There’s a buoyancy around Fulham at the moment. The boys seem to have a real spring in their step under Martin Jol, with a run of three straight wins suggesting that a top half finish could be a real possibility. Whereas the previous two victories were gritty affairs, some of the football that swept Wolves aside yesterday was simply sublime. Pavel Pogrebnyak might need a while to master English, but he seems to have taken to our football in no time at all. His composure in front of goal comes as no surprise now, but Pogrebnyak’s awareness and movement have been first class.
Before we all get a little too carried away, there should be a note of caution. Wolves were woeful. Their defensive deficiency gave the Torygraph’s Jonathan Liew perhaps the line of the weekend:
For a team this poor, there can be only two words of comfort: parachute payments.
If Jez Moxey and co aren’t already regretting their trigger-happy firing of Mick McCarthy, Sunday’s surrender should be giving them pause for thought. It could be argued that Fulham’s recent run owes much to the state of the opposition they faced: Stoke, scrambling to adjust to life after the Europa League, QPR, seemingly unable to win at home and facing a relegation fight, while Wolves looked utterly despondent midway through the second half. Given that Aston Villa are hardly setting the world alight at the moment, the insanely optimistic amongst you might even be dreaming of a second away success in swift succession.
Whereas it looked a little difficult to decipher Jol’s plan at first, you can’t fail to be excited by what’s unfolding now. Moussa Dembele looks like he has the freedom of Hammersmith and Fulham at times, appearing liberated by his reshaped midfield role. Danny Murphy seems to be enjoying having the Belgian’s quick feet alongside him in central midfield, as with Dembele as an outlet, the captain can float passes forward at will. As my colleague Nick West wrote on Twitter over the weekend, the ball with which he found Clint Dempsey for the American’s first goal was ‘something too few English midfielders could have done’ and reminiscent of Xavi Alonso.
The fluidity of Fulham’s football is definitely much more apparent than earlier in the season. John Arne Riise’s raids down the left were back with renewed vigour and far greater effectiveness – he was unlucky not to score twice in the first twenty minutes. The Norwegian also made several successful breaks at Loftus Road last week and Jol pointed out afterwards that he was working on getting his full-backs further up the field. Even Aaron Hughes, still very much a makeshift right back, heeded his manger’s words – frequently progressing beyond the halfway line.
It’s the interplay between the front six that is so memorising. Andy Johnson’s ability to work the channels made him such a successful part of Roy Hodgson’s side until he was crudely pole-axed by a Perm defender early in our European run and his movement turns a conventional 4-4-2 into a mobile 4-3-3 almost in an instant. AJ might not score enough goals – although he certainly deserved one yesterday – but his endeavour alone is almost enough to consider extending that contract by another couple of years. Clint Dempsey’s clever runs, the hallmark of his sensational improvement whilst at the Cottage, poached another pair of goals and simultaneously demonstrated the growing breadth of Fulham’s goal threat, which can only be a positive.
Mahamadou Diarra offered a tantalising glimpse of his quality too, although it was hard not to shine during such a rampant team performance. I particularly liked the way he disdainfully bounced off a Stephen Fletcher challenge on the halfway line and his threaded through pass for the fifth was perfectly judged. There will be tougher tests to come, of course, and his fitness remains the real question mark, but Dickson Etuhu might be limited to crowd-pleasing saunters from the substitutes’ bench if the new arrival keeps this up.