The Fulham Chronicle carries an interesting line from Martin Jol’s press conference ahead of the visit of Everton to Craven Cottage. Martin Jol, in his characteristically convivial style, has hinted that his side might be missing one of the men he left leave for Blackburn in the summer.
Whilst Danny Murphy’s leadership and range of passing was always likely to leave a squad weaker in its absence, Jol has hinted that the lack of a combative and physical midfielder in the mould of Dickson Etuhu might have played a part in Fulham’s recent collapses away from home. The Dutchman cut a frustrated figure after full time on the Madjeski Stadium touchline after the Whites had twice thrown away winning positions against Reading – something which was tougher to take after his side squandered a late lead at Southampton three weeks previously.
You could say it’s coincidence, but it happened before at Southampton, almost in the final minute. We must try to improve the mentality.You shouldn’t have that problem in the last five minutes, but it’s football.
It can happen because it’s them or us, so you have to be at the end of that ball. To go ahead twice away from home – we should have buried it. But we gave away two or three free-kicks.
Last year, we never gave away a lead, an we need to be a bit more clever, not to give away free-kicks around the box. If you do, you have to be tough to be on the end of it. We’ve got the players to do that – although last year we also had Dickson [Etuhu] for the last 10 minutes and [Clint] Dempsey, so it’s changed a bit.
Jol’s right about one thing. The loss of couple of players shouldn’t make a team weaker in the final ten minutes when defending set pieces, but considering Fulham have had to make and mend in central midfield after the departure of Mousa Dembele and an injury sustained on international duty by Mahamadou Diarra, it could entirely possible that Jol wonders whether he should have persuaded Murphy to stay or certainly kept hold of Etuhu.
The Nigerian was unfairly maligned at the start of stint at the Cottage but his partnership with Murphy matured into one of the most effective pairings in the Premier League. They weren’t likely to garner too many headlines, but between them they excelled at the unseen hard graft – tackling, tracking back, cajoling and organsing and, most importantly in the context of keeping things tight away from home, protecting the back four. Like John Pantsil, Etuhu benefited greatly from Roy Hodgson’s stewardship: becoming the midfield enforcer whose presence and stamina helped fire Fulham all the way to a Europa League final. When Mark Hughes released the shackles somewhat, Etuhu was often influential at the other end of the field, scoring a memorable equaliser when it looked as though the Whites can contrived to throw away a winning position at Blackpool.
With Etuhu now in the middle of a topsy-turvy Championship season, Fulham will need to find another imposing presence to protect their leads. Towards the tail end of his time at the Cottage, Dickson became something of a crowd favourite for his cheery demeanour during his shuttle runs down the touchline as a substitute. Jol certainly isn’t the only one who remembers his crucial contribution with fondness.