Watching Sunday’s first half capitulation to Manchester City was pretty traumatic. The ease with which Mancini’s millionaires strolled through a once impregnable Fulham defence was worrying. The second 45 minutes might have been a marginal improvement, but the half-time deficit rendered that irrelevant. Mark Hughes looked crestfallen on the touchline, especially as he would have seen this game as an opportunity to prove his managerial acumen to his former employees.
The dismantling of Hughes’ new side has led to many questions about his suitability for the Craven Cottage. It seems that managers get less and less time these days. The priniciple reason for worry seems to be Fulham’s unnerving proximity to the relegation zone. Sitting a smidgen above the drop after fourteen games would not have been what anybody had in mind after Hughes took over from Roy Hodgson back in July, but not since Jean Tigana has a new manager had a rip-roaring start to his tenure – and that was back in Division One.
Just as one glorious victory doesn’t catapolt a team of also-rans to world class status, a single defeat won’t turn a decent side into relegation fodder. I’m not going to pretend that everything is rosy at the moment (that would be delusional), but for me it’s too early to turn a manager only appointed in July. For all the talk about Hughes having a good side to build open, the squad that Roy Hodgson bequeathed him was ageing and is painfully lacking in depth beyond the first eleven. Injuries to key cogs in the side (such as Schwarzer, Etuhu, Murphy and Zamora) have robbed him of the luxury of consistency of selection, while Hughes didn’t have the time to plot a squad overhaul in the summer transfer window much less carry it out.
You could make a convincing case for Fulham deserving more than their meagre return of fourteen points so far. The Whites have been badly disrupted by untimely injuries. Neither Moussa Dembele, so impressive since signing from AZ Alkmaar, nor Carlos Salcido have looked right since returning from their spells on the sidelines. Salcido, castigated by some for a sluggish performance on Sunday, didn’t appear fully fit and was up against the world class David Silva. Not a great combination. Then, consider we’re missing Bobby Zamora – the focal point of Fulham’s attack, without whom even Hodgson’s teams struggles. Factor in some controversial refereeing decisions and a bit of misfortune and it’s not a massive stretch to suggest things could have been a bit different.
One of the major plus points about Hughes’ arrival has been that we have looked much more positive on the road. Yes, the neighsayers will retort that we haven’t recorded that elusive away win yet, but he’s far from alone in being unable to turn that around. Had Dembele shot a inch or two lower at St. James’ Park, Fulham might have got their reward for an adventurous team selection and a more expansive away performance than seen in the last couple of years and put some distance between ourselves and the rest of the stragglers towards the foot of the table.
And now we come to my major gripe with those advocating Hughes’ removal. Early league tables are notoriously congested. If Tottenham had axed Harry Redknapp after his first ten games or so, they wouldn’t be the resurgent outfit that are pressing for a regular place in the top four and gracing the Champions’ League now. Two successive wins and you’ll be on the cusp of the top ten, the target that Hughes felt was achievable in July. He has yet to have a full transfer window to put his stamp on the squad, nor enough time to pick a settled starting line-up. The start’s not ideal, but he deserves a chance to put his right. Or have we become so spoilt by the run to Hamburg that immediate success will only satisfy? Surely not. Fulham fans are far too sensible for that.