An army marches again

Posted by Phil Mison

Steve Bardens/Getty ImagesBryan Ruiz and Darren Bent can each make a good impression on new Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen with stellar efforts on Wednesday versus Spurs.

How do we call this London derby -- and what will Fulham supporters be served up after weeks of lamentable performances when the Whites take on Tottenham under the Craven Cottage lights?

Win lose or draw, home fans will accept another loss, as long as those selected to don the white shirt give their all.

Against a side assembled at five times the cost of this current Fulham squad, this should be no contest. The North London club since foundation have invariably done things with a swagger, thought and acted big, and always found plenty from the world of commerce with deep pockets to drive the dream.

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In the annals of the modern game from the end of the Great War there could hardly be a bigger contrast between the two clubs. Yet once Fulham got back into the top flight successive managers found no need for any inferiority complex.

It all began with a thrilling 3-2 win when residing at Loftus Road. I can still see Sylvain Legwinski bearing down on goal to score that stoppage time clincher. What ecstasy that night in 2002! Then we had a 3-0 win at White Hart Lane that spelt the end of Glenn Hoddle's managerial career in the top flight -- an afternoon when Barry Hayles was cock of the walk.

And more recently a 4-0 thumping at the Cottage when the game was over by half-time. Even last season, when the wheels were starting to come off, Fulham stole away from the Lane with all three points thanks to a scruffy finish by Dimitar Berbatov.

Ah, our infuriatingly languid top scorer from the last campaign. I suspect he will be back in the firing line for this one. So how will he react to Rene Meulensteen's man management and Fulham's brave new world post-Martin Jol? Let us hope the first command handed down from the new general is that for the fight to come there can be no passengers.

Though economical with his words, ex-skipper Danny Murphy has hinted at what fans have known for some time. The Fulham dressing-room has not been a happy place. Team harmony has been undermined by Jol's clear favouritism to those of his signings who appeared un-droppable, no matter how poor their play.

Jol's management leaves a terrible legacy -- in scope far worse than the failings of 'honest' Lawrie Sanchez. His high-handed attitude to others, arrogant inflexibility, lackadaisical attention to detail and extremely poor judgment in the transfer market has been as corrosive to the solid foundations he inherited in 2011 as an acid bath.

Recovering from this dark period will take some time. Meulensteen is hamstrung for now with what he has to work with -- perhaps half a proper team at best. But he's publicly put out the call for spending in January. He would not have been so bold had this requirement not already reached the ears of Chairman Khan. A couple of deals are already said to be in place with a United connection.

Between now and January 1st, those under contract know they are playing for the shirt. Slackers will be out by early next year. Jol clears his desk Sunday, and 24 hours later Meulensteen's brought in his Number Two (Jonathan Hill from the backroom staff at United) and swept out the rest of the dead wood (how did Billy McKinlay last so long?). Meulensteen knows there are fires to be put out.

But just to prove he has a sharp eye and the nous to build bridges, a step up for loyal servant Kit Symonds to oversee first team duties. A long overdue promotion for our former defender, a man who has been turning out winning Fulham teams for longer than Jol's tenure in London.

Can Fulham climb out of the bottom three this week? A return to winning ways against the Spurs all-stars might seem a tall order. Maybe curb our enthusiasm and settle for something from Villa?

Wednesday night under the lights and the atmosphere down on the pitch will be electric as we tick up to 8 o'clock. The crowd surely will be ready to give their all to the team -- and their new manager. Man for man Spurs should roll us over. But when a team has belief , any outfit finds an additional and indefinable quality that carries men to a new level. Just ask the players this week of Hull City and Crystal Palace.

Match statistics for Fulham of course make for grim reading -- the club lost 15 of their last 21 games with Jol at the helm. Back is Sascha Riether from suspension, with Brede Hangeland and Berbatov pushing for starts too. I expect to see both play -- and dare I say it, I fancy Berbatov to score!

Spurs may have won on their last three visits, but would you believe they have scored just 11 goals to date in the league, the same as the Whites. They have not won in four, and Man City demolished them 6-0 in their last away game. I'll be more than happy to settle for 1-0. COYW!



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