With Fulham’s free-scoring summer fun now firmly in the past, the critics have been vocal in suggesting that Martin Jol’s selections and style of play are to blame for some fairly insipid displays. Those casting doubt on Fulham’s direction found Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov culpable during Saturday’s turgid draw at Norwich – but for me that’s far too simplistic.
Berbatov is beginning to attract trenchant criticism from certain sections of the Fulham fans, especially for his habit of dropping deep when starved of service. It was this – and a perception that he tended to slow the pace of the game at times – that saw him frozen out at Old Trafford, but the Bulgarian’s only forced to roam in search of possession with the midfield failing to function as fluently as they did earlier in the season. There were signs that the robust Frimpong, who made his debut alongside the returning Steve Sidwell in the centre of the park, could add a little bit of bite to Fulham’s play at Norwich – and with a couple of weeks to work on things down at Motspur Park, there might be a bit more spark when Stoke come to the Cottage. Dropping Fulham’s best source of a goal would be madness.
Equally, jettisoning Fulham’s most creative player would hardly help enliven things going forward. Ruiz toiled manfully in a role that wasn’t suited to him on Saturday – operating out wide in a four man midfield, with little room for the freer role that allows him to escape the attentions of opponents. In a quiet afternoon only a couple of days after starring for Costa Rica against Panama in their latest World Cup qualifier, Ruiz still came the closest to scoring for Fulham – with a powerful strike that winded Sebastien Bassong after it struck the Canaries defender in the throat.
Injuries have disrupted Ruiz’s season so far but his contribution has been impressive. Sensational against Arsenal and Fulham’s most potent threat against the league leaders in our narrow home defeat just over a week ago, his contribution compares more than favourably with the league’s leading lights. In eighteen league appearances, Ruiz has laid on six goals – the tenth best provider in the Premier League – and all of those listed above him have considerably more minutes under their belt this season. Damien Duff, quietly having another excellent campaign, is joint third with seven assists.
Ruiz and Berbatov might sometimes seem like they are playing in slow motion – but the pair are more likely to be the solution to Fulham’s failure to find the net on a more regular basis rather than the problem. When the Costa Rican operates at the fulcrum of Fulham’s midfield, the Whites look far more threatening – and scapegoating the club’s most creative force simply won’t end our scoring woes.