When Kevin Nolan equalised for West Ham at Craven Cottage three minutes after half time, the distress levels around the old ground were clear for everyone to see and feel. The Fulham supporters had been here too many times before in recent weeks: a high-tempo, excellent start to matches, often capped with an early goal – in this case, Dimitar Berbatov’s simple header on his 32nd birthday – that gives way to sloppiness and once an equaliser is conceded, invariably defeat.
Thus, Hugo Rodallega’s excellent header, only his third of a poor debut season in West London so far, only a minute after Nolan’s strike for the Hammers, could provide the turning point in a Fulham season that was rapidly degenerating with each match. Thereafter nerves steadied, and the Cottagers were always in control and despite a scare or two – particularly when Andy Carroll came on for the visitors – Martin Jol’s men never truly looked like relinquishing hold of the three points that were confirmed when a Mladen Petric shot trickled in off the unfortunate Joey O’Brien in injury time.
The victory brings some much needed relief to Craven Cottage and indeed a first home win in all competitions in 2013, as well as more importantly lifting the Cottagers a full eight points clear of the drop zone into the comfort of 12th position. This leaves Jol in a much better bargaining position as he attempts to conclude his transfer business before the January window slams shut on Thursday night.
Loan signing from Arsenal Emmanuel Frimpong was an unused substitute against West Ham, but it appears that the Dutchman is not done adding to his central-midfield options, with Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas confirming that Tom Huddlestone is in talks with Fulham, where he would team up once again with the manager who gave him his Premier League debut while in charge at White Hart Lane.
The 26-year-old would certainly offer the Cottagers the creativity and range of passing their midfield has so clearly lacked this season following the departure of Moussa Dembele in August, while retaining the physical strength that comes natural to a man of his size.
Additionally, the loan signing of Holland international Urby Emanuelson could also be wrapped up by close of play on Thursday night. The 26-year-old would provide Jol with a different option at either left-back or left-wing given Kieran Richardson’s inability to stay fit since his summer move from Sunderland. It would also give some much-needed pace to a Fulham side that for all the languid brilliance of Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, can often lack acceleration both in the final third and even defensively, where the likes of John Arne Riise and Brede Hangeland can be caught out.
Jol would almost certainly like to add more but with funds tight as they ever have been at Craven Cottage, it at least appears as if the Dutchman is acting shrewdly in the transfer market and with results finally on the up, Fulham fans can perhaps look forward to a reasonably steady and successful second half of the season.
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