Wishing and Hoping

Posted by Phil Mison

Moussa Dembele: Will help replace ModricPA PhotosWould there be as much wishing and hoping if Moussa Dembele had stayed?

As is invariably my habit, I was searching for a song title to lead off another blog. Something not too recondite, but reflecting my sentiments as they flow onto the page. It was going to be 'Promised You a Miracle' but I decided that was not quite on the nose.

March arrives on my Fulham calendar at the end of the week, and I find myself in wistful mood. Though winter's icy fingers are still to loosen their grip, green shoots have appeared in the garden and the end of another season is in sight. How will we Fulham fans be assessing our 11th straight campaign in the Premiership?

Let's hope I'm not tempting fate. With 32 points from 27 games we are not entirely out of the woods yet. But with the gulf between us and the bottom three widening at the weekend, I think two of the relegation berths are already filled. Who ends up 17th however is anyone's guess. What got me thinking was an exchange with our Sunderland blogger at ESPNFC ahead of our return fixture with the Black Cats this Saturday.

We agreed both sets of fans have had parallel seasons of disappointment. Fulham's form nose-dived alarmingly after that home defeat to the Mackem in mid-November. A black night remembered for our skipper's red card after just 30 minutes - a game-changing moment of misjudgement from Brede. But in all honesty, the cracks were widening well before that. Sunderland couldn't believe their luck that night. They travelled south close to the basement, but failed to kick on from the three gift-wrapped points. Ahead of the return, they now sit four places and three points worse off than the Whites in 15th.

This season, once again, London's oldest football club has just been making up the numbers. Now I know there are swathes of supporters who are only too delighted with that. Not for one second do I denigrate the club's efforts over the past decade in maintaining status. I was there at Barnet, Bristol Rovers, Southend, Northampton and the rest not so very long ago. I suffered all those relegations from my schooldays, and by 1994 had come to accept the sympathetic pity of all those who considered friendly little Fulham little more than a joke club. We didn't even bite back. We were crushed, emasculated. The few thousand who witnessed Fulham 2 Hartlepool 2 in early 1996 will know exactly what I mean.

But once in a while, when I play Scrabble, enter a pub quiz or have a round of golf, I like to win. Or at least come close. We are on course to post another predictably average finish in mid-table having returned predictably underwhelming performances in the cup competitions. In May we will be electing our Player of the Season from an on-loan German full-back (29) and a free agent Greek veteran (36).

But did it have to be this way?

Where the disappointments and frustrations that pepper this blog rise up was, after that opening day salvo to down Norwich, I really did think this season could have been so very different. The rationale says we should be ecstatically happy to be holding station mid-table, but after the momentum built up by the run to Hamburg, I contend a massive opportunity has been passed up at Fulham to break the glass ceiling.

That last sentence has its genus in posts that regularly pop up along the lines of 'How I would love to have seen Dembele combine with Berbatov.' As with our man Clint, it's the elephant in the room topic every time we dissect another stumbling Fulham performance. For the most part we keep it buttoned up, me included. Why bother constantly opening up the wound? But we all think it.

So that's my frustration, and why I've found this particular campaign hard to enjoy. Because it did not have to be like this. Fulham were so tantalising close to building a team of real class, without needing to break the bank. A year ago we had an England centre forward who was our Europa Cup hero. From nowhere he was shipped out to rivals QPR and not properly replaced. Why? Did he ask for a transfer? Was he no longer good enough? He was jettisoned so the manager might prove a point. Bobby was targeted, marginalised and then sacrificed for the sake of Martin's ego.

Over the summer, and despite the rhetoric and rumours, not one of all the highly-rated European stars linked with us, from Twente to Turkey, actually turned up at Fulham. As nobody's talking, we have to make our own minds up if this was the fault of the manager or the money men. But had we shown genuine ambition in the market, who is to say Dempsey and Dembele might not have been persuaded to stay? That, for once in their 133 year history Fulham finally meant business!

On to Saturday's game. We still need points, and we also need to exact revenge for that 1-3 reverse at the Cottage. I warned my Sunderland counterpart on Wearside we have tightened up defensively, but still play with the gumption of a glove puppet in attack on the road. Let us pray Dimitar is in the mood for it and remembers to stay where he is most needed - up front!

To leave you all on a note of good cheer and optimism, a view on Sunderland's season from my colleague. "Stephane Sessegnon shows glimpses of astonishing skill but disappoints with end product. I love flair players and am happy to see him start despite the incompleteness of his game. Fletcher is good but his score rate has slowed down considerably. We have little to offer in midfield and the central defence is slow and vulnerable. I'm fairly philosophical. But there is a bit of disenchantment about”.

There's your team talk Martin. Blow it up and stick it on the dressing-room wall. This is definitely a game we can get something from. As with a lifetime of following the Whites though, it's all about wishing and hoping.



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