At last, Magath has gone. While most people were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after the first 3-4 games (particularly considering the integration of youth in to the team and squad) but understandably, patience was quickly lost. There were too many baffling decisions that on no fundamental level, or at least not one that I could see, could be termed rational. Our possession play was okay, but our defending woefully, woefully inept, our team structure arbitrary (Scott Parker as a false 9?), players – very good players at that – frozen out at a whim, no consistency in team selection, an overhaul in the summer which, in my opinion, was far too radical (and I will never forgive Magath for selling Stockdale). There was a huge departure from the Fulham ethos.
Anyway, that’s that. It has been destructive, and almost certainly means that we will be in the Championship beyond next summer, but order is born out of chaos. Kit Symons si the man charged with bringing about that order for now in his role as caretaker manager, but there are many reasons why he should stay.
1. He’s sensible.
This is almost trivial, but the last sensible man we had was Roy Hodgson, a long four years ago now. We need someone to restore order and structure to the first team at least, something that Kit has demonstrated he can do with the youth teams he’s managed. No more leaving Bryan Ruiz out of match day squads, no more lineups that feature 6 defenders, no more Ross McCormack at left wing (hopefully). I think professionalism is the word. His presser today is worth watching (go to FulhamFC.com to catch up on everything). We have players here good enough to get results on the pitch without the most spectacular tactical mind, it’s just a case of organising them in to a cohesive system.
2. He’s Fulham.
In his presser today, Kit has already alluded to the fact that he is a Fulham man, having firstly played a large role in our rise up to the Premier League and then in the background structure of the club since 2009, and right off the bat there will be a ‘feel-good factor’ around the team, a nice contrast to the cloud that had been hanging over the club for a few weeks now. At least he won’t have to wait for results for fervent support from the fans, and his appointment won’t be received with the degree of scepticism appointments usually do.
3. He’s worked with the U21s.
There is not much to be proud of about Fulham at the moment, but one of them is the integration of young players in to our first team squad. We’ve seen some real quality from the likes of Chris David and Emerson Hyndman (the latter of which looks like he’s been playing first team football for years), and Burgess has also made an impression. Symons has worked with the younger players for coming up to five years now, and is familiar with him as well as having partial responsibility for their development. I would also assume they have an affinity with him, which is no bad thing between a boss and a player. It should also be remarked he got some good results as well.
4. He has conviction.
Kit seems to have a lot of good characteristics and elements that means he will be a successful boss, but most importantly is that he wants it. He stated as bluntly as one could his ambition to become manager full-time, and that conviction and resolve will carry him through to success.
This season is effectively a write-off, although we could still push for a play-off place. Why not let Kit develop as first team manager?
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.
As we are about to disembark the rollercoaster of another disheartening month at Fulham think back to the same stage two months ago, where in about 48 hours we signed six players, including genuinely high quality personnel in the form of Holtby from Tottenham and Kostas Mitroglou, the €12m forward from Olympiacos who had fired in an outrageous amount of goals this season and was attracting attention and plaudits from Dortmund and Arsenal. A new contract increasing his release clause and knee injury put other potential suitors off, allowing lowly Fulham (who two days later would drop to the bottom of the league) to nip in and complete what was, at the time, quite a coup. The antithesis of Berbatov, who we let go to Monaco (is there a place more suitable?), Mitroglou was strong, extrovert, powerful, and a hard worker.
So here we are 58 days on and we have seen him on the pitch twice. The ‘Pistolero’ that was supposed to fire our way to salvation has instead spend most of his time trying to get fit. He made his debut while we were still in the lead at West Brom, coming on for Rodallega, but was clearly unfit – and for me the reason we lost is because we no longer had someone up top applying pressure; Rodallega, for all his faults, is physically adept and a trier, and I believe we would have won if he had stayed on the pitch. Anyway, so we give him a bit more time, he goes off and starts for Greece and does a ‘Diarra’ by picking up a hamstring injury before starting alongside Cauley Woodrow, and ever since their Fulham features have gone in entirely different directions as Woodrow kept his place in the first team while Kostas retreated back to the medical room.
Does this then make Mitroglou the worst purchase ever in Premier League history? What was a huge statement from owner Shahid Khan, responding to calls of underinvestment, has turned out to be a complete flop. Like, on an unimaginable scale. Hopefully he can be back for the last half a dozen games, but if we don’t win today then I fear it’ll be too late anyway. Clearly, we would have been much better off keeping Berbatov (I don’t care what people say, he’s unbelievably good, and in a coherent system would have done really well for us), but on the upside we have seen the uprise of Woodrow, who put in a man of the match display as a lone forward.
If we go down, I think the purchase of Mitroglou will be initially thought of as the nail in the coffin, especially to those outside looking in. However, as far as I can see it, he’s picked up a separate injury to the one he had when he joined, and I think we have also been extraordinarily unlucky. I also think we bought him simply because we decided to let Berbatov go and needed someone to fill his place, but that was rash and short-sighted. It’s a shame because the idea was actually pretty good – we definitely needed, and still do, someone to score goals – but it really hasn’t worked out. We also seemed a bit desperate when we realised he was injured and started enquiring for other forwards, like Heerenveen’s Finnbogason, but in the end we stuck with our guns.
What is important to note is that we signed Mitroglou for four and a half years. If it turns out he has a reduced relegation release clause and we sell him this summer for a loss, then yes, it will be the worst purchase probably in England of all time – and already he would have cost us a lot in wages. But if we go down and he fires us straight back up, and we build a team around him (he’s certainly good enough, and should suit Magath, who I also hope stays) then for the long term it still might work out.
