Crunch time at the Cottage

Posted by Phil Mison

Serena Taylor/Getty ImagesIf Fulham fail to defeat West Brom at home, the criticism will only continue to mount on manager Martin Jol.

Neutrals scanning the fixture list for an engaging Premiership battle this weekend will find little to excite them with a match-up at the Cottage between Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. On paper the clash has the signs of an early season relegation battle between two struggling sides. But for the two sets of supporters this is has all the makings of a crunch game, with the outcome giving meaningful pointers to the season ahead for both camps.

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Only three games in, but the Baggies will be smarting at their slow start after such an enterprising campaign last time out. They journey down to London propping up the table. Fulham have an excellent home record over their opponents, and we all pray that continues, but on the evidence of what we've seen to date, the current team continues to trade in the currency that had us tearing our hair out for much of last season.

Of the two managers under the spotlight, Martin Jol, I fancy, is the one more likely to find a vulture perched on his shoulder Saturday night with defeat. For a start, the Whites have not won a home game since the start of April, against Championship-bound QPR, and the natives, Martin, in case you are deaf to the clamour, are in restless mood.

There lurks a serpent of simmering resentment at the style of play presented in the frankly shambolic way the side has been set up to play thus far -- especially with the feeble performances at both Burton and Newcastle. A repeat of that lethargic, one-paced sterility this Saturday on home soil will simply not be tolerated.

Tolerant and well-mannered as Fulham's core supporters are, I sense we are one more misfiring show away from resentment at the manager's tactics being echoed from the stands. Should the worse happen, and the Baggies finally claim a win in SW6, Jol surely will have to come up with more than his usual post-match platitudes. (viz: at Newcastle -- 'we lacked energy.')

We all know this is the gaffer's third season in charge, but for the past 18 months we have inexorably been going backwards. Even when Clint Dempsey and the Pog were banging in goals for fun, the good ship Fulham was heading for the rocks as we failed to rebuild the oldest side in the Premiership.

Still, the average age of the side fails to come down. Still, we patiently await the arrival in the first team of the brightest ingenue from our talented all-conquering youth teams. Still, we seem to be also-rans in the transfer market when it comes to closing in on quality signings.

You only have to contrast our activity on the final day of the latest hugely under-whelming transfer window (financial common sense at last finally coming to the fore?) to that of our opponents. Three games without a win and Steve Clarke had seen enough. Romelu Lukaku had left a gaping hole up front, and Matej Vydra's injured, so in come Scott Sinclair, Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe on transfer deadline day.

The team news thus far is that the Baggies are also without Scottish international James Morrison, while we must pray Clarke's new signings don't hit the ground running and that we’re hearing that old chestnut 'this team will take time to gel'at the final whistle after Fulham's customary win. Ben Foster's absence further undermines their cause.

Of course, our own leader could just as easily be pulling the same cliche out for the MOTD audience. But we are now entering a run of games which inspires my heading above. Martin, you are the man now responsible for this side. You alone are responsible for the tactics. Only you know what message the side leaves the dressing room with.

If this Fulham team continues to lose, we bleed. This is all we have. We are chained to the club's fortunes for life. The message boards are full of negativity and frustration at present because we care. We do not have the luxury of a sky-high salary and the option of walking away from it all when the going gets tough.

In 2011 Fulham couldn't find a win till October. Jol called it his toughest spell in management. Lose Saturday at home to the bottom side and prepare to find out just how bad it can really get. We did the double over the Baggies last season, and Dimitar Berbatov scored in both games. He needs to do it again as he is likely to be our lone striker for Saturday. Here's why.

Fulham's quest to win back the fan's confidence must be done without Darren Bent (hamstring) and Maarten Stekelenburg is still to recover from his problem shoulder, so another outing for David Stockdale. Aaron Hughes and Matthew Briggs are crocked but Kieran Richardson is over his hamstring strain picked up at Sunderland. Any bets on how long he lasts? Fernando Amorebieta had a long flight back from South America this week but is in the squad for the first time and must be itching to play. Expect new signing Elsad Zverotic to sit this one out.

Shall we finish on some plus points? WBA have managed just four shots on goal this term so far, so in that department they're as bad as us. They have managed just one win in the last 12 and have not savoured a win at Craven Cottage since 1967. If you're going along, let's get behind the team and hope we give it a real go! As Jol says, this is a must win game. COYW!



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