Storming the Palace

Posted by Phil Mison

Martin Jol touchline v Manchester UnitedPA PhotosMartin Jol needs to get Fulham firing again.

Fulham need an October Revolution of their own down by the river, so it's time to unleash the shock troops on Monday night and get the season truly up and running. According to the boss, all the club's internationals returned from overseas duty unscathed last week, and the squad, for the first time this season, should be at full strength. Accepted wisdom says by mid-October all players should be at peak fitness. This may not be the case at Fulham, with the likes of Darren Bent, Adel Taarabt and Ashkan Dejagah coming into the ranks having missed part of pre-season, while other like Derek Boateng spent much of last season side-lined.

However, a trip to floundering Crystal Palace says this is a game Martin Jol must be looking to win. Ian Holloway's team have proved easy meat for most sides so far this season. One solitary win over Sunderland and six defeats leaves them one off the bottom, and the widespread belief that promoted Palace would be making a swift return to the Championship still looks a safe bet.

Lest we forget Holloway almost pulled off a miracle with Blackpool three seasons ago. The Tangerines played with enterprise and freedom, fearlessly prepared to take the game to big names like Liverpool and Manchester United before running out of puff in the final month of the campaign.

It's where you finish in May that matters. Something I'm surprised Jol hasn't trotted out yet. While Fulham's form in the first two months has not been as bad as Palace or Sunderland, it has still been way below the standard the fans expect. Now there really can be no more excuses.

Fulham's big money signings -- Darren Bent, Scott Parker and Maarten Stekelenburg should all be raring to go. The players have had time to integrate, and are well rested. Let us pray Jol has prepared the team in the right way, and that his team selection proves to be the right one.

Fans are increasingly bombarded with statistics and match analysis, although I'm never quite sure what the data capture methods are. However, the following is relevant in revealing where Fulham's current shortcomings lay. The club have conceded 60 corners to date in league action -- the highest tally in the Premier League. And Fulham are having real trouble defending corners and keeping clean sheets. What a surprise.

Second, and more damningly, on average to date, last season's top scorer Dimitar Berbatov makes contact with the ball in the opposition's box just three times per game played. That's not three efforts on goal, that is simply making contact with the ball. Woeful -- and this man is a striker! Little wonder Fulham are not scoring freely. Dimi needs to start getting in where it hurts. Now!

Is Darren really going to be sitting on the bench again on Monday? Surely not, after his winner bailed Jol from the slammer two weeks ago. I think the gaffer is asking for trouble if he pulls that stunt again. And will he get the balance right in midfield? Boateng really impressed when introduced against Stoke. The Palace boys will be like frightened rabbits if Fulham take the game to them. Time to take a leaf out of Roy Hodgson's book and carry the fight to the opposition surely?

Sitting back and passing the ball across the back four at pedestrian pace will only encourage the strugglers, and if given a foothold in the game, Fulham could well be made to pay. I'm certain Holloway's team will be full of guts and endeavour even if lacking quality. The gaffer wriggled off the hook with that Stoke win, but with the Cardiff result still fresh, defeat at Selhurst Park would be a damning indictment of Jol's failings, and I suspect to such a feeble side, one the board would find hard to ignore.

Should Jol's position again come under the spotlight, how interesting to note that owner Shad Khan just happens to be in town later this week with his NFL team the Jaguars.

There's your tasty little scenario then for Monday's derby. Nowhere to hide for Jol as Fulham, feeling the pressure with no goals to show on their last two trips away from home, come up against Holloway's willing collection of Championship players and summer panic buys -- a side currently without both their captain and main striker.

A win takes Fulham up to 14th and gives the table a healthier look. Heaven knows the Cottagers need it, because lurking round the corner is notorious November. Yes, the month when winter kicks in and the Whites go on the slide. Following the trip to buoyant Southampton on Saturday, things really get interesting. Yes folks, Manchester United and Liverpool coming to haunt fans' nightmares real soon!

This will be only the third clash between the two clubs in the top flight. Both sides won their respective home games in the 2004-05 season, Fulham winning 3-1 at the Cottage. The Whites have failed to score in nine of their last 16 league away games, scoring just 11 goals. Crystal Palace have lost their last four without managing a goal.

And the TV companies picked this for televising?

COYW!

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