Unbeatable Fulham next for United

Posted by Phil Mison

Howard Walker/AFP/Getty ImagesIt took some heroics, but Fulham finally did get the job done in their FA Cup replay at Blackpool.

Four games into 2013 and no defeats for my beloved team. So why am I living on my nerves and eating through double doses of heart pills at present? Avoid defeat in our next three competitive matches and then I might believe this current side really has turned a corner. As we prepare to meet the current champions on their patch this week before taking on the Reds at Old Trafford in the FA Cup fourth round, the smoke signals coming up from Craven Cottage are proving hard to interpret.

- Match report: Blackpool 1-2 Fulham

While I am full of praise for the determination that got us over the line from a tricky replay at Blackpool, can anyone honestly say we looked the Premiership side over the two games? The boys scrapped it out on a tricky surface in arctic conditions at Bloomfield Road, rewarding the plucky 370 who made the long trip with a tie of the round trip to Manchester United. At the very least, the global television audience and massive gate will ensure we bank some money from the fourth round. And in light of club statements made last week -- sounds like we need every penny.

This was a game that could so easily have seen Fulham FC file another chapter in the long list of feeble surrenders away from London on a freezing midweek night in the north. It was no easy game to listen to on the radio. Give the BBC a busy night of fixtures and it's inevitable that commentary cover will be patchy. It was hard to gauge the tempo of the tie at Blackpool from the hysterical tone on Five Live. But I did pick up a few gems that told me Fulham’s season-long deficiencies were on full show again.

"First chance of the night to Blackpool after Schwartzer totally missed his punch in the box..."

"We've had a long range effort from Petric, but horribly sliced and closer to the corner flag."

"A real opportunity right from the re-start when Blackpool laid the ball back towards their centre-half, he wasn't there, but Rodallega's first touch was awful, and then he got the ball stuck between his feet before falling over."

"First period of extra time and Cathcart has blazed over from 10 yards after Schwartzer could only parry... The home side should be ahead here."

Even if you could not raise an internet feed, you get the picture. Alexander Kacaniklic again could find no way to hurt a side a division below us, and without a win in six games, being led by a stand-in manager. Nor could any one of our attacking force conjure a goal. If not for Kieran Richardson's humdinger of a shot on the very last kick of regulation play, Fulham would have exited the Cup at the first hurdle. So, reasons to be cheerful? I think not.

Now I'm sitting here wondering if our fortuitous progress in the Cup may have saved Martin Jol's neck. Some bookies this week had the Dutchman top of their list at 6/4 for the next EPL manager to get the chop. Squeezing past the Tangerines with a 93rd minute equaliser out of nothing and one deflected header in extra time from a hit and hope corner (and even Brede Hangeland wasn't sure he got the final touch) should in no way detract from the crass showing against Wigan. Even were we to topple the mighty Reds at their place in 10 days, league points, and survival, are all that matter in this sorry season. I wasn't the only one to feel that Jol's body language Saturday evening was suspect -- for the first time I sensed an air of despair in his comments.

For too long now the gaffer has been in denial regarding the slump we find ourselves in. The line being spun before Christmas that we would be fine once Bryan Ruiz was fit is now played out. The press statements offer no clues or confidence that any strategy is in place. In official pronouncements they are about 90 days behind this blog.

"We are missing Dempsey and his goals, so many of them were points winners."

"We are not Real Madrid you know, the fans have to learn to be patient." Eighteen months in and you still want us to sit there on our 45 pound bucket seat and show patience?

"We have to find ways to be less predictable, but it's not easy."

"We don't have funds for this transfer window, so we are relying on Lady Luck."

"You can score one goal, but you know if they can score a goal, you have to score another, and we couldn't do that. It's frustrating."

"Stephen Kelly is the only player who will leave in this window. (Five days later). I've told John Arne Riise he's free to leave the club this month. I'd like to send Pajtim Kasami out on loan if possible."

Would I advocate giving Jol his marching orders now? That is a tough one. I have been ferreting away among my Fulham contacts trying to see if anyone can give me a steer on thinking inside the club. Surely the board realise we badly need new signings, or we are revisiting the last days of Coleman and looking at taking a dispirited team to the brink of relegation. I sense the board are reluctant to give Jol another substantial wedge of money. My feeling is they are hoping to ride out this crisis and review the manager's position in May. You might look to a return to fitness from both Mahamadou Diarra and Simon Davies through the spring to get the club over the 40 point threshold.

On this basis I looked again at the starting eleven at Blackpool. We had 10 internationals on the park, with Matthew Briggs capped at the U-21 level, and yet we still should have lost. Now these players cannot all collectively have gone off the boil so alarmingly since September. This surely must then tell us that the problems lie with the management, coaching and tactics. There cannot be another explanation. I had to remind myself just how brilliant Ruiz was at Twente with the goal-scoring compilation recently posted over at FoF. You cannot watch that finishing without concluding the guy has real talent. He simply has to play for the Whites as an out and out striker.

As the days slip by with no signs of genuine activity in the market, and we can all come up with about 30-40 names linked to Fulham since the summer, what chance would a new boss have coming in now to turn things around? Would the board stand by Jol if we 'did a Villa' and took a real pasting from our next three opponents? If the gaffer has lost it, who in the ranks might 'do a Murphy' and galvanise the side into doing it their way instead and pulling out some results by sheer strength of character? Or, should we not improve into February, might the 'Fulham family' factor see merit in handing the reins on a temporary basis to Kit Symonds (maybe with an outrider) with the mission to save our status?

While I want to look forward to the magic of a Cup tie with United and the chance to pull off a famous shock, there are much bigger fish to fry in SW6 right now. Nothing less than Fulham’s preservation of Premier League status.


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