Defeat but no disgrace

Posted by Phil Mison

Steve Sidwell tackle on Mikel Arteta Fulham v arsenalPA PhotosSteve Sidwell "must make an immediate return to the sin bin" for his tackle on Mikel Arteta

When you build up to matchday at Craven Cottage, battle through the traffic, get into your over-priced seat and sense that tingle of anticipation in the moments before kick-off - especially for a capacity crowd London derby - you lose yourself in the big occasion. On a bright sunny day, the setting is picture perfect and no matter how many games you've seen before at the ground, the excitement still kicks in just as it did when we were kids. So it was for our 0-1 loss to Arsenal.

Against our North London rivals, it took just 12 minutes before one moment of lunacy delivered a collective kick in the guts to 25,000 long suffering diehard home supporters. The pain, groans and slumped shoulders all around me were palpable and pitying. Resignation turned to anger, then slowly to mystification. By the final whistle, it was warm applause and appreciation.

From somewhere, our re-jigged side started to play better with 10 men than with 11. We hadn't had a kick for the first ten minutes, apart from an enterprising burst up the line from Stanislav Manolev that didn't quite fall our way in the box (shamefully edited from the pitiful MOTD coverage).

It was Fulham utilising the additional space on the pitch after Steve Sidwell's sending off, playing on the break and running at Arsenal's back line. Those stepping into the side all played well, notably Kieran Richardson and Alex Kacaniklic. Manolev looked every bit the equal of the injured Sascha Riether, who was not missed.

But Fulham still lost, and for the third game running, no man in white got on the score sheet. That much we got right with our pre-game prediction. I was certainly way off when I said we'd have plenty of the ball though, but who can legislate for an early red card?

However, so spirited was our performance, playing a man down for 78 minutes against in-form Arsenal, by the end the mood had lifted and I left with the feeling we had got a result of sorts.

We certainly went down with our pride restored. Well played to the boys for a really gutsy effort against the odds. I can't remember our keeper being seriously tested, and with the rub of the green even Wenger might have conceded we were worth a point.

It seems bizarre to suggest we were the equal of Arsenal when possession was 70-30 in their favour. But the Gunners never got on top of our defence, and as Martin said, Fulham battled like lions.

As counterweight to the resolve, work ethic and organisation put in by so many, it is sad to report their best efforts were ultimately undermined by three senior players who all need to hold their hands up and look themselves in the mirror.

This was not an afternoon for sulking, strolling about or slinging insults at your colleagues. Yes, Mr. Berbatov - your attitude stinks. It is not good for morale. We excuse you many things when you're scoring. When you're not, then your antics are a dead weight on the side.

Step up to the front of the class Mr. Ruiz. It really is high time you grasped the levels of concentration and commitment needed to play in this league. You were directly responsible in losing your man, Laurent Koscielny, on the set-play that led to Per Mertesacker's winner. In a word, you are feeble and it is high time to man up or bike it back over to Holland.

Mr. Sidwell, you must make an immediate return to the sin bin for your indiscretion. The tackle was brainless and indeed worthy of a red card. The card count this season speaks for itself. I would seriously question whether Fulham can consider Steve in our midfield any longer. He is a serial offender and a liability. Eyong Enoh can fill the role, Fulham's new Claude Makalele.

While I applaud the side for their brave efforts, and they are clearly happy to play for Jol, the management must heed the welter of statistics indicating a clear lack of preparation during the week's training.

When a team only parades one genuine striker, they need to have plenty in reserve from set pieces. We have nothing. Not one corner or offensive free kick today was met by a Fulham man. Our towering captain has not scored from a corner in two years. How many set pieces do you imagine he's trundled up for in that time? I make that about 70 games for zero return.

I see no evidence routines have been worked up since Chris Baird exited the side. Not good enough. It requires repetitive attention to detail and intense coaching - not what Martin and his 'sexy football' goes in for. As a consequence Fulham fail to punch their weight. It's scandalous and needs to change.

What have we learnt from a torrid week? Fulham have barely survived a difficult season and with not too much for supporters to look back on with any cheer. With the new TV deal largesse washing through football, we must have a major rebuilding of the side this summer and serious investment in big name players. We're done with 'bargains'. We need half a new side, and we need height and steel.

This summer will be Jol's third go at getting it right in the market. I'm all for continuity, so I'll see what he comes up with from August, and then review his position next December if we fall short again.

And off we go to Everton next up. Roll on summer ...


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