Under Kevin Keegan, Fulham were bold and exhilarating. With Paul Bracewell at the helm, it is clear that defence has become the best form of attack. Just how sustainable that is when Mohamed Al-Fayed wants his big spending to end with promotion to the promised land will ultimately remain to be seen. A third consecutive stalemate at Crystal Palace, Fulham’s third draw in eight days, and a tally of 24 goals in 23 league matches, left the novice manager making excuses for his side’s lack of punch in the opposition’s penalty area.
Bracewell put a brave face on pinching a point from Crystal Palace, who appear much more upwardly mobile as we approach Christmas then they did during a chastening side to the season. But Fulham have now drawn eleven matches, which leaves them level with West Bromwich Albion as Britain’s specialists in stalemate. It simply won’t add up to promotion, either automatically or via the play-offs, unless the Whites can fire with more frequency in the new millennium.
Bracewell told his post-match press conference:
“Obviously we’d like to win games. But that seven unbeaten, it keeps us going. We kept a clean sheet but we need to create a few more chances. The points keep adding up and hopefully this will be a good point at the end of the season.”
He may not get the chance to state his case for too much longer. The unpredictable Al-Fayed has court matters against Neil Hamilton entertaining his time and has been trigger-happy with his managers during his two years at the helm in south west London. Micky Adams, who guided London’s oldest professional football club out of the basement on a shoestring budget to put little old Fulham on the Harrods tycoon’s radar, lasted only a couple of months after the takeover. His replacement Ray Wilkins steered his new charges to the play-offs but didn’t lead the club into them. The word on the footballing grapevine is that Bracewell is on borrowed time already.
This dour draw would have done nothing to convince Al-Fayed to hold his fire. Fulham dropped out of the play-off places after a London derby distinctly devoid of quality. A freezing crowd had to wait 75 minutes for a shot on target, when Palace goalkeeper Fraser Digby made a rebound save from Lee Clark’s tame finish. The Cottagers look every inch the image of their manager: earnest, disciplined but cautious. Palace were even less purposeful but this represented a good point for the Eagles, especially as they are operating on much tighter budgets.
CRYSTAL PALACE (5-3-2): Digby; Austin, Phelan, Linighan, Fan Zhiyi, Smith (Carlisle 88); Mullins, Foster, Rodger; Svensson, McKenzie. Subs (not used): Mautone, Hibburt, Woozley, Rizzo.
BOOKED: Austin, Mullins, McKenzie.
FULHAM (5-3-2): Taylor; Finnan, Brevett, Melville, Morgan, Symons; Davis (W. Collins 51), Hayward, Clark; Hayles, Peschisolido. Subs (not used): Hahnemann, Uhlenbeek, Trollope, Brooker.
BOOKED: Brevett, Clark, Hayward.
REFEREE: David Pugh (Wirral).