I feel we should start the New Year on an upbeat note. Fulham wrestled three priceless points off West Ham in a 2-1 win and moved out of the relegation positions for the first time in a month. Setting my black and white blinkers aside, after reviewing all the highlights from matchday 20, I think the Whites are better equipped to stave off relegation than all four sides currently below us.
Rene Meulensteen's maneuvering in the transfer window will give us the measure of the man. After the Hull debacle this London derby was a desperate affair -- albeit in dreadful conditions. The Hammers shot themselves in the foot big time, were down to the bare bones selection wise, and still Fulham, with an overwhelming ratio of possession, failed to convince either in attack or at the back.
Football's found its new version of 'The Tinkerman' as Rene made seven changes, but that only served once again to highlight which players are no longer fit to wear the shirt. Had Kevin Nolan buried that back post header on 23 minutes and kept his cool this result could have been so very different. As it was Fulham laboured to put away the ten men, with Mark Noble forced off in the first-half and our opponents having no fit centre-backs.
Thank heavens Carlton Cole wasn't on from the start. Because Philippe Senderos had a nightmare and we still look all at sea with every ball hoisted into the box. For the opening goal our central defenders handled the long punt upfield with all the strength of a meringue.
Brede Hangeland is still 10 days away from a return to training, but signing a commanding central defender in January must be top of the agenda, along with a left-back. There's a body of criminally slack journalism out there from writers saying John Arne Riise has been 'rejuvenated' under the new management team. What? Every team attacks us down his flank. The man can't poke the ball into the net from three yards range and is fated never to score for Fulham. He should have been off-loaded a year ago.
Another 'nearly man' I'm afraid is Adel Taarabt. Twice, he hits the woodwork, but you can see how he has driven a string of managers to breaking point.
Doctor Frankenstein needs to cook up the DNA from every winger on the books at Craven Cottage and from the ingredients manufacture the ideal winger. Question -- does Alexander Kacaniklic have a brain? At times in the second half he and Pajtim Kasami reminded me of schools football, when you hear some kids have real talent, but then just run endless solos to show off with absolutely no end product.
Having not even made the 18 man squad the writing is now on the wall for Bryan Ruiz. Rene says there has been no interest in the Costa Rican so this could see a massive financial write-down for Martin Jol's biggest folly. From the side put out yesterday I remain convinced that Kieran Richardson (can't shoot straight) and Damien Duff (can't head, beat his man or tackle) must be off-loaded.
I must confess some reservations in Rene's set-up and substitutions New Year’s Day. Duff should have been hooked much earlier and Ashkan Dejagah was the wide man with more grit and hustle to send on as West Ham started to get pushed back. As for the introduction of Darren Bent, it almost cost us two points. Lazy Bent offered nothing, missed his big chance, and then with Dimitar Berbatov dropped into midfield, we handed back the initiative when West Ham were on the ropes.
Captain Parker saw how weakened our shape had become and played the last 20 minutes more conservatively, rarely marauding forward. Had Allardyce gambled earlier on Cole, Fulham could so easily have thrown all the hard work away.