Fulham Focus – Defensive frailties continue to haunt Cottagers’ quest for success

We pointed out a few weeks ago that Fulham must overcome their problems defensively if they were to have any chance of succeeding the ambitious goals laid down to them by manager Martin Jol this season. It appears those warnings were not heeded as the Cottagers threw away two points at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday against a Reading team not exactly renowned as high scorers.

Going forward, Fulham were close to their brilliant best. Dimitar Berbatov in particular was simply majestic and is justifying the billing Jol gave to him as the biggest transfer in Fulham’s history when he arrived at Craven Cottage on transfer deadline day. Sometimes it appears quite remarkable that a player of the Bulgarian’s quality is plying at his trade at the usually unfashionable West London club. Indeed, when you consider the striking worries that Liverpool and Arsenal have at the moment to name but two, Berbatov’s presence in the white of Fulham becomes even more stark.

However, at the back the Cottagers remain as shaky as ever and perhaps questions have to now be asked of Brede Hangeland’s position as an indispensable member of Fulham’s backline. There was a time when Hangeland was so dominant that the Premier League big boys were supposedly fishing around the banks of the Thames with very firm eyes on the big Norwegian.

However, one would have to say that based on his performances this season, those days have long since passed him by. It is certainly rare to see the Fulham skipper so flustered at the back. He may never have been the quickest defender in the world but his positional awareness and aerial prowess was almost second to done. Thus, seeing the 31-year-old flailing about in the wake of Reading’s bright and quick, but hardly world-class attackers was a difficult sight to see for all of Fulham supporters.

Of course it would be wrong to solely pin Hangeland’s poor form on his own performances, as strange as that may sound. As good as he has been in the past, his lack of pace in particular has often been covered either by the legs of Aaron Hughes or the protection of the likes of Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu ahead of him during Roy Hodgson’s time as manager.

Under Jol of course, Fulham play a great deal more in the opposition half and Hangeland can often find himself standing on the half-way line and in danger of being exposed to quick counter-attacks.

This is in no way calling for the axing of one Fulham’s stalwarts of their recent seasons of consolidation and success. Rather, perhaps a little more communication and realism is needed between player and manager. If Hangeland feels himself to be struggling he should as club captain have the confidence to discuss matters with Jol and vice-versa.

It could well be the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a push for Europe for Fulham.

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