Angst in the East

Posted by Phil Mison

Martin Jol
PA PhotosMartin Jol is under pressure after Fulham's poor start to the season.

Two teams where Premiership garments have turned threadbare and tension fills the air come face-to-face Saturday at Upton Park. In prospect an exhibition of football entertainment that should come with a health warning, West Ham and Fulham will lock horns in the battle to beat the drop.

Apart from the 22 men who line up to give of their muscular best, even more focus from the game is on two managers in perilous danger of being dumped by their employers.

After finishing 10th last season, a very respectable return for a promoted side, Big Sam Allardyce is rumoured to be under a three-match ultimatum to turn the Hammers' season around. They have not won at Upton Park since day one (vs. Cardiff) and their only other maximum to date was a surprising 3-0 win at Spurs.

-Jol fears for job

That leaves them on 10 points -- like Fulham, but outside the bottom three on goal difference. It is five games without a win for the Hammers, and for the loyal bubble-blowers of East London, failure to beat little Fulham would be unthinkable.

As for the Whites, this is a ground where Fulham rarely gain anything. A point would be seen as massive in light of current form, so do the Cottagers have it in them to shake off the shackles and show some fight? This game is won or lost from the moment we see Martin Jol’s team sheet. With Dimitar Berbatov ruled out by illness, even if he does not realise it, Jol has been granted perhaps one last hand to get it right.

A month ago, Martin glibly assured us there was “no panic at Fulham.” Now he admits to fearing for his job. That a sixth straight defeat would be untenable. That he really is in the last-chance saloon.

More than any fixture so far this ill-starred season, both selection and the team mind-set have to be spot on. The media seem to have decided this is the game that will finally see Jol axed with another defeat. Brede Hangeland has looked fine in training all week after a sciatic nerve problem. But whether he starts is more a question of his overall fitness after a month out.

Sascha Riether is still suspended, so Fulham could go with the same back four fielded a week ago. West Ham have been playing without a proper striker (you could say the same of Fulham) due to Andy Carroll’s injuries, but it is the midfield set-up that decides this game. Fulham must see much more of the ball than in recent weeks to stand any chance.

I would hope to see the combative Derek Boateng in there, and for Fulham to wrest the initiative away from Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble. And what better opponents than this dysfunctional West Ham side for Moussa Dembele to be blooded and given a go? Study his goals at Aston Villa on the official site and you will see he has touch, composure and a finish to match. It is time to be bold and give him a run-out. The kid is a natural striker. For heaven’s sake, make sure he plays with a winger.

Allardyce is the more tactically cute of the managers, no question. His teams always play to the margins on set-plays. If Fulham cannot match West Ham here and return to defending solidly as a unit, then they will lose.

What a pivotal week for the Whites, with Spurs and Villa to follow at home. Does the rot stop here, or does Martin join the dole queue in time for Christmas? Time to stand up and be counted -- and our traveling support have a major part to play too! This really is it guys -- Henry V and all that!

COYW!

Twitter: @fulhamphil

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