Twelve and out

Posted by Phil Mison

Jan Kruger/Getty ImagesMartin Jol's Fulham still have some work to do before being safe from relegation.

For three Premier League teams it will be.

Spring is just around the corner and following the international break, batteries one hopes are charged for the final run in of twelve league games. Do I need to spell out how much is riding on the next three months? Three teams can soon start rolling up the red carpet, readjusting their budgets for life in the Championship, dispensing with the EPL decorations and ruminating on what kind of gates they'll be drawing next season. Enough to bring the sweat out in a few boardrooms there! Not to mention the thousands of long suffering fans.

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A realistic look at the table tells me from Stoke upwards, all those in the top half will not be concerning themselves with relegation worries. While both West Ham and Fulham look comfortably placed in mid-table, the actual football being played by these two London sides of late has been patchy to say the least. Nor are the respective managers at both clubs particularly popular. Both Sam Allardyce and Martin Jol may be men of stature who have been round the block a few times, but their stock has diminished this season, and both could well be seeking new employment come May.

Below 12th we find those ailing, those on the sick list and Rangers. Four points adrift at the foot of the table, QPR have been on life support since August. They get back into action with a game against the runaway leaders. Tasty! But Harry Redknapp can talk a good game, even if I saw fresh waves of Hoops' fans kissing off their survival hopes after the spanking at Swansea.

"We are in the same position I was with Pompey, we need another 20 points to be safe." So Redknapp sets the bar at 37 this season for 17th place does he? And Fulham already sit on 29 -- should be a walk in the park for the Whites. More of that later.

Over at Villa Park Paul Lambert is preparing for "12 cup finals". At Wigan the boss has little interest in a good cup run, saying he would happily trade it all for Premiership survival. Football over at Fulham often seems to swim outside the mainstream. We almost take pride in being a tad anachronistic, individualistic -- eccentric even. Jol only very recently has come round to expressing that his side is now indeed involved in a relegation fight, too. With wins at Fulham scarcer than 'pure beef' burgers, we might only need two or three wins to be safe, but getting them is another matter. At present the Fulham team couldn't win a raffle with only one ticket sold.

The break has given fans time to weight up the odds by scrutinising the fixture list, while followers of the Whites are praying the side have been putting in some solid work on the training ground. Significant for our chances of easing to a comfortable run in is the news that old heads Simon Davies and Mahamadou Diarra are returning to full fitness. We may have added some fresh young faces during the window, but my instincts tell me it is the 'old hands' who will dig you out of a hole when the chips are down; think the likes of Murphy, McBride, Nevland and Bullard the last time Fulham found themselves staring down the barrel.

Relegation would blow a huge hole in board strategy at Craven Cottage. The desire for stability is understandable, and perhaps explains why Jol has not come under more pressure for his dismal record this season. Once the action resumes with the visit of Stoke, we Fulhamites will be looking for an early pointer as to attitude, confidence and cohesion in the ranks. We are not in dire straits yet, but for the next few weeks our season remains very much on a knife edge. Supporters will back the boys to the hilt, but we expect to see some gut-busting endeavour, matched by a superior tactical plan to quickly forget the misery of what has gone before over a very bleak winter.


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