Fulham let the Baggies off the hook

Posted by Phil Mison

The best thing about Saturday’s trip to the Black Country? Fulham’s travelling support. Whites followers turned up in numbers and with loud voice to welcome Felix Magath. No batch of supporters can be more forgiving or charitable of its team.

But in this wretched season, the celebrations got cruelly cut short with an 86th-minute equalizer that deprived the Cottagers of the win that would have lifted them off the bottom of the table.

Perhaps not enough was done to merit all three points -- I’ve no argument with that -- but you really do expect more from an international keeper who has played in a World Cup final.

Am I being too harsh? Certainly, Maarten Stekelenburg did everything else right in the game, but this nagging inability to manage a clean sheet costs them dear.

It will surely see the side relegated unless Magath conjures a solution to this massive Achilles' heel. I’ll cut Stekelenburg some slack, but how can Matej Vydra get a clean strike on goal from 12 yards when Fulham have three central defenders on the park at the time?

- West Brom deny Magath a debut win

For his first game in charge, Magath presumably based his team selection on what the players had shown him in a week of training at Motspur Park.

Not one of us fans has been party to the work put in since the latest saviour arrived from Germany, but the starting 11 struck me as wrong before kickoff, as I tweeted.

Plenty around me also questioned the wisdom of reinstating the Scott Parker-Steve Sidwell axis, as well as including Fernando Amorebieta and giving Hugo Rodallega just his second league start in a year.

Has the hugely expensive Darren Bent really been reduced to third-choice striker? On the evidence of Rene Meulensteen’s final two games -- my, that seems a long time ago already -- does Magath believe the "experience" of the old lags, ahead of the younger legs and energy we’ve seen from Dan Burn, Muamer Tankovic, William Kvist and Ryan Tunnicliffe, is what’s needed to get the Whites out of this mess?

Oh dear, I’ve just taken a step back from typing to pause for breath. I realized, to my horror, that I was about to start laying into the latest manager, just as I’ve been doing since August 2010!

I must hold fire for at least a few more games yet. The problem, though, is that time is no longer on Fulham’s side. I expected better on Saturday. Failing to put away a side so desperately poor as WBA leaves me deeply depressed on Sunday.

Ashkan Dejagah
EmpicsFulham's Ashkan Dejagah scores the opening goal of the game.

Everyone in the away enclosure at The Hawthorns knew a second goal was imperative after Ashkan Dejagah’s fine strike opened the scoring. An inability to take points from the sides around Fulham in the bottom half is going to prove decisive.

What did I see from this draw? Two teams that probably both deserve to grace the Championship. The game was error-strewn and lacked any real signs of inspirational talent, composure or quality.

For Magath, it expressed all the hallmarks of English football in the bottom half of the Premier League. Plenty of sweat, grit and passion -- and precious little else.

Focusing on the side picked, all the old shortcomings were there again as the man at the helm pulled numbers from the bag.

Burn should never have been dropped after dealing so competently with Manchester United’s bombardment a fortnight ago, and Amorebieta’s distribution alone is reason enough to keep the Venezuelan well away from the first team. Meanwhile, Parker can clearly no longer manage 90 minutes.

Lewis Holtby can’t do it all on his own. Very quickly, Magath and his lieutenants must decide on who the men are to get the goals needed to win games.

Magath was clear in his veiled criticism of Meulensteen that the side needs to establish "structure" and a clear idea of what constitutes a best 11. This was not it. The clock is ticking.

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