Fulham Focus - Hangeland absence proves decisive in Cottagers' tight defeat
It has been mooted by some that Brede Hangeland’s performances for Fulham this season should perhaps put his place as a cornerstone in Martin Jol’s starting XI into question. However the Cottagers' narrow 1-0 defeat at Stoke on Saturday proved that a declining force the captain may be, but Hangeland’s presence in the side remains a vital one for Fulham’s chances of future success.
Fulham simply could not cope with Stoke’s aerial bombardment in the first half, with Aaron Hughes and Hangeland’s replacement Philippe Senderos comprehensively failing to control the presence of Peter Crouch. Unsurprisingly in a scrappy game that lacked quality and was played in awful conditions, it was Crouch’s aerial dominance which decided the outcome, knocking the ball down for Charlie Adam to strike home the only goal of the match.
Admittedly, the conditions were hardly conducive to the type of passing football Fulham have at times been so brilliant at this season. However, such is life in the Premier League, and if the Cottagers are to progress beyond being a safe, mid-table club, then a degree of adaptability - particularly on the road at places like the Britannia - must become a necessity to achieve.
That is not to say that Hangeland’s mere presence yesterday would have decided the game in the visitor’s favour. Indeed, the Norwegian has been at the heart of a defence that has leaked goals at an alarming rate this season, while going forward - until the latter stages when Dimitar Berbatov began to grab hold of the ball - the Cottagers created little and in truth, were lucky to come away with only a 1-0 reverse.
However, Fulham’s defence can often be confidence-based and unfortunately, fine defenders they may be on their days, that is not a quality that can be immediately associated with Senderos and particularly Hughes, who often appears unsure and lacking conviction when bereft of his usual defensive partner.
Perhaps it is an indication that through all the attacking talents that remain at Craven Cottage through the likes of Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric, it is defensive reinforcements that Martin Jol should be eyeing up in the approaching January transfer window.
If possible, a new partner for Hangeland should be the highest priority, and possibly a younger long-term replacement for the big Norwegian, who is surely reaching the twilight of his Fulham career - particularly if the Cottagers are to continue to espouse the sort of high-tempo, all-out attacking football Jol desires. This is fantastic to watch, but can leave the defence looking increasingly exposed and particularly for the slower defenders such as Hangeland and Senderos, vulnerable to pacy opposition counter-attacks.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG