Phew! Only the mad dog English would seek to cram in four games over 12 days at the worst time of year for weather, travel and a multitude of other demands on both time and finances. A tube strike for the Boxing Day derby at Chelsea, a ground not blessed with easy parking facilities, and emergency closure of the Hammersmith flyover for urgent repairs all over Christmas resulting in nightmare traffic congestion on all roads up to Craven Cottage.
From the onset of December the points gathered have exceeded expectation, and from a very tough programme we've gained massive wins over Liverpool and now Arsenal, plus added points on the road from trips to Chelsea and Norwich. Failing to hold out for an all too rare away win at Carrow Road caused all our old exasperations to bubble to the surface again, but 48 hours later the mood was transformed with a stirring 2nd half comeback Monday night. A half as vibrant as any seen at the Cottage since the Citeh draw, as good as the display v Norwich was awful.
When the players would have had every justification to plead exhaustion, where did that upturn against Arsenal come from? Especially as they had us on the back foot up to half-time. A four point return from our two clashes with Wenger, who reverted to type with his graceless reaction to our win, we'd all have taken that at the start of the season. Yes, the signs of some progress at last began initially with that trip to the Emirates, where Arsenal were stifled, van Persie and Walcott shut out of the game, and the Whites almost nicked a famous win. Remember, at the time Arsenal were on fire.
This was also a game where to my eyes Bobby clearly seemed not to be fully fit. He certainly wasn't enjoying his football (up till Monday that is). Maybe injuries hampered us at times over the past month, but every side has to contend with that. We've not been as hard hit as many to date. Taking the holiday fixtures as a concise snapshot of our mid-season report, we started on a catastrophic note against United, re-established some self-belief with two away draws, and ended with the crescendo of Bobby's knock-out blow on 93 minutes of Monday's derby. Crucially over that run of four games, Jol finally found shape and potency to the make up of the team.
How significant might it be that we've gone three games without defeat since AJ came out of the side? We're all delighted for Kerim Frei and every Fulham insider knew already here was a real talent awaiting his chance. Jol gambled on him at Chelsea, and it gave Boswinga plenty to think about, he frightened Norwich to death and should never have been subbed. Against Arsenal our super-sub was a major factor in Arsenal losing both Djourou and the game in the final 20 minutes. A local BBC man at Norwich lauded Frei as the 'most exciting young star to emerge since Gascoigne.' Let's hope Kerim doesn't read this blog - that's a tad over the top for anyone after barely a couple of full appearances.
But there's no doubt in the past week the kid's given our forward line a dimension it has been sorely lacking all season. The upswing in tempo then reacts like nuclear fission to light a fire under others, Dembele, Dempsey and Ruiz. By carrying the fight to Arsenal in the 2nd half we also take pressure off our defence, the exact opposite from our performance at the Canaries that we paid for. Sidwell's return to fitness, marked by his first goal of the campaign, is another boost, as is the increasingly assured displays coming from full-back. Riise (yes, I admit it, he has improved, just waiting for one of those trademark free-kicks to hit the target now) and Kelly has really shone out on the other flank. Finally, Stockdale has been in tremendous form, albeit he might have done better coming out on Koscielny's goal, and who was marking him by the way?
By luck or design then our talismanic striker comes back into the fold, bags the winner and the man of the match award from Sky. At a stroke one swing of the boot, and mishit or not, Bobby is reborn as the golden boy, breaking his three month goal drought and gaining a bear hug from the boss on the final whistle. Are you going anywhere in the window then Bobby is the question in the tunnel. No, it's all speculation, he's happy at Fulham, Jol's happy as long as his big man is fit and scoring. Suddenly, two weeks after being trounced 0-5 by United, life's a breeze down by the river!
The wise man of course knows there will be plenty more twists and turns in Fulham's season before May. Following this idiosyncratic club really is the proverbial roller coaster. Just imagine how quickly our mood will blacken again with defeat up at Blackburn in mid-January. Please, no. Rovers really should be going down along with Wigan and Bolton, while QPR and Wolves may yet have to sweat it out. Our 23 point tally to start January is three more than I bargained for, and five more home wins will see us achieve the 40 point safety mark. Hopefully it will be better than that in the second half of the season, especially if Jol recruits the right men to bolster the current side.
It may only be cameo performances for the likes of Duff, Hughes, Sa, Etuhu, maybe even Murphy in the months to come, but the club must move forward. The signs from Monday night are that, at last, Jol might be establishing the platform to do so.
A chance to give some of the regulars a week off to garner their strength when we face Charlton in the FA Cup 3rd round this weekend. More on that game later in the week, plus any transfers in or out that get our interest. Your blogger is hoping to take up an invitation to talk all things Fulham with L.A. based World Football Daily's podcast and radio show this coming Friday. Tune in around 5pm UK Time (Yanks adjust to your time zone) and join me in spreading the word about the 'Biggest Little Club in the World.' We Are Fulham!