I normally like to open with an image, but this new WordPress update is impossible to navigate. Boo.
Anyway, today is the first day of the season where Fulham can officially be relegated. If we lose to Stoke and Sunderland or Norwich win, then we are down, and that’ll be the end of our first Premier League stint. And, even if we draw, realistically with Sunderland’s run in we can expect them to accumulate a healthy enough number of points to send us down at least. It speaks volumes of their renaissance that we are now looking to catch Villa and West Brom on 35 and 36 points respectively (we are on 31, a single point behind Norwich and Sunderland) with two wins. Their outstanding results at City and Chelsea must be applauded and respected, however bitter a taste it leaves in our mouths, and I’m sure if they hadn’t achieved those results we would be a lot more confident heading in to our 37th game. Anyway, there is no doubt that this match is the must-wins of all must-wins (until next week anyway).
But so was last week. And the way we threw away a two goal lead was just entirely reflective of where we are as a football team right now. A fundamental inability to defend completed with a complete lack of confidence (the way the game turned 180 degrees after Hull’s first was quite incredible) compounding with a symptomatic ill discipline and lack of fitness. The fact is though, as disappointing as it was there was a great deal of inevitability about it.
However, we can somewhat amend that result with a win up at Mark Hughes’ Stoke. The man who left us citing a lack of ambition has lead Stoke to a comfortable mid-table finish, and they’ll be pushing for a top 10 spot as well. It would feel awful if this is the person that sent us down, even if he admits it was a mistake leaving Fulham. With the teams around us picking up surprising wins, our team has absolutely failed to do so this season. A single point is all we’ve managed in 16 games against the top 8 this season. One point. That’s borderline disgraceful.
We need to approach Stoke with the battling qualities of the Spartans but the cool, analytical heads of Grandmasters. It’s going to be an incredibly difficult match, and I worry that we have a profound lack of quality that even if we play well, all Stoke need to do is match us because, at the end of it all, they are quite simply a better team than we are.
There is a better, more suitable time to try and analyse quite why we are where we are at, so for now, today is our day of destiny – and hopefully the 11th of May is our day of destiny too. With another 3000 fans going up to Stoke today, hopefully we can be inspired to another famous victory.
There’s also a great interview with Magath in the otherwise reprehensible Daily Mail, which makes me feel a little better.