What with a burst of early summer sun and the sheer tedium of not having any FFC action to enthuse over it almost felt like the close season was here already. From early March (the win over Rovers) to the upcoming midweek meeting with Bolton we've had just the visit of Blackpool this Spring to express our devotion to the cause at Craven Cottage. It's an odd sensation to sit back of a weekend and watch the scores update with a certain lassitude, knowing your heroes are inactive. All things considered, we're still perched in a reasonable 12th position, with none of the strugglers around us making any real statement of intent. Own up, who a month ago would have tipped Wigan to climb out of the bottom three?
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So now it's Wolves, our next opponents, who sit bottom of the pile. No need to remind anyone what happened in our first meeting back in September - let's hope the game is remembered here for all the right reasons. You don't need to write for 'World Soccer' either to realise McCarthy's men will have Saturday's game down as one they simply must win. In fact, I've no doubt the boys from the Black Country have been believing all week 'soft touch' Fulham is the only sure-fire win they have left in their locker. And based on our miserable away form, can we really argue with that?
Unlike our last feeble effort at Old Trafford, all three results are possible. Coming off the back of two very poor defeats, where Wolves defensively looked all at sea, I feel should Fulham score first we'll go on to win. I'm not suggesting we'll boss the game, we still don't have enough self-belief on the road to do that to sides, but a loss at Molineux would be embarrassing, yet all too predictably 'Fulhamish.' We may just have to settle for another away point to prolong the agony a while longer before we limp past the 40 point mark. In fact, I can see draws resulting from all three games over the next week. Why do I say that?
Wolves will run till they drop, Bolton must look to save face after their collapse at Wembley, and Sunderland may have already bottomed out before we go to another of our 'graveyard' towns. Bruce feels his side, crucified by injuries, are due a change of fortune. However, with Gerrard out for the season, Brum starting to look 'leggy' and Arsenal's title challenge dead, there are opportunities for more points in May should we go on the slide in the next 3 games. It is a tad early to start looking ahead to another run in the Europa Cup, best to make the safety zone first. And where do we go from here?
Now that's going to engage our minds for a bit before I answer the call of the beach. While the first-team have been bashing the X-box and discreetly putting in calls to agents...let's hear it for Kit Symons and his U-18 academy side. After 11 games undefeated they top their league with just one game to play. Graduates from that side also turned up in our reserves 6-0 thrashing of Charlton, with Marcelo Trotta grabbing a hat-trick. Add to this exciting crop of youngsters Dan Burn, the highly-rated towering defender from Darlington, Cauley Woodrow, a striker of immense promise from Luton (both deals for six figure sums), and current interest in Port Vale midfielder Ryan Lloyd (down for one week trial in May), and it all suggests Mark Hughes has a vision for Fulham football club, which the chairman is backing with cash.
No professional club in the ultra-competitive environment that dictates the pursuit of talent will ever be loose with words as to their strategy - but along with Sidwell wasting no time in extending his contract for a further 3 years, we decipher what signals we can from the club. Does the above suggest to you that Mr. Hughes is looking to quickly move on to another club? Watch this space.
Certainly, the last 14 days did afford me chance to admire all that makes Man United a cut above the rest via recent televised games. They were streets ahead of us of course, but also had the better of Chelsea both home and away in the CL. They cut us to shreds down the flanks as I predicted. Ronaldo's electric pace is now replaced by that of Nani's, while Giggs has been an outstanding servant to the club. Our 'sticky plaster' full backs (wonderfullly descriptive phrase from poster Bob on official site) were cruelly exposed - not sure even Pants would have fared better!
When it came to the SF loss to Man City, the dagger that did for United came from midfield. Silva rarely gives the ball away and is always probing, but on the day Yaya Toure was immense - powerful runs down the middle, tigerishly breaking up play, looking to get in the box and finish. Hold that up against er...Danny and Dickson, and you see how far Fulham still have to go. It's a massive gulf to bridge. And we don't have the resources to pay what they do at Old Trafford (even if the Glazer's are over their heads with the bank's money to sustain it).
Let's give thanks for what we do have. Turning back to my 'expert analysis' from the armchair last weekend showed me that Blackburn, Blackpool, Wolves and West Ham (especially minus Parker) all have a mountain to climb. Following the Fulham as always is fascinating, and never any easy ride. But would we have it any other way?
Final postscript to the Blackpool win. Heard about the Scandi follower over for the weekend who slipped into a drunken snooze in the Men's room at the Golden Lion post match? No doubt dreaming happily of Bobby's double, had to raise the police on his mobile to come release him from the locked up premises when he came round...
If you're going to Wolverhampton let's hear some noise for the Black & White army!
Twitter@fulhamphil says COYW!
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