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This is quite simply the
'must win' game of the season to date. Lose at home to bottom side West Ham, and by any benchmark Mark will have a hard time post-match looking for any more excuses. Once the unbeaten start came to a halt the side has been going backwards, as the form book shows, while the talk of injured players only deflects from our overall weaknesses.
By degree, all the struggling sides around us have by now also had to deal with key players sidelined. Petrov and Agbonlahor at Villa, Henry a big loss to Wolves in defence, McCarthy long term absentee for Wigan, West Ham changing their side week on week.
Having come to terms with the loss of Zamora and two spells without Dembele, Fulham have by and large been relatively lucky with injuries, and of course our on-going good discipline means we have suffered no suspensions. Imagine how dismally one-dimensional the side would have looked in the last 3 months had Dempsey picked up a knock along the way?
Observing the barren run at close quarters, the really worrying aspect for me seemed the lack of any Plan B from management, any vital signs there was a strategy in place or evidence Woy's team could adapt to a new way of playing.
I have repeatedly been dumbstruck by the use of EJ as a substitute, denying invaluable big match experience to youngsters - some of who we're led to believe are brimming with promise. Ten minutes here and there for these guys against Villa, Brum, Sunderland or Wigan would have told us far more than 20 minutes of Eddie going nowhere.
The ridiculous inability to win away from CC should have been consigned to the record books back on October 2nd at Upton Park. We take the lead, gift Hammers a soft goal, then fail to kill them off with a host of late chances. Now Grant has actually improved a side that looked woeful. Both he and his team are fighting for their existence. I reckon the odds on all three results Sunday are about the same. West Ham have a very good record at our place, yet another draw will surprise no one, while all Whites fervently hope the week off has whetted our appetite to come out and really turn it on, and from the very START please!
Holiday fixtures can throw up some funny scores. 11 goals between Fulham and Ipswich in 1963, the 10-1 scoreline being Fulham's record win. On that same Boxing Day Blackburn were trouncing the Hammers 8-2 on their own patch. Those were the days...Don't be surprised however to see us well down the MOTD running order again. Fulham are hardly brimming with invention going for a 3rd win of the season, Hammers yet to win away.
Note of caution. The better side in the 2nd half at Ewood last week when taking a point, before that only going down 0-1 at Sunderland. I actually think our opponents Boxing Day are playing as well as at any time this season. Fulham must rise to the occasion, defeat in this one will be unacceptable on every level.
From press reports it seems Hughes has won a £10 million pound vote of confidence from the board to rebuild the side in his image come January. No more points on the board by Dec 31st and don't be surprised if that transfer budget is handed to someone else.
Later next week we'll start sifting through the transfer targets and looking for clues, in the meantime a Merry Christmas to all our followers, and my thanks for all your contributions on the blog pages to date. My great pleasure from the blog so far has been getting to know so many Fulham followers from overseas.