Fulham take to the road again Saturday in search of three more points and a possible respite from the suffocating panic of the relegation zone. What a difference a few years makes?
2010's Fulham vintage rode workman like performances from B level Premier League talent all the way to the Europa League final while 2010's Hull City vintage crashed out of the Premier League with a motley crew of aging grafters and underperforming loanees. Sound familiar?
I don't want to take anything away from Fulham's Boxing Day away victory against Norwich (really, I don't), but when as a club you've staked a claim to one of the relegation spots, the next match is always the most important match; the "must win".
Things may finally be coming good, but as I suggested in my preview to the Norwich match, it's going to take a series of winning performances in winnable matches for Fulham to make good on the promise they've thus far shown under Rene Meulensteen. Against Norwich, the Cottagers found a way to win with something much less than a first choice XI and an alarming regression to the sort of set piece defending on display under Martin Jol. Fulham's Boxing Day performance will not get even a point against Hull City, even with the future Tigers missing Allan McGregor and David Meyler through injuries sustained in a rather unfortunate Boxing Day loss to Manchester United.
Tom Huddlestone has been a revelation for Hull City and I can't help but wonder what might have been had the unfortunately coifed Englishman found his way onto the books at Craven Cottage. Against Norwich and in the absence of the long-toothed Giorgos Karagounis, Fulham's lack of a deep-lying, distribution oriented midfielder was painfully exposed. Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker did what they could, but Parker's match-winning hammer strike, lovely though it was, somewhat papered over the duo's all-too-often wasteful passing and static movement.
Fulham have recently been linked with AS Roma and USA midfielder Michael Bradley, and all I can think is please, please, please let this happen. He's like a much more stoic, much more mobile creative Karagounis and he's only 26. That's like 83 years younger than Karagounis. Shahid Khan, sign that check!
My intuition tells me that Meulensteen thought at least a point in Norfolk with a makeshift XI was a possibility. Hence, the resting of Karagounis and Ashkan Dejagah (who, by the way, was infinitely more impressive in his cameo than Damien Duff was in his titular role). However, Meulensteen wound up with all three points even with Dimitar Berbatov a missing man due to his groin injury and the alarmingly fragile Maarten Stekelenburg sidelined with an ankle problem.
Now on to an injury weakened Hull City with at least two more points than were possibly expected and the influential figures of Ashkan Dejagah, Giorgos Karagounis, and Dimitar Berbatov well rested and ready to go. Moreover, the club finally found a way to weather the storm, endure some awfully bad luck, create some of their own, and take all three points away from West London. Also, Steve Bruce's nose.
I expect Meulensteen to go for it. Fortune favors the bold.