Either way, the situation has been a mess and unfortunate in equally huge measures, and I hope that when he eventually gets fit Mitroglou can prove to use he’s more than an expensive sick note.
One of the few benefits of working Saturdays is that I’ve not been able to watch much of Fulham the last few months. Like most, I’ve grown weary of the lackadaisical displays, the disjoint between first team and our impressive youth, the incohesive mess on the pitch and the incohesive messes off the pitch, and yet, like most, I’ll still waste x amount of hours watching experienced professionals contrive to fail with the basics of football.
On the other hand, it means I miss the points I can enjoy, such as yesterday. For a period of time now I’ve accepted that we are destined for relegation and have developed a numbness that will carry me over until August where we can explore lots of new grounds and, with any luck, see this battle-weary ship revived. But it’s funny what a win can do. Suddenly, spirits are lifted among everyone. We’re ‘only’ four points behind 17th place, and the table looks a lot tighter now than 48 hours ago. From what I gather, we actually managed to put in a performance over ninety minutes instead of surrendering after an hour as has been our marker this season.
What really gives me hope however – and this includes if we go down – is the manager. West Brom away was initially gutsy, but we faded away, and Magath’s team selections seemed to point at a continuing, misaligned faith in the talents and mental fortitude of our ‘experience’. That was all refreshed yesterday. It was Mitroglou – what a farce – who was dropped, and not the young Cauley Woodrow. Riether, who’s continued to con his way in to the team despite a desperate level of performance this season, was replaced by Heitinga, who’s come in and really left a positive impression. Kaca got on the team sheet, as did Kasami, even if it did mean Holtby was wasted out wide (please don’t do that Felix). Stockdale too, displacing Stekelenberg after letting in two soft goals in Magath’s games. Add to that, Roberts and Tankovic have had appearances on the bench!
I’m really enthused by firstly Magath’s sensible development in understanding and secondly the declaration that our younger players are up for the battle more than your older players, because I really did think he’d come in and be a brute, a dinosaur. If nothing else, we will have more younger players embedded in the set up next season, and Magath could be the man to develop them. He’s made strong decisions, and clocked in three matches what Rene clocked in a dozen and what Jol failed entirely to see. Already there’s been more progression under his reign than either of our two/four managers have seen this season. With any luck, we’ll continue to win our home games – we have to – and other teams are worse than they appear. Maybe we can even do something against a vulnerable Manchester City, and I’m sure the striker in training will be begging Magath for a chance to be up against Demichelis. Will we see David stake a claim to fix our lack of ball-player in the midfield, or Lasse Vigen?
Anyway, let’s hope this is just the opening credits for The Great Escape Pt 2.
An evening game under the Craven Cottage lights against a sleeping giant who we’ve been pretty successful against in the last few years. Following a determined, resolute display at Old Trafford which, on another day, could’ve yielded three points, there was a genuine optimistic buzz among the Fulham faithful. And, while we displayed plenty of that tenacity and discipline that got us that point on Sunday (only the second time ever we haven’t lost away to United, I believe?), it was ultimately a fruitless match.
We’ve said that a fair few times under Rene now: “We’ve played well but haven’t taken our chances when we had them”, or “Got terribly unlucky”. It is at least an improvement on his predecessor, but this is a critical time for Fulham Football Club, where points are paramount. Performances don’t keep you in the league, after all.
I should add that we seem to have discovered a sense of defensive discipline where there previously had been none, and this, to be fair, is cause for optimism. We have a couple of special individuals in forward positions – Holtby, who has been nothing short of 10/10 since joining, and Mitroglou, with whom we essentially lie our goalscoring hopes – and our counter attacking has been effective when we’ve managed it. West Brom won’t be so forward with their play though, and we will still be vulnerable to counters of our own when we open up a bit, but our full backs were pushed further forward and we displayed an inventiveness and freedom which we didn’t allow ourselves to against United.
Furthermore, Rene’s trust in enthusiastic youth is paying off, giving way to the toxic lethargy which has been our trademark for the last 16 months or so. A special mention must be made to Burn, who’s reputation as a player will reach the heights of his eyebrows at this rate, and Tunnicliffe, who has also come from the Championship to fit in seamlessly alongside our established midfielders. Bent had a really good game yesterday, in a thankless role, and Sidwell over the last two matches has been nothing short of a monster. As has Richardson for that matter, with Kvist’s resolve and intelligence adding shape and discipline to our midfield.
Nonetheless, this means we’ve picked up just one point from our last six games in the league while being knocked out to Sheffield United at home. No matter what they might say, morale in the team must be low, especially after such a heartbreaking loss like yesterday’s – and seriously, what the f*ck was Riether thinking when he made that challenge, absolutely appalling defending and having that linger over us for ten days is just as bad as losing a point.
We will need to go on a magical, sparkling run, one which we haven’t done for ages, instigated by our new signings, beginning at the Hawthorns in a couple of Saturdays. And of course it can be done (who imagined West Ham would be top 10 when we kicked off yesterday from where they were a month ago?), especially if we clock that balance between defence and attack… But I can’t see it happening. We’ve had a few false starts already this season, of ‘kick starting our season’, ‘xx game league’ ‘xx cup finals’, and madness would be expecting a different result. Four points behind 17th, with five needed to escape the bottom three owing to our awful goal difference, with no indication that we can pull off the wins we need… It just seems like too much.
I trust that no one else is as down as Fulham as me, because my word do the club need us to believe.