Our latest outing on the road to Bucharest - only 16 more games to go - made for a relaxed and enjoyable evening at the Cottage. The side found the cutting edge missing against Villa with a three goal burst in ten minutes either side of half-time. Full marks to the Ukrainians, neither physical nor overly negative, the referee was excellent, and the Whites can approach next week's return knowing a conservative and disciplined display will see us into the next phase of group action.
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Jol sensibly restored Hughes to his best position alongside Brede and the pair dropped their own version of the iron curtain in front of the opposition. We might have changed both full-backs from the Villa draw but Matthew Briggs was arguably Fulham's man of the match, while Stephen Kelly looked entirely comfortable all evening. If Baird is now seen as third choice for Paintsil's old shirt then rumours of his imminent move to WBA may not be too wide of the mark. After stinging the keeper's hands with an early run and shot, then feinting to reach the by-line to lay on our opener at the near post for Aaron, Briggs is looking the real deal this summer. Boy, is Riise going to have to be on his game to keep the youngster out of the side.
Most telling factor of the night however was a first start for Pajtim Kasami. Playing up just behind the strikers the guy slotted straight into our system as if he's been at Fulham for years. We will have to see how he fares against Premier opposition before getting carried away, but this looks to be an excellent piece of business for a midfield that must soon be reassembled. Check the video clip to see how his quick thinking served up the killer third goal for an unmarked Clint to nod into the top corner.
As I predicted Sidwell came in for Etuhu to oil the wheels in midfield, but AJ was kept on the bench until the 86th minute. Bobby did well enough but was guilty of a horrible miss from right in front late in the game that would have made our position impregnable, while Dembele failed to make any impression when coming on for Duff. Our Belgian magician may still be feeling his way back to fitness. The camp reported a niggle for our captain, though I didn't see him go down and he ran off looking OK. Jol says he'll be fit for Sunday.
Post match we've learnt Jol is not afraid to mix things up, that we have greater strength in depth than last year, and that squad rotation is likely to be the order of the day should we retain long term interest in the Europa League. The one glaring area of course where cover is still needed - and do we need reminding with Wolves our next opponents - is back up for big Bobby. Although Damien Duff extended his contract by another year this week, another really speedy winger would not go amiss, hence the approach for Twente's Costa Rican boy Ruiz. Fulham won't pay the 13 million euros being asked, but the agents are talking.
As already flagged, further signings may well be linked to other moves in the market, while loan deals are often left to the last knockings of the window as players sense they may be spending a season in the dug-out. Let's see where we are come September. Certainly, there's a tangible momentum and mood of optimism abroad. That, and further proof of Clint's elevation towards cult status at the club with two more goals, made for a most enjoyable atmosphere at the Cottage Thursday. Even the day's torrential rain eased up an hour before kick off.
I understand our fondly remembered left-back Rufus Brevett has been saying some very positive things about our great club on BBC radio over recent weeks, while much of the media has barely acknowledged our Europa League progress to date. It shouldn't need to be said yet again, but there are more than a few slumbering corners of the UK press yet to wake up to the fact that Fulham FC are morphing into genuine EPL heavyweights...Let's hope we can make them sit up with a strong performance Sunday.
So to the Wolves. Danny and McCarthy have kissed and made up after last season's criticism of the their rugged style. I've tipped them to stay up this season, but am not expecting them to change their style of play. We've more than enough characters in our side who can stand up for themselves - the days when Fulham sides on the road could be bullied are long gone. Incredibly, we are unbeaten in our last six away games, so I'm hoping Jol gets his team right and we can take all three points from our trip to Molyneux (a ground we rarely win at). Difficult to read much into last week. I know Wolves won at Ewood against a weakened Blackburn, while we were below par against Villa, but I have a feeling Jol will have learnt a bit more about his squad after last Thursday. Keeping Kasami in a 4-5-1 formation with BZ the lone target man would be my strategy for this one. Win the midfield and Wolves won't have a game plan.
Finally, if you can't make it to home games, and wherever you are in the world, I strongly advise you to drop a few dollars in the post to David Lloyd's fanzine TOOFIF (There's only one F in Fulham for those who can't work out the joke) and get hold of his bumper issue no.122. It has much to inform and amuse, especially on Hughes departure. Contact details for ordering your copy at www.toofif.co.uk.
Who's travelling Sunday? Have a great day - I'm off to see a band in Brighton who rarely tour (just learnt it's Gay Pride weekend, so better leave the pink shirt at the bottom of the draw).
COYW!!! First win of the season please. Twitter@fulhamphil
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