What sweet succor was Monday night! A 4-1 victory away from home? Not one but two thunderstrikes anointed by Thor himself? A flippin' flying side volley from Philippe "Concrete Boots" Senderos? Philippe Senderos?! Hang on. I need a moment.
Where were we? Ah yes, Monday night. For the first time all season, Fulham supporters were given cause to wallow in unabashed joy rather than the high tension frustration to which they've become accustomed. For once, the side look fluid, confident, positive, and, dare I say, incisive.
Pajtim Kasami, he of the absurdly strong "weak foot goal", played the sort of match you pray for from young, unpolished talent - industrious, audacious, and fearless. Steve Sidwell, who surely must have blacked out mid volley to have allowed such artistry to flow through him, put in a vintage box-to-box performance winning 7 of 8 tackles and completing 37 of 40 passes. Dimitar Berbatov, so lethargic, insouciant, and sluggardly in the matches heretofore, has convinced me he is in fact a vampire. From his applause and encouragement to Kieran Richardson in the opening moments of the match to his industrious work defending from the front and his often times urgent approach play, Berbatov was a changed man under the floodlights at Selhurst Park. Night falls and the beast feeds!
Supporter reaction on social media reflected as much, with sudden sincere support for Martin Jol making the rounds and the massive depressive sentiments of the last two months being replaced by the manic optimism of the moment.
Herein lies a caveat.
As delicious as Monday night was, sobriety should characterize any Tuesday morning assessment. Have fun, just don't have amnesia. Crystal Palace entered the match one of only three sides below Fulham in the table and had the second worst goal differential in the Premier League even before last night's 4-1 drubbing. It would not be unkind to suggest that Ian Holloway sides are not marked by their miserly defenses or suffocation of space in the middle third of the pitch. Until Pajtim Kasami's glorious and divine strike at the end of Sacha Reither's equally sublime ball, Fulham were reading from the same script they've read from since last January - possession without penetration, no outlet up the pitch to stretch the opposing defense, poor set piece defending, and geologic build up play. Brede Hangeland, our captain and formerly unassailable defensive stalwart, was having a howler.
Even after Sidwell's back breaking screamer, the facts of the match suggest Fulham are still very unassured Premier League status come the end of the campaign. Crystal Palace managed 14 attempts at goal to Fulham's 9 and completed and attempted more passes in the attacking third. They completed and attempted more crosses and also ceded less territory. Fulham were 4-1 up with with well over ten minutes left to play and rather than bring on Giorgos Karagounis or Derek Boateng to kill the match and shore up what was becoming an increasingly open midfield, Martin Jol chose instead to bring on a winger and it could be said Palace were unlucky not to have found the back of the net again.
One narrative of the match could read that save for two black swan strikes and a poor clearance from Julian Speroni that lead to Berbatov's goal on the ensuing corner, Palace were very much in the game.
I'm not suggesting that everything is still doom and gloom for Fulham, nor am I trying to take anything away from a match that may very well become a catalyst for dragging the club out of the stupor of the past several months. The emperor is not naked, he's just not sporting anything from Savile Row. My issue is that the sample size is entirely too small to draw any substantive conclusions.
Opta's player influence maps show Berbatov finally making his mark higher up the center of the pitch, no doubt in part because of Darren Bent's thankless occupation of the Palace centerbacks. The statistics suggest the faintest blossoming of a partnership between Bent and Berbatov with the Bulgarian finding Bent 4 of 4 times in the Palace half, a result of him finally playing closer to the England big man. Kasami and Bryan Ruiz were able to come infield to collect the ball and create, facilitating Berbatov's aforementioned more attacking positioning. Width was provided largely by Richardson and Reither, which served to give Fulham more shape and support in the middle of the park.
It was an encouraging pattern of play, but for now last night's win was as unexpected and rare as Kasami's belter. Fulham's next three matches are Southampton (A), Manchester United (H), and Liverpool (A). Keep calm.