuhu at fault for the leveller, Salcido - and not for the first time this season- miles off station for the killer 2nd right on half-time, and Hughes unable to deal with a long punt upfield to the solitary Cole. Add to the mix another blank day for AJ, Murphy - looking utterly haunted I must say - still conceding possession too often (and crucially when on the attack for what ultimately led up to their 2nd goal when play quickly switched to the Putney End), while continuing his unenviable record this season of yet to get one single shot on target.
The bad vibes were coming quicker than we could get to the bar at the pub. Etuhu was having a shocker. He and Danny so close together in the congestion of midfield they were actually tripping over each other. However, instead of leaving Dickson - a proud man who does have heart - in the dressing room, Hughes subs him six minutes into the 2nd half - thus ensuring he has to trot off to a stiff chorus of boos from an increasingly frustrated crowd. But when the board also showed our top scorer was being pulled for the wonder that is Eddie Johnson, the cry of "You don't know what you're doing," came loud and clear.
By the end of Sunday's game I felt both that Hughes had indeed touched bottom and that his days were numbered. My feeling was that only the fact of another fixture 2 days later would spare the boss for now - giving the board no time to make contingencies should Hughes contract be torn up. Facing what I felt were inevitable road losses to come at Stoke and Spurs I sensed both a place in the bottom three and Hughes sacking by January were inevitable.
It may still happen. Two goals in six minutes out of the blue from Baird cannot paper over all the cracks. We still have no attack to speak of, and Zamora won't be fit for 2 months. But Stoke - of all places - showed the side, especially in defence - still has what it takes. Both the manager's changes were vindicated, I saw flashes of the old Duff again for the first time this campaign, both he and Simon worked valiantly to try and turn Stoke's big men down the flanks.
And unfortunate though it is to see Gera made the scapegoat, at least from the bench both he and Kamara must surely be pushed on ahead of the hapless Eddie in future?
Add to the above the fact that Hughes can finally turn into deeds what he's been telling us for months from January - that he will now go out and buy the players so badly needed. Not sure Samba should be heading that list with both Halliche and Senderos in the ranks, although I do rate him a real leader on the pitch, but let's see where Hughes deals first. Yes, we can tolerate a loss at the Lane Saturday after the Stoke win, but the so sweet victory over the graceless Pulis and his industrial unit will count for nowt if the clouds return with failure to beat West Brom.
The flame, flickering in recent weeks, still burns bright down by the Thames. Let me know how how you see things developing for the Whites in 2011. Fan feedback suggests Hughes still has many detractors, but disruption for the sake of it, and few obvious candidates to replace him, raises more questons than answers. Finally, a Happy New Year to everyone following this blog.