What's missing?

Posted by Phil Mison

Goals. obviously. Entertainment. And that overdue home win. While West Brom’s long wait for a win in West London goes on, it was Baggies fans who no doubt headed north the happier Saturday after their 90th-minute leveller robbed Fulham of all three points in a 1-1 draw.

Steve Sidwell fires Fulham into the lead against West Brom.
PA PhotosSteve Sidwell fires Fulham into the lead against West Brom.

On Saturday’s evidence, both sides look to be in for a season of toil, and the chairmen may be getting a stiff letter from the Premiership marketing hotshots reminding them they are competing in the most avidly watched league in the world. On the evidence of this error-strewn game, the market has paid way over the odds for the product.

Fulham should have won, of course, but paid the price yet again for an inability to build on their first-half goal and defend set plays at the death. We saw all too much of that last season. It was more frustration for both manager Martin Jol and the fans, many of whom on streaming away might have wondered how better the afternoon could have been spent.

The comment is not a flippant one. With many of the opinion the Whites are playing their worst football in five years, and with the long-debated Riverside expansion still seeming like a chimera on the horizon, how long I wonder before we start seeing gaps around the ground? Exactly as predicted, we heard the first chants for Jol's dismissal from a disgruntled few at the final whistle. "At first it was 10 to 15, now maybe they are 30 at that end, so the numbers are growing. But what can I do about it?" Er, start winning games, Martin?

Increasingly, signs across the whole spectrum of the game, from transfer fees to admission prices, suggest a ceiling has been reached. The long overdue reality check may be here, and wages outside the Premier League have already tumbled. From his flashy villa in Germany, Sami Hyppia sups a post-game pils and says the Premiership has lost passion. One incontrovertible fact is this -- Whites followers are not getting value for money from their side, and it's been that way for some time.

The emollient from Saturday’s stalemate was the plethora of draws elsewhere, along with another predictable black day for Signor Paolo di Canio. The number of basket-cases around both Fulham and Albion will give the clubs hope they can dodge the relegation places next May, while Premiership referees have already decided there must be no place at the top table for free-thinking renegades like Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway. I mean, how much help do United need at Old Trafford?

While the weekend soured with Fulham's inability to claim the two extra points, especially against such a disappointing Albion, we must hope this was another small step along the path for the new Fulham FC that Jol is re-shaping. This early in the season, a maximum Saturday would have propelled us into the top half of the table and kept us happy all week. Only the rub of the green and a few millimetres made the difference.

The manager clearly could have done without a tight hamstring from Darren Bent last week, and the international break does no club any favours when your internationals are on duty far and wide. That aside, Fulham's tactics remain intractably ill-conceived in playing a far too narrow game. Fulham are not Arsenal and cannot play the same game of lightning link-up play from box to box the Gunners deploy.

Alex Kakaniklic remains infuriatingly inconsistent, Ashkan Dejagah is yet to show the form of last season, Bryan Ruiz again fails to bring goals to his game to ease the burden on mighty Dimitar Berbatov. The club have seen fit to offload Kerim Frei, but are yet to be convinced by either Mesca’s potential or Adel Taarabt’s ability to contribute a full 90 minutes. Why did the Bakary Sako deal not go through?

Two enforced changes across the back four may too have been unsettling, especially when you have serious question marks over two of the four. Only Steve Sidwell, with his well-struck goal, and the tireless Scott Parker, currently appear to be playing to their potential. Martin has bought himself more time by avoiding defeat, but will need to settle quickly on his ideal formation before we get deeper into the season.

Dare I rashly state this early we are too good to go down? Yes. Looking through the opposition ranks Saturday, West Brom too appear weaker than a year ago -- and look at the signings made there in forwards. Their first goal of the season comes from a defender up for a corner, and really should have been prevented.

I genuinely feel Fulham have top talent in the ranks, but for whatever reason Jol can’t fashion it into a real force at present. Can we ask that all the coaching staff the club employ pull together, and that possibly bluff Martin might eat a little humble pie from time to time?

Looking for a rationale in the 24 hours after Saturday’s dismal show, I reflected on Jean Tigana’s side a decade ago. Hindsight plays strange tricks, because I recall players like Steve Finnan, Luis Boa Morte, Steed Malbranque, Barry Hayles, Alain Goma and, of course, the peerless Louis Saha -- and reckon all of them would walk into the current first 11. And yet, check the record books and you find Fulham never under Tigana threatened to break into the top half. Now Fulham start the season almost expecting by right to finish top 12.

Funny old game.

Twitter: @fulhamphil


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