Since I’ve started to follow Fulham week in and week out we haven’t had a good start to a season. I would have been delighted with five points from our opening three games and fully satisfied with three. Now I’m standing here after two poor performances and one decent. To be fair the Europa League qualifiers haven’t been too convincing either. The weaker European oppositions could quite easily be overturned though, but the Premier League provides a very different challenge and, as enthusiastic as I am about my impending trips to Odense and Twente, I am worried by our start in the league.
However, there’s nothing worse than watching Fulham on a ‘laggy’ stream on the computer. The fact that it was 90 slow and boring minutes in Ukraine as well didn’t help. We had one shot on target and even if new-boy Kasami missed a sitter, Dnipro were much stronger and I could easily have seen another goal from the hosts. Under Hodgson these performances were quite common, with the difference that we rarely conceded, and didn’t even give away many chances. Jol needs to rethink, the way we’re playing now is just a diffuse mix of Hodgson’s passivity and Hughes aggressive style of play. We’re not pressing our opposition and forcing them to make errors in the build-up play and we’re letting them have too much space and time in our half.
If a defeat in Ukraine wasn’t enough, Jol, his players and approximately 500 supporters traveled up north to St James’ Park to record a one goal loss for the second time this week. Even if we couldn’t complete a late fight back, the players in the weird goldish/skincolourish shirts did at least make an effort worth to be mentioned compared to the previous four displays. If it was Newcastle that were poor or if it was a sign of some light at least I don’t know, but I left St James’s Park feeling that we did ok, even if ok wasn’t enough this time. Matthew Briggs, Fulham’s best performer by miles, must have spent several hours at the gym this summer because he’s now winning tackles like nobody else, a very welcome skill to add to his fine pace and brilliant technique. I must say that if he continues his fine start to the season, Briggs is someone we will definitely have to fight to hold on to. Not many good, young English left-backs out there, are there?
Finally, some words about the reserves yesterday (see Lork’s brilliant report here). Although Bolton were absolutely dreadful, the Fulham team showed pace, finesse and, above all else, clinical finishing. Alex Kacaniklic ran the Bolton back four ragged and often combined with the outstanding Marcelo Trotta, who perhaps had six or seven chances and scored five of them. It’s hard to properly evaluate both performances and potential when Bolton were so abject. I liked Tom Donegan though, a fighter and tackler who also can provide a good pass and score goals, as he showed with his sublime strike yesterday. A nice evening at Motspur Park and if the boys continue like this I hope we can see one or two in Jol’s first-team squad in the near future.
So, here we go again. A new season is underway and so are our struggles away from Craven Cottage. Any thought of a new era on the road with Martin Jol in charge disappeared within the first 45 minutes at Molineux. Surely, things could have been different. If Damien Duff had found the back of the net instead of the hands of Wayne Hennessey could we have seen a different display, but lack of concentration and discipline, maybe caused by the 3-0 triumph over Dnipro on Thursday night, gave Wolves just the game they wanted. However, here are some thoughts from, presumably, the only Swede who went to Wolverhampton.
Even if Mark Hughes wasn’t a favourite of mine, I did appreciate the braveness he instilled in the players ahead of away games. It resulted in a level of adventure that we never really saw under Hodgson and Jol’s task is to try and maintain that. Nevertheless, the display this Sunday neither gave us proof of a daring Fulham that were attacking as under Hughes last season but neither that we defended like a Hodgson side either. It was just a passivity that didn’t give us the time, space or the chances we needed. Although it was a hungry home side we played, we kept giving the ball away even when there were no pressure. In my opinion, that’s where we lost the game. Our poor distribution made us chase ghosts for most of the game and the few actual times we really got into them, largely thanks to Steve Sidwell in the second half, we were quick to give the ball away again.
Furthermore, there are questions over the tactics and team selection. Jol shouldn’t have started Kasami, his performance yesterday was a big blow for those of us who believe he could be the next big thing. Just let us hope that the 19 year old has his head rightly screwed on and can bounce back from his first taste of the Premier League football to shine in Europe on Thursday. In a game like this it was clear how much experience is needed and I felt we missed Davies almost as much as we missed Zamora. Duff and Davies are hard workers that very seldom put a foot wrong defensively, which was clearly shown on our first successful away game last season at the Britannia. Now Aaron Hughes didn’t get the support he needed to assert himself against the excellent Matt Jarvis, who did whatever he wanted down Wolves’ left wing.
Jol has a dilemma regarding his new back four. It is brave to separate on Hughes and Hangeland, a combination which has been one of the league’s finest centre defenses the last three seasons. I think I can see what the Dutchman has in mind with Riise adopting a more attacking role when we’ve got possession but at Molineux the Norwegian just looked out of position whether he was on the attack or at the back even if Hangeland, Senderos and Hughes formed a back three when we were in possession. Wolves executed their game plan perfectly by letting Jarvis time after time go past Hughes and get a cross in. The Northern Ireland captain had a tough afternoon at Molineux and it didn’t help that Kasami struggled even more when trying to assist. For me, Hughes lacks the pace and timing of the challenge to be an effective full-back. He’s absolutely excellent in the centre, but it’s not only Jarvis he’s gonna have problem with this season. I say bring back Chrissy Baird, who might be on his way out from the club or as far down in Jol’s freezer that you’ll probably need to defrost him before he can play again. He’s not the one with the most pace, but perfect timing and positioning which fullbacks need.
Well, the season has started and so has the excitement. For the players two tough journeys as well as games awaits when the place in the Europa League should be secured in Ukraine on Thursday followed by the longest away trip in the Premier League for in-form Newcastle on Sunday. I’m not really looking forward to the six hour coach journey to get there, but if the performance is as bad as against Wolves I doubt the journey home will be much more fun.