Unbelievably, sitting down yesterday to write this article I was struggling to know what to write. Sunday’s performance against Wolves was superb. It was our third straight Premier League victory and we scored five or more goals in a home league game for the third time this season.
Column inches, whether on superb websites like HammyEnd.com or in papers like The Times, are easier to fill when there are problems to be solved or drama to be reported. A smattering of headlines from The Game (Times football supplement) on Monday morning were “Old Ghosts Return to Haunt Tottenham”, “Villas-Boas architect of own downfall” and “Connor is shown size of the task by Russian”.
In a positive world perhaps these could have read, “United’s typical class fells Tottenham”, “Unlucky Villas-Boas sees tenure end” and “Superb Fulham down Wolves”. Now which set of headlines sounds better? Probably the former.
So time for me to help buck the trend. It’s not too often that we as fans can be genuinely proud and boastful of our team. Right now is one of those times.
Over the last three games we’ve scored eight goals and conceded one. We’re up to eighth in the league with a run of favourable games coming up (if we ignore the trip to Old Trafford). Liverpool are now only three points ahead of us in a Europa League spot while QPR and the relegation zone are now 14 points behind us.
As a team, as a club and as fans, we can all be rightly confident at the moment. Therein lies the magic word, confidence. Whether a Vegas casino, a first date or a Premier League match, confidence can be the difference. Sunday’s game was a perfect example of how confidence can make the difference.
For 35 minutes we had knocked on the door, shot after shot, chance after chance, it was only a matter of time before we scored. But for those 35 minutes, Wolves still had some belief. They had a couple of counter-attack chances and were not out of the game.
Then, when Moussa’s shot took the faintest of touches off Richard Stearman to earn Fulham a corner that Wolves were adamant was a goal kick, the game changed. Both in their team and their fans you could see the disbelief. Not another decision. Sure enough Pavel Pogrebnyak then gave us the lead after Stearman himself missed a chance to head clear.
The smile on The Pog’s face said it all; we are a team enjoying a rich vein of form and luck. The look on Wolves caretaker manager Terry Connor’s face similarly so, Wolves were a team bereft of form and confidence.
I stayed up late to watch the QPR documentary “The Four Year Plan” on Sunday evening (fascinating viewing for all football fans regardless of your feelings towards our neighbours) and the one thing that was startlingly evident was a football club’s need for stable and solid leadership both on and off the pitch. Here at Fulham we are lucky enough to have the quartet of Mohammed Al-Fayed, Alastair Mackintosh, Martin Jol and Danny Murphy. Three of those four have been here for a number of years, and it looks like all four are to stay together for a little while yet (provided Danny gets his overdue contract extension).
If you change more than one of the chairman, chief executive, manager, captain quartet in one season you are asking for trouble. That is exactly what has happened at Wolves, and the results were there for all to see on Saturday. Despite the stable pairing of Steve Morgan and Jez Moxey in the boardroom, the sacking of Mick McCarthy two weeks ago followed an unnecessary change of captaincy at the start of the season when Roger Johnson replaced Karl Henry.
On the pitch, Wolves lack of leadership was there for all to see. Stephen Ward, Premier League footballer by virtue of his versatility is no more a captain than he is a Premier League quality left back. A case of you’ve been here longest so you take the armband. Karl Henry, now not even vice-captain despite being famously Wolverhampton born and bred now looked a shadow of the former biting midfielder who’s recklessness cost us a certain striker for most of last season.
If Terry Connor was the Marechal Petain, Martin Jol is becoming our Churchill. The Dutchman is starting to rub off on our players. We are evolving into a free flowing attacking unit with the self-confidence and belief that comes with winning a few games.
Our front players are beginning to play with swagger. This is exemplified by the confidence exuding from the likes of Clint, Moussa, AJ and Pogrebnyak. There seems not a soul in the team who doesn’t believe that we can and will win games.
Aside from those mentioned above, Danny revelled in the space Wolves afforded him, the pass for Clint’s first goal was back to his visionary best. Duffer looked sharp while John Arne Riise’s marauding up the left flank will have given Ronald Zubar more nightmares than a trip to see the Woman in Black. The Norwegian’s first goal is surely just around the corner.
With excellent leadership from top to bottom and a side marvelling some long due self-confidence and belief, it may be time to start looking up and not down. I’ll be making the trip up to Birmingham at the weekend to watch us play Villa and I hope many of you do as well, the noise at Loftus Road a fortnight ago was undoubtedly a contributing factor to our famous victory. Here’s to another one.