With every other British club in Europa League action, the focus was elsewhere. Probably just as well, as the Whites rode their luck, protected the three goal cushion from the first leg, and passed somewhat unimpressively into the group phase of the Europa League for the second time in three seasons.
The camp will see it as job done over Dnipro, by far the most skilful outfit we have faced so far. But it required more or less the first team squad to get us through, so a few tired legs may be making their way up to St.James’ Park for Sunday’s league encounter. Progress at a price, as we also face being without JA Riise for a while – still waiting for details on his leg injury as I write.
That Jol should consider not one player from the fringes worthy of first team action speaks volumes for the urgency in strengthening the squad before August 31st. It is apparent to every supporter that without the talismanic Bobby Zamora, fit and in form, as the focal point of our attack, we currently are a very average side. This message we must surely hope has hit home with both manager and board.
About the only positive to be drawn from another disjointed and limp performance in the Ukraine, was the selection of Bairdinho at full-back and the restoration of the Hughes-Hangeland partnership. I now hope Matty Briggs grabs his big chance with both hands and settles into the left-back slot for the coming fixtures. In the week he was honoured with a call up to the U-19 England squad, I certainly don’t consider him a weak link across the back four.
The rest of our formation needs serious work. We must pray BZ is passed fit for Newcastle, otherwise for the third game running we will pack little punch up front. It’s never been the Fulham way among fans to hound a player from the club or heap really vile abuse from the stands. But the Dnipro game must surely have sounded the death knell regarding AJ’s future in the first team. Jol’s post-match comment that ‘he was expecting a lot more from Andy,’ suggests the light may have dawned.
As to what Dembele’s future role in the team is, I’m perplexed. He never looks quite the part to me when it comes to the final third. He shows no predatory instincts as a finisher, yet has the ability to waltz round players at will. We greet him onto the pitch and chant his name as if he were Santa, only to find no presents in his sack. Can Fulham conjure some end product from him perhaps with better players drafted in? You tell me where he should play, I sure as hell don’t know.
Now to the nitty gritty. Games are won and lost in midfield. To paraphrase the BBC, ‘how do you solve a problem like Murphy?’ If only it were as simple as a phone vote we could all put our hands up for the man we think should be our next leader on the pitch. OK, we couldn’t break the bank for Adams, but we had a two year window to make a real play for O’Hara. Surely he would have taken us over Portsmouth and Wolves. Parker’s getting his wished for move to Spurs, so if Gecov and Kasami are the future, blood them now with Sidwell as the ball winner and Clint in a deeper role.
Whichever way Jol plays it, either with the current roster or through the transfer market, Roy’s side has just about come to the end of its golden era. We need an overhaul in the months to come, and a minimum of three fresh faces I suggest before the Blackburn game (our first real chance of a win). If we are to continue in the same vein until the New Year, relying only on Zamora to fire the furnace, we will be asking for trouble. Alongside Riise we also now must do without Simon Davies for a lengthy period. Who’s next on the treatment table I wonder, because injuries are inevitable.
We’ll draw a veil over our last two ineffectual performances. Let’s instead look forward to games from a very winnable Group K in the Europa League against Odense, Wizla Krakow and Twente Enschede (ironically). All three away trips are relatively easy destinations for the travelling fans and while these sides need respecting, we should manage to qualify.
As for the little matter of wresting three points from Newcastle on Sunday, it really does all hinge on Bobby’s ankle. We should know by Saturday. With him we can get a result, without, we might as well not bother getting on the bus.
My concluding paragraph is all conjecture. Make of it what you will. Around any club there are punters and posters who will tell you they have ‘inside knowledge’ of what’s really going on behind the scenes. The first rule of football that everything stays in the dressing-room is by and large adhered to. That’s why football sound bytes are always so utterly banal. ‘Arsene, after a difficult week you must be very pleased with this win over Udinese.’ The cretin with the mike deserves a four word answer to this. “What do you think?” Players move around so much these days they learn to keep their mouths shut until well after their playing days before their biography perhaps tells you what they really got up to around town with Craig Bellamy. This week there’s been the odd poster on FFC forums suggesting the mood inside our camp is not as it should be. Body language on the pitch, the lack of urgency and calling out to colleagues has been cited as signs of an inner malaise, triggered by disagreements over how Jol wants the team to play. That our Dutch import is trying to change things too quickly, and not always for the best. We are unlikely to learn of any substance to this until hitting the bottom three and seeing Jol grab his coat…I fervently pray it’s not the case. But…you never know.
Hope the side bounce back Sunday – win, lose or draw, we’ll still be Fulham till we die! COYW!!! Twitter@fulhamphil
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