The long way round

Posted by Phil Mison

Ian MacNicol/Getty ImagesSasha Riether's goal gave Fulham a 2-0 lead only to see Sunderland come back and draw with the Cottagers.

So on Saturday I made the long trek to the North-East, at no little expense, and came back inevitably chastened, and with plenty of time on the train to try and reconcile my frustrations. Getting back home just in time to review the action on MOTD and scan the message boards; 'frustration' did indeed seem to be the watchword from fellow fans.

The Whites could not defend a two goal lead away from home, missing a major opportunity to all but cement our safety for this season. While the better footballing team, a draw was probably a just result, and all the foibles that continue to undermine our season were present. But such is our capricious mistress, she will get to toy with our emotions a while longer.

Excuse me for being course, but after buying a last-minute rail ticket and match entrance, my impulsive day out set me back close to 175 pounds.

Why did I go? With no West London derby now on the 10th and the prospect of no home game till the visit of Rangers on April 1st, I decided it was time to tick off the Stadium of Light from my list of away grounds. I also travelled in hope we had 'turned a corner' as indeed the players told us last week on the official site. It was time to take in a Fulham away performance on a ground where we had a good record. Sunderland were on a poor run and looked very beatable, and I was confident. Thirty-five minutes in and my investment looked to have paid off.

- Match report: Sunderland 2-2 Fulham

I never had a moment of doubt when Danny Murphy was on penalty duty, but Dimitar Berbatov beats him hands down for insouciance! I have rarely seen a keeper put into three minds from the run up and then fail so miserably to make any move at all. A lightening break up the pitch, controlled carrying of the ball -- the like of which we have not seen this season -- ends with the outstanding Sascha Riether tapping in a second. What a lesson for some on getting into the box!

That should have been enough. But oh no, just 90 seconds later Philippe Senderos pulls out his one customary clanger from every game -- and Sunderland are handed a soft and needless penalty. From half a mile away up in the gods it looked clumsy; from the TV replays it looked debatable, but why give Halsey the option in the first place, especially as the home fans were on his back? As Martin Jol said, it changed the game.

An overview of this draw as a whole only reiterates what we all see in the current side. I remain mystified at posters who see far more meaningful contributions from Bryan Ruiz than I ever do. I maintain if you combine the lacklustre approach of our two highest earners, and their determination to craft only the sublime goal, we effectively play games with 10 men. If I took a casual football watcher from outside the UK to a Fulham match and asked him to identify the 10.5 million pound man in our ranks, I wonder how many guesses he might need?

On the train back I embraced a truly bizarre notion -- one totally Fulhamish. Not only has it been tough going for all supporters this season, with the policy of handing short term one year contracts to players no longer able to give you 90 solid minutes, I'm already starting to fret about the next! Yesterday was Damien Duff's 34th birthday and he was again irrelevant; yet has another contract. Senderos, simply an accident waiting to happen, signed to a new deal this week. Giorgos Karagounis cannot last longer than an hour, yet seems to be figuring in Jol's plans for an extension. What is going on?

Jol can be very black and white in his thinking (you'd think that should be a positive). He seems to have made his mind up immediately on Emmanuel Frimpong, suggesting we tie him up for all of next season on loan from Arsenal. Can we be a little circumspect here please until we've seen him play a full 90 minutes at least? Otherwise we'll have yet another lump of ballast Jol will find difficult to drop in order to shore up his judgment.

Get Simon Davies back in the side for the next one. At 33 he's only a spring chicken! I must say the 'team-rebuilding' strategy has me bemused, and I haven't even got on to my reservations about Mark Schwarzer and Steve Sidwell yet. We'll save that for another day. Every Fulham game at present seems to throw up more questions than answers. All this angst and yet we find ourselves up to 10th! Something must be going right, just put me out of my misery and point out the error of my ways.


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