I pore over reports and postings from those who witnessed the surrender at Everton and confront every wordsmith's worst nightmare. With no desire to turn these blogs into yet another tedious rant, I am running out of anything to write without sounding like a broken record. Admittedly I only followed the first 45 before heading out for the night, but the football I saw from Fulham was a million miles away from the side who carved up Newcastle last Saturday between 4.15 and 4.55. It is beyond my comprehension.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Watching that first half of total Everton pressure I wondered if our manager actually studies opponents before we meet them? Like all sides struggling to create from open play and lacking cutting edge strikers managers stuck with an ordinary squad compensate in two obvious ways. Get the maximum return you can from set pieces. And determine to put as many crosses into the box as possible and trust to luck. That's your current Everton team. For the embodiment of that approach, Fulham fans need look only to the man responsible for my quote atop this paragraph.
Mickey Adams was the no nonsense Yorkshireman who took the reins at FFC in 1996 with the club at its lowest ebb. Near the foot of the old 4th division and in real danger of losing league status. The bank owned the ground, the club had debts edging towards ten million, the team was demoralised and no money to buy new players. With home attendances around 4,000 losses mounted while the board struggled to maintain unity. Over the summer of '96 Adams cobbled together a fresh squad and team and management - sensing they were all in this mess together - bonded on a short tour of rural Ireland. Games ended inevitably with everyone in the local pub.
Now Mickey's maxims were not the stuff of Descartes. But football folk are simple and down to earth. His little motivational speeches struck a chord. He would drop them into his programme notes. That summer he told his players to lie back on the downs and imagine the train was leaving the station. Did they see themselves on board and ready to make the journey? It sounds trite now, but it worked. Promotion was won in a memorable season. Fulham stepped back from the brink, and then a Mr. al-Fayed got interested...
I was in the press box for every home game of that campaign, quite a few away matches, and had easy access to the players and Mickey. By November I knew precisely what was coming from every free-kick and corner. We had both a long and short ball routine. Even clearances from the keeper, thrown or kicked, were pre-meditated. Three seasons later under Tigana, another coach obsessed by discipline and structure, it was also possible to read the hugely effective patterns of link up play that routinely put Saha, Hayles and Boa Morte through on goal - each striker notching 20 goals plus in the year that took us to the top flight.
In the seven months since Martin Jol and his staff took charge of this team, I see no evidence of a master plan. I see confusion, a severe lack of attention to detail, naivety, a damaging insousiance to setbacks. See how often the word 'hope' figures in post-match interviews by Jol. "You play your game, and you hope to play around them..." "You have good strikers on the pitch, you hope they will get you a goal..." If planning for success on the field is all about hope then we all might as well have a go. There is no consistent formula at work here and as a consequence the side who finished 8th last season is going backwards.
Let's not start dissecting the defeat at Goodison or criticising the players. I will just say this. Last week we carved Newcastle open by going more direct (Jol's words) and attacking down the middle at pace. AJ, Zamora, Duff and of course the Deuce all subsequently cause problems and goals result. What do we do at Everton? We go back to trying to play round them in endless and fruitless triangles, having elected to sit Bobby on the bench. And therefore, just like every away game this season, it does not work.
As for the pre-match plan in dealing with Everton. You do not allow Phil Neville the freedom to advance deep up the right flank and send over cross after cross. We never got the hustle on Everton, just sat back and hoped to mop up the deep ball into the box. With Hughes off the pace and Stockdale uncertain we should have been three down at the break. Secondly, we allowed Fellaini to sit deep and run the game. Nobody again detailed to put the bite on him.
Our full-backs are not good enough and that's been apparent for months, AJ alone up front out wide is an irrelevance, Ruiz is not presently able to handle the English game...oh shut up Mison, we know all this. Can you tell I'm annoyed again? Plenty on the boards are saying, get over it, the Cup's an irrelevance, we can't expect to win at Everton, I say, why not? Why did we not play to our strengths and attack Everton's makeshift back four with the same style that worked so wonderfully last week?
That is what I find so hard to take. Why stand with hands in pockets throughout Mr. Jol and not give the team some impetus to change what so clearly is not working? Where is the mid-week spade work that gives us the edge come matchday? We have three times exited Cup competitions this season in which we have held the initiative. A man up at Chelsea and handed a penalty. Two up at home to Odense and Europa League progress tossed away from the last action of the game. Danny's perfect early penalty...but we fail to punish a very average team shorn of five regulars. Three failures that speak volumes. I rest my case.