To many, a grey cloud is looming over Craven Cottage with the promise of a storm. To me, a fog has spread at Fulham FC, mostly thanks to the supporters who seem to have no intention of supporting. This fog is on his way out in time for a mild sunny autumn period. Fulham are without a win in their last five matches, and are without a home win in seven home matches as well. The end of season form from last season was dire, but thankfully we had done enough to avoid what would be a disastrous drop to the Championship. This form appears to have carried into this season, but I would like to point out the lack of a fully fit and yet to gel squad for the reasons towards our four points from five games; which I would like to point out isn’t that bad considering that two of our games were against Chelsea and Arsenal, two away games in the North East which I would expect a point at best from. The only one of our first five games where I would say “Yeah, we should win that one” was West Bromwich Albion at home, and we had that win if not for allowing Gareth McCauley five or six yards to attack a header in the 93rd minute.
It’s now time again for the Capital One Cup, a cup in which we haven’t had much luck in, Fulham haven’t managed to get past the fourth round since 2004/05, with Chris Coleman in charge, Fulham had Edwin Van Der Sar, Zat Knight, Claus Jensen and Andy Cole at the club. Everton are probably the worse team Fulham could have drawn, a known bogey side who are also undefeated this season with three draws and two wins including an impressive 1-0 victory over Chelsea. I hope Martin Jol takes the trophy seriously playing a strong team with a minor number of changes; it’s key to keep the back four of Sascha Riether, Brede Hangeland, Fernando Amorebieta and Kieran Richardson together, Saturday evening was the first time our best defence had played together so building a continuity at the back is key, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Richardson was to be rested with his recent injury record.
As for the midfield, it will be interesting to see whether Ashkan Dejagah will get his second game of the season having not featured for Fulham in the league since our 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers, also Fulham’s last home win in the Premier League. I think Scott Parker will keep his place though he may be partnered by either Derek Boateng, who we haven’t seen since Sunderland away, or Giorgos Karagounis. Another decision for Martin Jol will be left wing; will he give Buomesca Tue Na Bangna (or just Mesca to us) his first Fulham start after his first appearance off of the bench on Saturday? I think Pajtim Kasami’s place behind the striker will be taken by Adel Taarabt who scored his first Fulham goal in this competition a few weeks back against Burton Albion with Darren Bent keeping his place up front for Fulham. Tuesday night is a chance to prove your worth to Fulham FC, which should be a positive influence on players like Adel Taarabt, Ashkan Dejagah and Mesca.
Our Merseyside opposition also have an impressive repertoire of players and have further improved after the loss of Marouane Fellaini with the deadline day signings of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku. Everton played a weaker side in the last round against Stevenage featuring the likes of Tony Hibbert and Bryan Oviedo as they scraped into the next round with a 2-1aet victory. I am not expecting a similar team on Tuesday, though it’s possible we’ll see Joel over Tim Howard and possibly John Stones instead of Seamus Coleman. Other than that, it’s probable that we could see Phil Jagielka partnered in defence by John Heitinga with Leighton Baines the obvious choice at left back. Kevin Mirallas could start, though Roberto Martinez may be tempted to give a starting berth to Steven Naismith. I’m also expected a central midfield of recently fit again Darron Gibson partnered by new signing James McCarthy for his first start in an Everton shirt.
With Steven Pienaar injured, we could see Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu on the left for Everton with one of the better performers of the season, Ross Barkley, playing behind on loan Chelsea striker, Romelu Lukaku. After the appointment of Roberto Martinez, Everton have grown to appreciate possession of the ball more, and are more content with circulation of the football whereas David Moyes’ Everton was more direct. The addition of more belief in retaining possession increases the effect the two superb full backs of Everton as it gives them more time to get forward and almost play as wingers. Also, the signing of Gareth Barry improves the ability to hold the football and to constantly recycle the ball thanks to his technical skill.
The two dangers Everton have in their back pocket are certain to cause problems to the Fulham defence. Firstly, Ross Barkley, who should play in the no.10 position provides pace, power and first class ability to the space behind a lone striker and could cause all kinds of problems to the defence and midfield, which is why I’d perhaps look at picking Derek Boateng to “man-mark” or “shadow” Barkley giving him no time on the ball at all. If we give this kid space, Everton will create chances. The second player Fulham should look out for on Tuesday evening is Romelu Lukaku. The boy beast, the man mountain, the steam train scored goals for fun at West Brom last season using his freakish genetics (speed and strength) to bully grown men and power his way through on goal.
Now I wanted to use the end of this article to discuss the situation with regards to Martin Jol. The pressure is indeed building, with a firm selection of supporters campaigning to get our Dutch chairman out of the club; but what I would like to mention is, for the first time, he finally has a squad he can comfortably call his own. With a limited budget, he has built one of the better squads personnel wise Fulham have seen, which is commendable. Some would say to that, “but where are the results of this good team?” and it’s a fair question, but I would like to add, teams take time to gel and teams take time to grow match fit as a group. Maarten Stekelenburg, a world class goalkeeper, has played once, as has Fernando Amorebieta, Kieran Richardson has only just returned again from injury, Ashkan Dejagah has been injured and yet to be match fit, Darren Bent also barely had a kick last season, so is understandably lacking match sharpness.
People also blamed Martin Jol for Fulham’s performance vs. Chelsea, but I would like to ask, what would the score have been if we had gone for it? We were away from home, against one of the best sides in the league. If we had gone gung-ho, I dread to think what Oscar, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle would have done to Brede Hangeland and Fernando Amorebieta. Against Chelsea, we sat back and hoped to counter attack and maybe a fully fit, match sharp Darren Bent would have nestle his chance into the goal and it’s a different game. The way we set up against Chelsea was to ask them to pass through us, and even though they won 2-0, they didn’t. Even though they won 2-0, they didn’t have a clear cut chance.
We are improving slowly, though we have our faults. We seem to die out in the second half of games, especially vs. West Brom and the Chelsea game. We blew West Bromwich Albion away in the first 45’ and defended superbly well, looking sharp on the counter vs. Chelsea. The second half comes around and the focus, concentration and intensity appears to go, and I simply cannot think why. Is it a fitness issue? Is it a management issue? I can’t tell. Another issue with Fulham under Martin Jol is set pieces. It was a problem last season and it’s a problem this season, conceding twice from them already. We have no problem attacking, we’ve scored twice from them this year, but we can’t seem to keep them out. Is this Martin Jol’s fault? I’m not sure, and I don’t think any of us can be unless we sit in on a weeks worth of Fulham training sessions. It may not be Jol that takes charge of practising set pieces; it may be Michael Lindeman or Billy McKinlay.
A win on Tuesday evening would do wonders for Martin Jol and Fulham in terms of silencing the critics, uniting the squad and building momentum for a difficult game at the weekend against Cardiff. I personally am not going on Tuesday night, but those that do, please get behind the boys and support the club. Though we may not be united on Jol in or out, we are all united in being Fulham supporters and we should do our bit in helping the team, not harming it.
The fog is clearing, come on you whites.