Decline and fall at Fulham

Posted by Phil Mison

Dimitar Berbatov shows his frustration during Fulham's 4-2 defeat to ReadingPA PhotosDimitar Berbatov shows his frustration during Fulham's defeat.

Martin Jol's chickens came home to roost as Premier League also-rans Reading delivered a damning reminder of how far Fulham have sunk under the current management regime. A 4-2 home loss to the already relegated Royals threw into sharp contrast the crippling inadequacies all Fulham fans had to endure in stoic resignation. Taking motorsport as your metaphor, the flashy local petrol heads have organised a 20 lap go kart junket. At the back of the grid, a bluff Dutchman in flat cap puffs on his pipe atop the Fulham entry, a wheezing clapped-out old tractor.

Fulham simply weren't at the races. The Whites were on the back foot from the first whistle. Don't for one second be fooled by the brief periods they spluttered into life in the 2nd half. The visitors looked sharper, quicker and more fluent throughout. Jol's over-reliance on plodding old pros and the slowest team in the league, welded to a tactical strategy that has not worked all season, got its just reward.

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Set this result in context, against a modest side of willing runners heading down to the Championship and without a win in three months, and you clearly sense the scale of Fulham's predicament. Pray this chilling performance provides the crucible for change. A major overhaul of the side is long overdue. Fulham will just about get away with it this season (hopefully) with their 40 points in the bag. Now it is up to the board to read the riot act and show fans they can grasp the nettle. Fans are not renewing their season tickets and droves were heading for the exit after Reading's fourth goal.

Fulham's cause was undermined before a ball was kicked. Jol's team selection bizarre and retrograde, with John Arne Riise preferred at left-back (why?), hungry high-tempo ball winner Emmanuel Frimpong sat on the bench with Alexander Kacaniklic, and no place at all in the squad for Kerim Frei or Chris Baird.

One by one, Jol's poor picks got hooked, the abysmal JAR and Giorgos Karagounis hopefully putting in for their P45's in the process, Damien Duff somehow with the comfort of another 12 month cushy contract in his pocket. All three are now way below Premier League standard and have nothing to contribute to Fulham's future progress.

Riise's defending for the early penalty reminded me of an old granny swinging her handbag at an opportunistic mugger. Bryan Ruiz continues to play like someone who would find the tooth fairy intimidating. As for Dimitar Berbatov and his appreciation of the team ethic... No words needed.

Broken parts are scattered wherever you look. Even the normally phlegmatic Brede Hangeland lost his cool early in the half in front of the Hammy End, laying into Riise for being miles off his man. With an ineffective midfield, Reading passed around Fulham at pace as the defensive four got pushed back too deep against the waves of attack. Gosh, Fulham made Reading look like Real Madrid and Nigel Adkins had them worked out to a tee.

The game entirely passed Urby Emanuelson by, Reading's nimble forwards caused Philippe Senderos nightmares, and Kieran Richardson revealed his credentials as a makeshift left-back when coming on, being caught on the wrong side of opponents repeatedly and culpable for the third goal.

Having said all that, Hugo Rodallega joined the action like a breath of fresh air. Yet here is a tall striker Jol has found impossible to integrate into the side all season, being slavishly devoted to his 4-4-1-1 system that exposed Dimi as the lone striker devoid of support, and blindly faithful to the ephemeral Costa Rican (no kissing of the badge or fist-pumping from him after his two goals).

Efforts against bar and post, shots off the keeper's legs, yes Hugo could easily have had a hat-trick. He also set up Dimi for what was a nailed on penalty at the Hammy End, badly missed by the referee - and it led to Reading quickly breaking upfield with four on two for their killer 2nd goal.

But, please, hard luck stories, or Bryan's double strike (way too late in your time at Fulham my friend) must not in any way detract from the implications of this performance. As a club, Fulham have given Martin enough leeway to get it right (and £20 million plus for players when he arrived). The Dutchman's future is now on the line. Fulham are back where they were in May 2007. Effectively, Fulham need a whole new team.

That can be achieved one of two ways. A smart, young and hungry manager like Roberto di Matteo, Gus Poyet or Roberto Martinez. Or the board sanctions shedloads of cash for Martin to go out and convince everyone he's the top manager he thinks he is, by buying a bevy of star names from the big European leagues. I know which way I see this going.

Sexy football Dutch style at the Cottage? Fulham have been reduced to a Sunday side now haunted for two further games by the remote but potential disaster of exiting the Premier League.


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