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Once again Saturday had supporters smugly sipping their half-time Bovril on the back of a two goal lead, only to endure a final nerve shredding quarter hour on the edge of their seats. What is it with this team? Jol himself offered no clues post match to explain the massive swings in performance we have seen this season. What they say about a round of golf in Ireland applied to our contest with the Canaries - we had all four seasons in the space of 90 minutes as the pendulum swung wildly back and forth. Two up in no time gave us the platform, yet coming to the half it was City pressing for a goal. Same pattern repeated in the 2nd half until we ended the game with our backs firmly to the wall. You can argue the case with goal machine Dempsey being pushed into the central striker role he's ill-suited to due to the Pog's injury, but we still showed a cutting edge with Kacaniklic impressing on his debut. How Ruddy got a glove on that curler I'll never know.
Yes, promoted Norwich called the tune after Lambert changed his tactics for the second half and Fulham were left frankly looking like the away side. This surely begs the question, as we have witnessed countless times this season, that Jol is not reading the game from the dugout (is that really possible for such a high profile manager?) or that he is too inflexible to make changes when required and think on his feet? It's all well and good people posting on this blog criticising negativity towards the gaffer - and I note esteemed fanzine editor David Lloyd getting similar brickbats at the FoF forum for comments he gave the Chronicle saying the jury is still out on Jol among FFC fans. Fair enough, we both put our head above the parapet and expect to get shot at. But David and I are as one on this - the side has played superbly at times this season and this squad is as good as any since Tigana's day. We've turned in some memorable performances playing brilliant football with panache, only to revert with maddening regularity to toothless tigers the following week. You really cannot defend a record of EIGHT league goals away from home and scrambled wins over Wigan and QPR.
Norwich had a huge opening just on half-time, and again before they scored, while we for some reason start defending deeper and deeper. We looked vulnerable the moment Diarra replaced Danny (one of his better games). I don't know why we seem in a hurry to tie up Diarra's signature. He doesn't read the game like our skipper. He plays from the half-way line while Danny stays five yards deeper. It makes a massive difference when our back four are strung across the line of the penalty box. Swansea exploited that gap between our box and the midfield four, as did Norwich for their goal after Diarra carelessly gave the ball away. Under Roy Brede and Hughes were used to playing a much higher line. Being ultra-organised we played the offside game well to frustrate and squeeze opponents. Under Jol we've lost that ability, and that is why we are conceding so many late goals as the pressure on us mounts. It seems strange, but Roy's side were much harder to break down and beat - even if we were drawing too many, while most fans feel the current side has more 'star quality' - but less functionality.
The game Saturday was truly bizarre, because both sides had 15-20 minute spells where either totally dominated. After our fast start, Clint being the difference yet again with a poacher's goal and a sublime assist for Duff to sweep home, we really should have had a third to kill the game. If all 21 players lay down in the centre circle I think Dembele would still contrive to miss the target...my, but he frustrates me. Then, with Kacaniklic showing no nerves whatsoever on his full debut, I was convinced the next goal would be Fulham's...only with everything to fall apart in the final quarter. Is this a mental thing, or lack of stamina? No sooner had the commentary team said on 75, "Fulham have conceded 16 goals in the last 15 minutes of matches," than bingo, the ball was in the back of the net!
When all is said and done three very important points were scrambled to put us up to 10th. With seven games to play I reckon maybe 10 more points coming our way, which would see us amass 49 points, exactly the same total as Hughes managed a year ago. So on that criteria the club has not progressed. I don't buy the apologists who say Jol didn't have a pre-season to shape up the team. Hughes certainly didn't, but Jol was in place from early June. The Europa qualifiers were the ideal test bed for working out where deficiencies lay. By end of transfer window we had failed to find the quality support striker understudying Zamo we so badly needed, and by dint of their contributions to date on the pitch - or lack of - not one of Martin's summer recruits has shone.
Having got that off my chest, I do however sense next season might well see us developing into the genuine article, which realistically means getting up just behind the big four and 'doing a Newcastle.' That really is our glass ceiling folks, but a points return around the 55-60 mark along with half a dozen away wins would be a fantastic achievement for little old Fulham. Who knows, we might even lift the Carling Cup one of these days. In fact, I'm seriously considering getting a season ticket for the first time in ages. Why the optimism?
Frustrations have boiled over this campaign because we have all been lucky enough to witness really mouth-watering displays when it all comes together. QPR, Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle, Wolves and Wisla Krakow at home. Clint's total of 13 league goals now matches Louis Saha's record before he departed in 2004, and he will set a new standard with the Whites when he bags his next. No surprise the club have offered him a mega deal to prolong his contract. We continue to be linked with some exciting players, which gives the lie to Fulham's reputation for being a selling club. And we are about to reap the rewards from our far-sighted youth policy, with Kacaniklic just the first one hopes ready to step up into an exciting new Fulham era.
Even Russel Grant can't tell us what's in the stars, but we could just be on the verge of something very exciting at Craven Cottage. A shiny new stand alongside the river will add to the spectacle. Back to the present for two fixtures nobody can dare predict. I've made a few trips up to Bolton in my time, but not this Easter. However, our Scandi followers are over to swell the numbers so let's hope we can get something from the game. Bolton's fortunes have revived a tad so it won't be easy - mind you I'd be nervous if we were travelling just down the road to Harrow Borough.
That is followed by the one we really want to win of course on Monday. Chelsea may be in the semis of the Champions League, but they are certainly beatable. Will this be another occasion when it all comes together? I have a feeling the players will rise to the challenge...so let's make it a derby to remember. Hey, they say the table never lies. Well we're in the top half, so we must be doing something right!
Happy Easter, don't get into a drinking contest with our 'Viking' followers, and above all enjoy the holiday fixtures and remember WE ARE THE WHITES. Twitter@fulhamphil