In a recent push to sell tickets, Fulham pulled off a masterstroke when they stuck up big posters of Clint Dempsey at sites around London. That is because no other player better exemplifies the spirit that will be needed to keep the club in the Premier League than this tough, regularly black-eyed Texan.
One of the posters shows Dempsey sporting the shiner he sustained in the Boxing Day defeat against West Ham. And at Craven Cottage last night, when he led Fulham’s attack against West Bromwich Albion, he still bore the violent blue and yellow bruising of yet another black-eye picked up against Tottenham on Saturday.
But that didn’t stop the United States World Cup star bravely heading one of the goals in a timely 3-0 victory that sent Fulham rocketing from 18th to 13th place in the Premier League table.
According to Dempsey, the only way now is up if his team-mates can build momentum off the back of their first home win in six games.
He said: “It’s such a tight League that, if we get a good run of form and results, we can start to move up very quickly. Hopefully, we can do that now.
“I certainly think you’ll see us starting to play better football. It’s difficult to play when things don’t seem to be going your way, you don’t get the rub of the green, your fans are frustrated and you find yourself in the bottom three. The West Ham game was very frustrating but we’ve bounced back from that.
We’ve shown character and a willingness to move forward. In our last three games we’ve set a standard with our commitment and workrate. Now it is up to us to maintain that standard.”
The situation looked bleak for Fulham and manager Mark Hughes following a desperate defeat by West Ham that generated a chorus of jeers from a Cottage crowd accustomed to relative success under Roy Hodgson.
But a win at Stoke, followed by a performance brimming with positives at Spurs which was unlucky not to be rewarded with at least a point, would seem to confirm Dempsey’s assertion that relegation will no longer be a subject for discussion in the changing room.
“The R’ word? Players look at the table, you see where you are and you sense the frustration in the crowd,” he said. “But we have got ourselves out of that situation. Points are hard to come by in this League but in the last three games we’ve got six.
“Now players are coming back to fitness and as soon as we get a full team we’ll see what we’re capable of achieving.”
Dempsey reported that the much-missed Bobby Zamora, who broke a leg back in mid-September, is on course for a scheduled comeback next month. He said: “Bobby has been doing skills work and running.
“It’s great to see him in the gym. He’s good to have around as he’s a funny guy and his skills speak for themselves. He’s able to hold the ball up well, get people involved, and score goals.”
In the absence of Dembele and Zamora, or new attacking blood for which Hughes is engaged in a search during the January sales period, Dempsey has committed himself to scoring the goals that will be vital to Fulham continuing to climb away from the bottom three.
After getting that battered head to a Simon Davies corner in the 55th minute for the second of Fulham’s three against the Baggies, he said: “That’s seven in all competitions and I’m looking to do better than last season’s total which was nine.”
Last night Dempsey was not alone in showing a sense of purpose. Captain Danny Murphy was like a terrier chasing rabbits, winger Damien Duff tormented a weakened Albion defence and rookie goalkeeper David Stockdale pulled off stunning saves to deny both Jerome Thomas and Peter Odemwingie.
But Davies was easily man of the match, throwing himself into tackles, working the wings and giving Fulham a vital lead on the stroke of half-time with a 25-yard screamer that hapless goalkeeper Scott Carson could only help into the net.
The Welshman also set up the third goal in the 64th minute with another corner which the unmarked Brede Hangeland, Fulham’s aerial dangerman, headed home for his third goal of the season.
Hughes, having seen his side draw 10 times this season, said: “I am pleased. That’s two wins in three games. Goals change games and we have struggled in that respect.
“We got a good goal before half-time which settled us and we went away from them in the end. “Draws give you some comforts in terms of how you perform. But that doesn’t move you up the League, three points and wins do. They have unfortunately been lacking in recent weeks but we have addressed