Martin Jol praised a superb team effort after Fulham moved closer to Premier League with a narrow win against Stoke at Craven Cottage.
The Fulham manager singled out the work rate of central midfield pairing Steve Sidwell and Giorgos Karagounis, who was preferred to loan signings Emmanuel Frimpong and Urby Emmanuelson, as being as just as crucial to Fulham’s victory as Dimitar Berbatov’s sumptuous first half volley or Mark Schwarzer’s vital penalty save after the break.
I think it was a team effort. If you look at the midfield – Steve Sidwell and Giorgos Karagounis – you saw the work rate and the work effort, because we have a problem with their style. It was a team effort but a couple of players made the difference today. Mark Schwarzer made it our day because we may have lost two points again if the penalty kick had gone in.
Schwarzer made three great saves. In the first half from Walters when they got in behind our defence, then when Philippe Senderos tried to hold off his man – that was a great save – and, of course, the penalty.
Jol revealed that Berbatov’s sprint towards the Fulham bench after his vicious volley had found the top corner was provoked by his own insistence that the Bulgarian striker had hardly scored any volleys since signing for the club from Manchester United at the end of the summer transfer window.
Dimitar always scores between 15 and 25 goals [a season] so it would be silly to think that he can’t score 15 to 20 goals for us – that is what I always have in mind. His goal was a good one but I can remember him scoring a lot of great goals. I said a couple of months ago that he never scored from volleys anymore, that is why he came up to me! It’s the first goal he’s scored from a volley [for Fulham] and in the past he did that all the time. He tried to prove a point because he’s a good sport. We’ve got other players who can make a difference but he and Mark certainly made a difference today.
Jol believes his side were good value for a victory that, ahead of the afternoon kick-offs, lifted Fulham up to eleventh in the table.
Overall, if you saw the first half, I think we were the better team. But it’s always difficult against them. They changed their system, they put all these big guys up front, they play this style and it was not easy for us. We should have scored a second goal and we didn’t, so in the end they could have punished us for the fact we only scored one goal. But, of course, we’ve got Mark Schwarzer who saved the game and the three points for us.
It’s about players. If you’ve got good football players, they can pass it around. Giorgos, for example, in the first half – he made the difference for us in midfield. That is what I knew, and that is what he showed. Of course we’ve got good players but sometimes you need to play ugly against teams like Stoke to get results and to earn the right to play your own football, and I think in the first half we did that.
The Dutch coach was delighted that his side have managed to pick up a couple of crucial home victories since Christmas that could set them up for a concerted assault on the top half as the season draws to a close.
I felt before the game that we had a few vital games this year. West Ham United was one of them, Newcastle United was one of them, and Norwich City last time – because we could have been dragged into a situation with five or six other clubs. Now we are surrounded by Sunderland, Stoke – who are having a very good season – West Ham, who were flying and are now below us. So I think these points are vital to us.