Edging to safety

Posted by Phil Mison

Jan Kruger/Getty ImagesA victory for Dimitar Berbatov and company at Villa Park would all but seal another season in the Premier League for Fulham.

Our second away trip of the week for Fulham fans, with expectations for all three points about as low as they were for the trip to Newcastle. The reason, Villa Park is another of those bogey grounds for the Whites where we simply never win. No matter how badly Villa might be playing, on the day, Fulham always come up short.

Over the last month the club with as rich a history as any across the English landscape finally began to turn the corner, though that's not to say Paul Lambert's troops are out of the mire just yet. The patient showed genuine signs of recovery last week in turning Stoke over at the Britannia, having been on the critical list mid-winter, when they were leaking goals like a sieve.

- Lambert wary of Berbatov threat

To be fair to their gaffer, he had been saying for some time the side were playing better but just not seeing games out. Christian Benteke has impressed from six weeks into the season once he found his feet, and Gabriel Agbonlahor seems to have shaken off his lethargy. So a match-up with wretched travellers Fulham -- weakened considerably by injuries and with little to play for, is just what the doctor ordered for a fun day out in the Midlands.

We are paying a high cost for that win squeezed out against Rangers. A three game ban for Steve Sidwell (one more to follow on from this) seriously undermines the side in an area which has been problematical all season -- midfield. Add to that the latest blow with news Ashkan Dejagah now requires surgery on an ankle tendon. His season is over and just as he was really settling into his role on the right and looking more authoritative week by week.

It all leaves Martin Jol trying to put the nuts and bolts together of a team lacking depth and quality, and over-reliant on his hastily assembled bunch of loanees. We can be fairly confident of the back four for Saturday's trip to Villa Park. Where he might tinker with other options around certain starters Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov is anyone's guess.

We know what the fans all want to see: Free-flowing slick football from Fulham, springing defence into attacks at pace and power; a steely determination from the off to dominate a largely young and nervous side down in the basement, to play on Villa's fears, to silence the home crowd.

Of course, none of that is going to happen. It will be another exercise in containment and waiting for Berbatov to pluck again a rabbit from the hat with the few forward forays we make. Here’s hoping otherwise, and Mesca notches a hat trick on his full debut in a 5-2 away romp for the Whites!

Talking of wish fulfilment, I was driving along today and that talkative old chap who is leading Rangers into the Championship came on the radio bigging up the calibre of Loic Remy. 'Arry of course is resigned to him leaving, as he has an escape clause in his contract with a transfer trigger set at £8 million. Redknapp felt this was a player who "will get you 20 Premier League goals in a season, no question" and I agree with him.

So I drove through the traffic imagining Remy playing alongside and around Bryan and Berbatov, streaking down the channels, combining with the other two, turning Fulham at a stroke into a multi-dimensional outfit where the goal threat becomes three-pronged rather than the sole rapier thrust it is at present. Then I got home to find Jol wants to offer Mladen Petric another year... My dream so quickly turns to ashes.

I know it's easy to mock Jol's tramline statements in the media, but for doublespeak, his take on Petric has me floored. This is what he told the local press.

"He wants to play and because of Berbatov he couldn't. He was probably the most effective player in England -- he scored goals and didn't play a lot."

Whoever would have thought it? All those depressing games this season, and we had the 'most effective player in England' all the time sitting on the sidelines.

Enjoy the game! And if Mesca -- or anyone -- notches that hat trick, stick your post match comments on the end of this. See you on the other side of the game. COYW!


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