Season boost at Sunderland

Posted by Phil Mison

Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesFulham's Pajtim Kasami celebrates his goal with manager Martin Jol.

What a bonus! I won't pretend to dress it up as a convincing display, as Martin Jol was all too ready to concede post-match, but Fulham got the campaign off to the perfect start with a gritty, backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win on Saturday at Sunderland.

The long trip north paid dividends as Paolo di Canio's troops got jinxed by the Whites' ability once again to claim points off Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Saturday nights when I can head out for the evening knowing Fulham have three points away from home happen all too infrequently -- enjoy them when you can!

-Parker joins Fulham on free transfer

As Fulham are now riding on the back of two consecutive away wins in the Premiership without conceding, it's Fulham for the Champions League say I, and look out Arsenal -- the Cottagers are coming to nail your crumbling team next. Yes, I’m still imbibing the sweet scent of victory as I write 48 hours after the big kick-off. But welcome as three points from the opener were, the game itself had more important connotations for the season in prospect.

Fulham were too glaringly second-best for long periods that neither supporters nor the manager dared to dissemble and suggest the deficiencies have gone away. I was rather surprised at just how forthright Jol was in the tunnel post-match, choosing to highlight the inability to create from midfield and test the opposition -- whereas another manager, Ian Holloway for instance might have led off with "Our defenders were awesome, we worked our socks off, frustrated them, won the key battles and took our one chance. We deserved to win because we put the ball in the net, they didn’t."

Football has many more shades than grey, and many might argue can be a lot sexier. It’s all a question of perception. From a Fulham perspective, Brede Hangeland led by example, he and Aaron Hughes were exemplary. Adel Taarabt put in a full shift, Martin Stekelenburg showed why he is a class act, and Pajtim Kasami powered home the winner in just his fourth start. Preferred over Bryan Ruiz after an impressive preseason, the young Swiss-Macedonian celebrated in style following a frustrating stop-go start to his Fulham career.

While we’ve all read rumours of player unrest under Jol's tutelage in the past two years, there’s clearly no problem between 'Pato' and the governor.

I wrote here last week how I felt putting some of the old guard under pressure for their places might spice things up a bit. Once Darren Bent has spent a week training with his new colleagues, it’s hard to imagine Fulham, after the financial outlay, will sit him on the bench again for Arsenal on Saturday. And who makes way for widemen Ashkan Dejagah and Alex Kakaniclic when both are fit -- maybe as early as this coming weekend?

Now, what do we make of the decision to bench Ruiz, as he was 'tired'? Really? On day one of a new season? Has Martin at last crossed the Rubicon, I wonder? That Fulham also won without him only adds to the intrigue. Of course, let’s remind ourselves Fulham were offensively flat across the park -- the only real effort on goal coming from Fulham's one corner in the whole match. But I lay you any odds you want that Bryan would not have been attacking that cross from a set piece in the manner of Kasami -- I’ve certainly never seen him do it in his time with Fulham yet.

So Fulham escape from day one with an away win to lift our spirits, and a further reminder of how desperately we need to re-organise in midfield. Is Scott Parker the answer? He's clearly no long-term solution at his age. It's not a signing that will be greeted with universal acclaim by Fulham fans, not least for those who remember his tackle at Newcastle that all but put Jimmy Bullard out of the game.

With Derek Boateng and now Parker, the ex-Spurs and Hammers hard man, vying for a start in midfield along with Steve Sidwell, my but Fulham could soon be really riding high in the table -- for disciplinary points!

The club have made plenty of noises about accepting the need to strengthen in all areas. If they have absorbed the lesson and are genuine in their sentiments, we have another 14 days to make sure this becomes a season of joy rather than struggle, and that there will be plenty more days to party -- both home and away. A big shout-out to those who took the road trip and also grateful thanks to new sponsors Marathon for sponsoring the coaches.

I sense it really is time to bring down the curtain now on the passing of an era. From here on in for Fulham FC and Shahid Khan, the only way is up. The shenanigans last year when Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele left suddenly all seems a long time ago. There is still have plenty of work to do to cement in the remaining cracks in the side -- that’s obvious, and we know Fulham won’t be throwing money around Southampton-style.

But at the top of the week, which set of fans do you imagine are looking forward to Saturday at Craven Cottage most? Plenty of interesting slants to talk about and speculate on team selection. As always, it is your voice that matters. Let’s be hearing from you Fulham fans – far and wide.


Twitter: @fulhamphil


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