FFC's survival blueprint

Posted by Phil Mison

Clint DempseyGettyImagesFulham has not replaced Clint Dempsey - or his crucial goals.

I pinned notification this week that Fulham are now weaker across seven positions than when Mark Hughes walked out on the club in 2011. Here's my reasoning.

Keeper: Nothing against Mark, securing him on a free in '08 was one of the smartest bits of business dear old Woy did on behalf of the club. He has saved us many times since with outstandingly unflappable displays. Quite simply, the march of time has caught up with him. There's nothing Mark can do about that, but Fulham must forget sentiment and secure a top line replacement in the summer. I think we all know who that is likely to be.

LB: Carlos Salcido came too late in his career, but we just about got away with his one season in white. However, for a fee of £2million John Arne Riise has been a major disappointment. The sharp-shooting from distance has gone, his mobility when being run at with pace makes him a liability and his own ability to get down the flanks to hurt opponents diminishes by the month. Will be moved on this summer for sure, but I'm not certain he deserves to be starting for the crucial 12 game run in.

CB: The need to sign a commanding CB has been identified by the club from more than a year ago. We all thought it was going to be Twente's Douglas, but the club gambled they might get away with it for another season. By his high standards, Aaron Hughes has started to show his age, while doubts remain over Brede's long term commitment to the club. By failing to find cover at the heart of defence, Fulham have had to turn to Senderos. While he has now clocked up 100 starts in the EPL, never gives less than 100 per cent and provides an aerial threat at set pieces, if anyone across the back four is going to come up with a game-changing error, it's likely to be our Swiss international.

MF: It is hard not to be critical of the club for the way our midfield has been decimated. For this exercise I will say we urgently need one midfielder of stature to anchor the whole team. A captain, a leader, a playmaker, a tough tackling no-nonsense player of real class who provides the heartbeat of the side. But the way Fulham mishandled the departures of Murphy, Dembele and Dempsey without any strategy to replace such key individuals means we now find ourselves dogged by the spectre of a battle to avoid relegation. You could argue we need more than one fresh face here.

Wingers: From his arrival onwards Martin Jol emphasised his desire to play with pacy wingers. Should we lay the lack of progress from our academy graduates at his door? Is it down to coaching? Maybe they are just not up to it. But there have been enough transfer windows to address the problem, and signing Kieran Richardson is no solution. As a consequence, for the final 12 games to decide our fate, FFC still have nobody to run the flanks in a manner that can unsettle teams. Two more positions therefore where we have come up short in this difficult season.

CF: Finally, we turn to the man to fill the boots of our departed, and much-missed top scorer. Nobody quite knows how to label Clint. He wasn't a winger, nor a conventional midfielder, certainly he wouldn't himself say he was a striker. But by golly, he offered so much more in the box than any of our current crop. Again, the club failed to hang on to three players from last season who knew where the goal was - Zamo, the Pog and Deuce. Anyone here now to fill those boots? Emphatically not.

Is it therefore any wonder we have really gone downhill so rapidly since October? This weekend for the first time I took a hard look at our run-in. I have a really bad feeling about this, even though we look to be sitting comfortably mid-table with 29 points in the 2nd week of February. As Mokey writes, where are the points coming from to get us up to 40?

Let's start with our away games. Even before you factor in how dreadful the Whites are on their travels, we know the side cannot win at Everton or Spurs. Swansea are three-and-zero in our three games since they came up - in two of those we have been played off the park. Do you imagine long trips to Sunderland and Newcastle with a handful of supporters will be easy, both clubs fighting for their own lives? And then there's Aston Villa. Another ground where Fulham historically never win. Benteke to grab the winner anyone as Fulham fail yet again to test the keeper? That game has massive significance.

Let's get on to the home games to cheer ourselves up. Sure, fortress Cottage is where we'll do the business. Stoke next up. Based on past results, everyone seems to think this is three points in the bag. It sure needs to be, because two bad results on the spin and we could be down in 16th by the end of the month. Anybody seriously imagine a Pulis side is going to turn up and give you an easy game?

So the wild-eyed optimists over at FoF point to those two nailed on home wins heading our way from the visits of QPR and Reading, conveniently forgetting that we've failed to beat either so far this season. By the time Rangers arrive, they will man-for-man have one of the stronger teams in the league on paper and their manager is far better equipped to get a result from them than our own, despite their shortcomings. Perhaps by the time they arrive, Rangers may just have given up the ghost. Pray that's so, because this could well be another game - like Villa - full of tension where the nerves take over. And if Fulham are on the slide by this stage, how much more of a six-pointer will Reading become? They are far from anybody's pushover - just ask Chelsea.

As for the other three visitors still to come down to the Cottage - Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool - they are all sides we can beat on the day when raising our game. But if confidence starts draining away, I suggest Fulham are going to need a monumental performance somewhere along the line, replicating the feats at Pompey and Man City in recent years, if we are not to slip back into the Championship. It might just be two more wins and a clutch of draws from here on in.

Will we stay up? Let's come back to that after the Stoke game. But on paper, that run in has a horrible look about it right now.




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