Club Focus – Fulham – Travel sick

If, six months ago, someone claimed that Fulham would be lost without the presence of Bobby Zamora, they would have been sent to an asylum. However, without him on Sunday, the Whites had to endure another session of being kicked off the park away from home – to the tune of a further two injuries to add to an already thin squad.

This writer has previously alluded to Fulham’s downturn in luck, so he won’t mention Stephen N’Zonzi’s horrible challenge on Zoltan Gera, or how Benni McCarthy’s horrendous corner turned into the opening goal, or how two Blackburn players were not given offside for the second goal. Not forgetting Christopher Samba’s clear penalty offence on Erik Nevland and Clint Dempsey hitting the bar in a moment of class the home side could only dream of on the day, either. But luck does have a tendency of evening itself out over time, so the real issue here is the Whites’ utter incompetence away from Craven Cottage, which must be addressed sooner rather than later. There was some nice football played – which having 59% of the possession suggests – but nice football can be easily nullified by crunching lunges and aerial bombardment of the highest route-one order, as Cottagers fans have discovered over the last couple of away fixtures.

Dempsey was the real shining light in a performance that consisted largely of schoolboy defending from each member of the back four, and the rest of the team dusting themselves down from any one of Blackburn’s umpteen fouls. His spectacular overhead kick deserved much more than to rattle the crossbar, but in the end that attempt sums up Fulham’s day perfectly – attractiveness matters little in such fixtures, and another option is essential if the Whites are not to start looking over their shoulders. The shining light, Dempsey, is now likely to miss most, if not all, of the remainder of the season, leaving Roy Hodgson with no-one to fill Zamora’s boots. The Stefano Okaka deal has officially fallen through, but Hodgson must keep looking for a similar option for a similar player or his side will get roundly turned over in every remaining away game. It is White Hart Lane next, with most of the recognised big guns (plus Liverpool) still to come.

Considering such teams don’t rely on kicking their opposition off the park, Fulham actually have more chance of getting a result at Old Trafford or the Emirates than they do in Blackburn or Stoke, but that chance remains slim without Dempsey or Zamora. Both recent away games have highlighted a new weakness that has slipped into Fulham’s game – defending (or not) set-pieces. Hodgson, for consistency, likes to keep the same back four in matches, but injuries have forced him to draft in fringe players for league games. Either the added unfamiliarity has led to the indecisiveness, or they have simply forgotten how to do their jobs. Whichever way it is, they must work hard on the training ground in the next week as – if he has done his homework – Harry Redknapp is bound to start the obelisk Peter Crouch up front, and he will punish any lapse from corners or free-kicks.

With the injury list as long as the aforementioned Crouch, Fulham can all but kiss goodbye to European football next season, unless they win the Europa League, of course. Instead, attention may be turned to that dust cloud beginning to loom which is the relegation scrap, and how the Whites can avoid becoming embroiled in it. Option one is a dramatic improvement outside the Cottage, which would involve a change of tactics and most likely a little ugliness. Option two would be to sit back, rest on their laurels, change nothing and try to win as many home games as possible. Just in case form at home begins to falter, this writer would prefer the first choice – to grind out some ugly away points. All things considered, the Whites are far closer to 40 points than all those below, so a bit of fight to get to the finish line first would not go amiss.

Having a shorter distance to travel to reach survival can only be a good thing for the players, considering that being away from home appears to bring with it travel sickness. Nausea, vomiting and sweatiness are not pleasant symptoms, but they are ones that fans of the club are only too aware of – only, for them, it is a permanent affliction and comes round more than just the 19 times a year.

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