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That ungrateful lover Fulham completely wrecked my mood over the weekend. I moped around all Sunday as if a wonderful Saturday night out with the missus/girlfriend had ended with a silly tiff about nothing escalating to one of us sleeping in the box room and a cold war silence holding sway over the morning cornflakes.
It was a day to go outside and give the lawn its final cut of the year (hopefully) before furiously digging over the garden. Fulham losing away from home - what's new about that? I know, I know - should be well used to it by now, but after such gutless displays I shun MOTD and can't even be bothered with the papers.
After the 6-0 walloping of QPR, a 'defining moment in our season' Jol called it, the bitter pill in the Potteries seemed for many a fan to stick in the throat from what's appeared on the forums. It all started ominously when I saw the manager reported as saying 'a draw would be a good result.' What kind of psychology is that? Certainly not a winning one! There was nothing wrong with the team selected, although I was wrong-footed by predicting a same again approach. Aaron in for Grygera would have pleased most, but that in itself I find puzzling. Early season Jol was reluctant to pick Hughes in his best position and our Irish stalwart seemed to be down the pecking order. Without him we didn't look as settled at the back as was customary. Now, despite Grygera's strong showing last time out, the gaffer decides to restore the centre-back pairing that's been the best in the division for three years. Go figure.
How galling to see that arch moaner Pulis call all the shots with his tactical plan, while Fulham performed like non-league rabbits holding out for a replay. And Martin showed he had no answer to changing the pattern of play. Stoke's high line and aggression in midfield is the simple way to stop Danny playing his game. When Sidwell decides to have a day where passing to a team-mate is beyond him, we are doomed from the off. Atkinson, as I feared, missed plenty of off-the-ball action on Zamora - Stoke nailed him in the fixture of 2009 you may recall - and poor Zamo was simmering fit to bust by the end. He did well to keep his frustration in check.
Not so some of our other under-achievers on the day. It was excrutiating to watch, as the match began drifting Stoke's way, how we got sucked into trying to match Stoke's style, as admitted by Jol afterwards. This was indeed Groundhog Day for the Whites, as with so many previous road trips. The side seem to have no real conviction, rarely appearing 'up' for the fight. Schwarzer for some reason has a phobia about leaving his line and punching the ball. Mind you, he nailed that Blackburn striker the other week! I hope I'm not typing this for the next 8 months, but what has Riise done since arriving? Yes, for once he smashed one through the wall and on another day it might have bounced down and gone in - fine margins in football - but it's not happening for him in the final third, while his marking for the second goal was simply amateurish.
We are far too easy to nullify with our pretty passing and ineffective midfield away from home. I'm reluctant to criticise the strike force, because we tactically played right into Stoke's hands and they had nothing to feed off. Did we once in the whole game get to the by-line? Can't remember. But I did see the stat from the weekend that showed Fulham managed just four efforts on goal - the lowest of ANY team in this round of fixtures.
This was not good enough by a long chalk Mr. Jol. If this side cannot produce mentally from awadays, maybe time to ring the changes and blood some youngsters with fire in their belly. Bill Shankly would have had a way in dealing with it.
Who he I hear our younger readers cry. The game in England only really began to shake out of its wartime slough from around 1960. That defining decade saw an acceleration in social mobility and rapid changes to social mores. It was an epoch that saw an end to the age of deference and an ingrained acceptance of one's status. Change was in the air, the old civilities were challenged, it was the decade where for the first time both footballers and their managers became vocal.
None more so than Liverpool's iconic Bill Shankly. The abrasive Scot took a metaphorical razor to the face of football, his wit as acid as his opinions. There are many great stories from Shankly's era at Liverpool, where in no time he turned a promotion side into European top dogs. Just imagine the fillip you got on Merseyside when, attending a club function, the gravel voiced gaffer got to the microphone. "We must never forget, he said in measured tones as he fixed the room with a beady eye, there are two teams in this city...dramatic pause...Liverpool, and Liverpool reserves!
Here's another gem. West Ham are the visitors, boasting three of England's World Cup winners in Moore, Hurst and Peters. Shanks bursts into the dressing-room for his team talk. "I've just seen the opposition come off the coach, and that Bobby Moore can hardly walk lads. The local press told me they were all out on the razz last night in Blackpool till 2 a.m. Boys, I want you to tear into them, we canna lose!" It was of course all nonsense. But it worked a treat.
If our boys have gone soft when it comes to going mano a mano with the scuffers of Stoke, Blackburn, Wolves and the rest, I suggest it's time we resorted to another old trick of Shankly's and send the squad out for some Army training. Back to boot camp for the over-paid fancy dans I say!
Well, that's not very Fulhamish is it. I just wish our roly poly Dutch Uncle would come across less like a friendly flower seller outside Amsterdam Railway Station and show a bit more fire and brimstone from the bench. A chance to put things right when we visit Poland this week for more Europa League action, where surely some of the fringe players will again get a chance to impress. Competition for places is one of the plus points we can certainly focus on at present. A win please against Wisla, and an upping of the tempo too would be appreciated.
Not least because this will be my first foray into Europe this season. In fact, it's time I was turning in in readiness for my early flight Wednesday morning to Krakow. The scarf is neatly folded and my bags are packed, so my pre-match piece will have all the authentic flavour of coming to you direct from the Old Town, as long as Nik's Swedish contingent haven't got me roaring drunk in the meantime. (In case any Uefa delegate is reading this, I shall of course be sipping just mineral water on my way to the ground, and I'll be leaving the knuckledusters at home).
Fulham in Europe - COYW!!! Twitter@fulhamphil