The beautiful game can be beautifully ironic at times.
Liverpool, undefeated in 11 straight, marched into Fulham's typically bulwark-like Craven Cottage yesterday, where the Whites had only managed one league win on the season.
Not only that, but rumors of locker room disharmony persisted, even worsened, over the past week. The latest step? A gag order.
Fulham players have been hit with a gagging order to stop tales of dressing-room unrest leaking to the media.
Players face a fine of two weeks' wages if they speak publicly without the club's permission.
But even still, a Fulham "insider" managed to relay some oh-so-reliable, indirectly sourced, direct quotes to The Sun today. Yeah, it's The Sun, but, at this point, who knows? Could be true.
Aside from that, we've at least heard rumblings of the following:
- Andy Johnson, on his way out.
- Bobby Zamora, not a fan of Martin Jol.
- Moussa Dembele, intrigued at the idea of playing at a higher level.
- Clint Dempsey, flat-out asking for that opportunity at the start of the year.
- Pajtim Kasami, fined for taking a penalty, and the locker room was apparently less than thrilled with the decision.
Monday night we had resurgent Liverpool marching into London, ready to continue their climb up the table over hapless, disharmonious Fulham.
And Fulham won 1-0.
Fulham didn't do anything particularly different than they had the last few games, which were, on the surface, poor. They didn't win a Premier League contest in November. They just lost on the road at FC Twente, putting their Europa League life at risk.
But if you saw the team that took at point at Arsenal a week ago, this was a virtual clone, from construction, to impetus, to philosophy.
Even though Johnson's goal scoring record has been impressive, Martin Jol obviously loves the versatility of playing one out-and-out forward, in Zamora, and three attacking midfielders with ball skills and flair, in Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembele and the gradually emerging Bryan Ruiz.
Watching Ruiz can be fraught with difficulties before moments of brilliance allow you to see what Jol saw when he dropped a Buckingham Palace mortgage on the winger. His first notable influence on the game was a sublime through-ball that played Dembele in on goal. Jose Reina's excellent instincts denied the Belgian's poor finish. So it goes.
The next notables from Ruiz were him overrunning a ball and mistiming a back heel. Later, he executed a perfect back heel that, in its context, allowed a fluid attacking movement to continue. It's stop and start stuff from the lanky Costa Rican, but there is a start, and it is nice to see when it emerges.
Dembele and Dempsey were better, with Dempsey's wanton shoot-at-all-costs mentality and Dembele's smooth dribbling on display. Even with Zamora disinterested, the attack looked lively, and chances generated were relatively even.
Liverpool looked the better side though, but not by much. Both the hosts and the guests shared a number of chances, each doing a tremendous job of finding the woodwork. Jay Spearing's red card was harsh, but it gave Fulham a rare bit of luck and an impetus to attack. Liverpool bringing on Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt for Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll showed they were going for the win, but didn't add much steel in defense.
In the end, it was Dempsey, seizing the opportunity to convert a rebound, that made the difference. Suddenly, Fulham's Premier League streak of winless in three became an unbeaten in two, against Liverpool and Arsenal, and not trailing for a second in either contest.
December will be a brutal month. This was just the second game of eight. But the win, the beautiful, beautiful win, allows Jol a moment to breathe. His team is now five points above the drop and, regardless of rows, regardless of reports, Monday night was a harmonious one at the Craven Cottage.