Aaron Hughes has warned against the danger of rifts developing in the Fulham dressing room as the club took stock of their parlous predicament and looked to fight their way out of trouble at Stoke City tomorrow.
The central defender opened the scoring in the home game against West Ham United on Boxing Day and he might have hoped that the headlines would be about his first goal since August 2004 and how it inspired the team to victory.
Instead Fulham’s lack of cutting edge up front was exacerbated by unusual defensive deficiencies as West Ham battled back to win 3-1 and drag their rivals into the Premier League’s bottom three. The Craven Cottage crowd, who have seen their team fail to win in eight matches, turned on the manager, Mark Hughes, to call for his dismissal but his namesake in the starting XI called for unity and cool heads.
“The most important thing for us is that we don’t start pointing the finger and saying we’re not scoring goals at one end and conceding them at the other and start picking holes in our team,” Aaron Hughes said. “We must stick together and keep going because for the vast majority of that first half against West Ham we were playing well.
“We haven’t gone from being a good side to not a good side overnight. There are things we can work on but there are a lot of good things in the squad we’ve got to hold on to and keep building on.”
This Fulham team is almost identical to the one that enjoyed such a memorable season last time out under Roy Hodgson, when they reached the Europa League final and finished in mid-table comfort in the Premier League. Hughes, who was appointed in July, has attempted to impose his own more expansive style yet the transition has not been smooth.
“I fundamentally believe that we are very close to being a very good team,” the manager said. “Historically, because of the work we do with the players and the way we train, my teams always finish stronger in the second half of the season and I have no reason to doubt that will be the case for Fulham in 2011.”
After Stoke Fulham travel to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday before hosting West Bromwich Albion next Tuesday. “We’re disappointed but the confidence hasn’t drained out of the side,” Aaron Hughes said. “We still believe in each other and still know we can put a lot of things right.
“Last season’s gone. We know what we can do and what we are good at. We know what got us success over the past couple of years, so we’ve just got to keep working hard and not let the belief and confidence go because, if that goes, then we really are in trouble. We’ve still got a lot of togetherness and confidence in the dressing room that we can turn it round.”