Black cloud over the borough

Posted by Phil Mison

Julian Finney/Getty ImagesBrede Hangeland walks off the pitch at Craven Cottage after getting sent off in the 30th minute versus Sunderland.

That's the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, in case you were wondering if this was a story about some outfit in the faraway north-east. Another team from that region arrived and rained on our parade Sunday. It made for a miserable weekend in West London. Of course, as we soaked up the Saturday losses for Chelsea and QPR, how typically Fulham-ish of us to then implode against struggling Sunderland 24 hours later. A game, and three points, tossed away when we hit the self-destruct button.

A resounding slap in the face from football's gods puts our feet firmly back on the ground, reminds us we are really a mid-table team still, and that considerable hard work must be put in at Motspur. Were Fulham FC and their followers getting above themselves? Perhaps. This writer too needed a reminder to keep things in perspective as I saw only a hiding for Martin O'Neill's limping Black Cats throughout last week

"The stage can be slippery, and myriad factors are there to trip you up".

Knowing the ways of the game, and certainly the Cottagers unfailing capacity to dash the hopes of the faithful, I added the above caveat to my pre-match piece last week. A self-fulfilling prophecy as the Whites got hit by a tidal wave of misfortune. A raw deal from lady luck certainly, but we were architects of our own downfall, and still had enough chances to have won this game -- even with 10 men. Where did it all go wrong?

Martin Jol was on BBC radio last Friday. I was hurrying from sauna club to a gig with Bootleg Blondie, so you can clearly tell right there I had other priorities ahead of some studio chat from the gaffer. Reports tell me that Jol was funny, warm, bubbly, frank, engaging -- clearly enjoying his current high profile at Fulham. I've said it before, and his track record bears it out, it is when things conspire against him that he is found wanting. Now he faces his first major test in the next month with mounting injuries and suspensions adding to a side who, despite a wealth of attacking options, have lost their way defensively. How quickly the view from your office window can change.

Some defeats cast me into a deep well of despair. But not this one. For a start, we are clearly better than Sunderland and will certainly finish above them in the table. We were handicapped by the injuries and cruelly lost the second goal when down to nine as Mladen Petric required attention to a nasty gash inflicted on scoring the equaliser. But I take my cue for what kind of performance we are going to have served up from the way we start games. Why the lassitude for thirty minutes when at home to a team so limited and devoid of confidence?

The top note for me comes with the initial bursts down the flanks from our wide men. All too quickly I sensed Damien Duff did not have the beating of Danny Rose. Alexander Kacaniklic looked, as he often can, a peripheral figure. Hence, we are back to the over-intricate probing and passing through the midfield that drove us all mad for much of the past few seasons. All the passing goes laterally in front of defenders. Simon Mignolet is never tested. After 15-20 short passes around the midfield going in circles somebody makes a mistake. A stumble, wayward pass, ricochet or dispossessed. It happened far too often for half an hour. Everybody contributed to the errors, but Steve Sidwell and Bryan Ruiz tend to surrender possession in more dangerous areas. Luckily, Sunderland were even more devoid of ideas than us. Fulham would wear them down eventually and Dimitar Berbatov had already gone close. Give it time, I told myself.

Having suffered this tentative, fragile start, a recurring theme from Jol's team I have to say this autumn, we pay the ultimate price when Giorgos Karagounis under-hits a simple five yard lay-off back to Brede Hangeland…and I watched our captain launch into that tackle with all the horror of a broken bottle in a bar-room brawl...

I thought at the time, and having seen the replay, that it was two-footed and the referee had no option but to send him off. Jol may have moaned otherwise, but the club are not appealing. Hangeland knew it was deserved -- our first man off in 50 Premier League matches. I've reminded everyone often enough of Hodgson's mantra on here -- stay on your feet. I mean, had Lee Cattermole won the ball, we were on halfway for heaven's sake. Hangeland walked, and we were a man light for 60 minutes as the roof fell in.

Except that it didn't, not initially at any rate. The red card actually woke us up. Ten men had to find some energy to make up for the missing skipper. Is this what it takes to get Fulham angry and fired up? Into the second half and our woes increase when John Arne Riise's cross deflects onto the bar -- Mignolet had not made a meaningful save to that point (Sidwell's powder puff shot after being set up by Berbatov having all the venom of a glove puppet). From this let off, the ball is going past Mark Schwarzer at the other end in the blink of an eye. How? Route one football out from the full-back with Philippe Senderos not stepping up to catch Steven Fletcher off-side.

I will not be too harsh on Senderos. He's not been in the team and he's a man down at the back alongside him. There's still hope. With the ineffectual Ruiz now off as well, on comes Petric to maraud around up front with Hugo Rodallega. We, too, resort to more long ball stuff. But why not? At least we are starting finally to exert pressure on their back line and playing with an intensity that was lacking before. Duff, who had a poor game, tees up Petric for a net-busting equaliser on 62. Game on! I'm just starting to dream of a new headline for this heroic comeback piece I'm going to craft when we get the sickener. Here's the last paragraph, you'll be please to know. I don't want my raw emotions to get in the way of objectivity. It's only one game in 38 after all, and we will bounce back.

Four minutes after getting back on level terms, and we all saw the chances that the Whites continued to fashion in the last 20 minutes, comes the key moment of the game. A corner to Sunderland. I have a bad feeling..With Petric getting his gashed leg attended to, Fulham now have eight outfield players to defend the corner. Six of these at least should be in the box. Carlos Cuellar beats Aaron Hughes to the cross and the ball bounces past Schwarzer, kissing the left-hand post on its way in. Count up the number of games now Hughes has not been able to prevent his man from getting in front of him to score. But far worse…

Fulham do not have a man on the line defending the corner. That is Sunday morning amateurism played on the heath before heading down to the pub. Martin, please post your explanation here.


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