To say the Cottagers stand on rocky ground at the moment would be a bit of an understatement. Fulham appears to be mired in a relegation battle similar to the one the club went through a few years ago, only for Clint Dempsey to score against Liverpool to help save the club from heading to the Championship. Since that time the team has reached new heights, qualifying for the Europa League and eventually making it to the finals of that competition. This season has seen the club regress back to previous form. After the jump I will look at reasons why, recent results and how the season can be saved.
This past summer Roy Hodgson moved from the Cottagers to Liverpool, an event that has worked for none of the parties involved so far. The Whites sit in 13th place in the EPL, yet they are just two points away from the relegation zone and four away from the bottom of the table. Hodgson's job is on the line at Liverpool as the squad no longer appears to be a lock for Champions League soccer with the emergence of Manchester City and Tottenham. In Roy's stead Fulham decided to bring in former Manchester City boss Mark Hughes, a man who lost his previous job mainly due to drawing too many games. Unsurprisingly, Fulham is tied for the most draws in the league with Everton and Birmingham City.
Injuries have not helped matters, with last year's leading scorer Bobby Zamora and the creative Mousa Dembele missing much of the season so far. Because there is a lack of squad depth this has forced Hughes to use the oft injured Andy Johnson far too often, put Dempsey in an unnatural position and be left with few creative options. The biggest problem is that the system run leaves the strikers on an island without a creative player to pull the strings. The midfield quartet of Etuhu, Murphy, Davies and Duff industrious players who lack the flair to take on teams. When their main options are not clicking, the Cottagers seem to be left with few answers.
For me the biggest dissapointments at Fulham have been the fact that Zoltan Gera cannot capture his Europa League magic in the Premier League, and the failure to bring in either a pacey winger or an inventive midfielders with the money earned from their Europa League exploits. Gera appeared to be a player on the rise last year as he scored six goals in Europe and another two in the EPL. But it appears that the goals were more a benefit of playing with the in form Zamora than anything else. And with funds limited, I believe cashing in on Mark Schwarzer, especially knowing he would likely miss a month of the season due to the Asian Cup, would have been a good way to improve other areas of the club. Stockdale has proven to be a capable understudy and I think he will be a fine keeper to replace the aging Australian international.
As with much of the season, recent results have been up and down. The two matches to kick off the holiday season were perfect examples of why the season has been so frustrating. The 3-1 loss to then bottom of the table West Ham had to be the lowlight so far. The team generally looked uninspired as they slogged their way through a match against a team that clearly wanted it more. A poor showing by everyone in the squad and not a way to enjoy the day after Christmas.
Against Stoke City the team was much livelier from the get go. Despite playing two days after the match against the Hammers, they looked fresh and ready to go. Stoke set up to play their usual anti-football, but it would be to no avail as Chris Baird of all players scored a double to down them. The defender's first goal of the campaign was a thing of beauty, making a darting run through the midfield to rifle his shot home. He enjoyed finding the back of the net so much, he did so again later in the contest. It was a positive result for a team in need of momentum heading into the new year.
After beating the Potters, the Whites lost to a Tottenham team that is flying high at the moment, and even with the 1-0 final I would say the Cottagers were lucky the score was that close. Even though Fulham kept possession well they struggled to create many solid chances and even when they pushed everyone forward the squad appeared to lack ideas.
Their most recent match was a convincing 3-0 win against fellow relegation struggler West Brom. It was definately one of the better recent matches and the team deserved the win as Simon Davies' goal just before the half time whistle sent them on their way. Deuce scored his team leading 6th goal while Brede Hangeland once again used his impressive height to head home the final tally.
Fulham's season remains in the balance as they wait for the return of their injured forward. They must beat the teams below them in the table and hope to gain some points off of those at the top as well. One would hope they would offload an excess player or two while trying and bring in an attacking player who brings something different to the table, though there has been no sign that will happen. Stockdale must also remain a stalwart in goal with the help of the ever imposing Hangeland and Hughes in front of him. There are definately reasons to be optimistic as a Fulham fan going forward but the ledge on which they rest is a precarious one.