Fulham Focus – Cottagers experience a worrying start to the season

The Cottagers are perennial poor travellers in the Premier League – only seven away wins in the last three seasons will tell you that – and so the weekend’s defeat at West Ham did not come as a complete surprise. However, Fulham’s poor performance, particularly in their first half horror show, will have left both the fans and manager Martin Jol deflated.

A week that begun so promisingly with their superb performance in defeat at Old Trafford has ended with the Cottagers in complete disarray following their midweek Capital One Cup exit to Sheffield Wednesday and the departures of arguably their two best players in Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey.

While Dempsey’s move away from Craven Cottage has long been mooted, the loss of Dembele, who had been at the heart of Fulham’s previously encouraging start to the season, has left a shadow over the football club.

Fulham’s performance at Upton Park proved to be shambolic at times, the Cottagers were brutally overpowered by the Hammers at times, with the Craven Cottage outfit looking particularly vulnerable with Andy Carroll attacks.

As the likes of Steve Sidwell and new recruit Kieran Richardson toiled, the Dembele shaped hole in the middle of the park for Fulham only grew larger and larger. The Belgian gave their midfield a change of pace with his powerful forward running and while Sidwell is an honest player, Dembele’s craft and creativity were sorely lacking.

At the back, the Cottagers will not be facing forwards such as Andy Carroll every week but one would expect that with the giant Brede Hangeland in the Fulham rearguard, that they would have coped a little better with Carroll’s threat. The ease with which Carroll caused sheer panic in the Fulham defence will have concerned Jol.

The one positive for the Cottagers is the performance off the bench from their deadline day signing, Dimitar Berbatov. The ex United player showed in his cameo appearance that he retains the hunger to match his undoubted skill and combined well with strike partner Hugo Rodallega.

As we head into the international break, Jol will have much to ponder as he looks to rebuild Fulham’s faltering start to the campaign. Berbatov will undoubtedly be key and Jol will need to have him fit and firing on all cylinders if the Cottagers are to sparkle this season without Dempsey and Dembele. Keeping Bryan Ruiz fit will also be essential. The Costa Rican missed the West Ham defeat due to injury but potentially, Ruiz and Berbatov can be a potent partnership.

The West Ham defeat leaves Fulham reeling for the next two weeks but at least their next match sees them return to the home comforts of Craven Cottage. Indeed, the visit of in-form West Brom represents an opportunity for Jol and Fulham to bring some much needed feel good factor back to the club, after a week of such despair and disappointment.

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