During this rut over the last few weeks I’ve been fairly irritated but indifferent to the whole thing. Clearly, our sparkling early season performances had dwindled – having seemingly degenerated from form which reaped results to form which deserved more than the results it got to form which deserves the terrible winless streak we’re now in – but I was certain that Jol would turn it around and we are too good to go down.
This Southampton display, however, was worrying. Very worrying. The previous two results and performances against QPR and Liverpool were terrible, but that is worst I had seen them for a long time and since they came just after a good win over Newcastle it they seemed fairly anomalous. A home game against struggling Southampton however, and you have a right to expect a result and the confidence from the team to get one. A draw can usually be excused if it is an injustice, or had bright points. But today was an abomination. The first 10-15 minutes aside, we couldn’t put more than three passes together, usually because it was a long ball to Berbatov or Ruiz against the tall Southampton back line. It was surreal to watch, and such a far cry from the lovely stuff we played against West Brom, Norwich and even Reading and Arsenal.
But, as I say, it all started so well. Kacaniklic, who was a thorn in Clyne’s backside throughout his minutes on the pitch – although Clyne also had free reign in the Fulham half it has to be said – was back in the side and doing well, offering a constant threat down the left, but it was from the right where we scored our 8th minute goal: Dejagah combining well with Riether to let the right back fizz in a delicious cross which Berbatov eventually tapped in. Berbatov should have made it two shortly after following a cross from the aforementioned Kacaniklic, but his header was well wide despite finding himself totally unmarked.
That, however, was it. We started to struggle to move forward and fluently, and although Southampton didn’t force Schwarzer into a save into the first half we displayed moments of tragic comedy in our back line (for those who saw the match and witnessed Riise walk away from the ball as Ramirez picked it up unworried on the byline, is that the worst bit of defending of all time?). The saviour Bryan Ruiz strolled on at half time and, after a couple of shaky moments, we picked up for the first 20 minutes or so, welcome that we finally had someone who would receive the ball and play it intelligently! Then Jol switched him to the right and we lost all hope. Our manager has a lot to answer for today, and I have no idea what he was doing. I didn’t see the handball but Jol didn’t complain; I don’t know what Baird was doing. Even Schwarzer would feel that he should have saved the penalty. To be honest, I have no idea what any Fulham player was doing out there today, and Southampton could justifiably say they were the better side.
Berbatov is wonderfully arrogant. I don’t mind that he is aware that he is a level above the other Fulham players so long as he’s striving to do his best for them. And while his celebration was perhaps a little ill-judged – I still love it – the message was clear and the message was correct; pass the ball. I could not believe how incoherent we were on the ball, our fluency on the ball totally out of the window. Riise offered absolutely nothing (at least his attacking used to be enough to divert attention away from his defending!), Rodallega was ineffective once he became a left midfielder, for Rodallega read Ruiz on the right, and Baird… Baird…! He has had a chance, and when we needed players to step up and show quality Baird has demonstrated once established consistently in the first team that he has little. Sidwell, at least, was showing some sort of urgency, and what a shame it was that his flying volley flashed just wide.
This poor possession means more focus on our defence which is never desirable when we are looking as brittle as a porcelain spider web and as easy to open up as a can of coke. Senderos is being slated on the message boards, and while I think that’s harsh he’s clearly not the answer. Hangeland is shaky – how bad was his distribution in the second half? – Riise is woeful when we don’t have the ball and Schwarzer is now quite clearly not the keeper he was. Please, a Douglas would be nice Jol.
Right now, this team has too many weaknesses and too little confidence to compensate for them. If against Swansea we demonstrate we have our passing touch still there somewhere, I’ll be pleased. We desperately need to recruit a central midfielder who can get their foot on the ball and drive it forward, someone similar to Dembele even if they won’t come with the dribbling, and a genuine class wide man. Not to mention where on earth have our attacking patterns gone? Jol was fuming in tonight’s press conference, and rightly so, because even as an ardent Jol supporter that performance left me asking so many questions I couldn’t even answer a third of them coherently in a 900 word article.