While Fulham will have been more than relieved to gain a priceless three points at home to Newcastle on Monday night courtesy of Hugo Rodallega’s winner, Martin Jol will still not be sitting entirely comfortably at the moment as he looks to cement the Cottagers’ mid-table position with victory over bottom club Queens Park Rangers this weekend.
Deserved the victory may have just about been but on certain occasions Newcastle were certainly in the ascendency and indeed after Hatem Ben Arfa’s spectacular equaliser, it looked like there could only be one winner. However, it is surely understandable considering Fulham’s fragile confidence of late, victory was never going to be a formality, particularly when the opposition can call on talents such as Ben Arfa.
Moreover, what will perhaps be of greater concern to Jol is Fulham’s lack of attacking vibrancy and tempo. While the Cottagers have been a model of inconsistency throughout this season, one constant until very recently had been their effervescent attacking play. Dimitar Berbatov has undoubtedly been one of the stars, if not the star of Fulham’s campaign so far, but he had been ably aided by Bryan Ruiz, Alex Kakanicklic, Damien Duff, Mladen Petric and Rodallega.
However, in recent weeks both the goals and creativity had dried up, despite Berbatov’s enduring brilliance when on the ball. Indeed, the goals against Newcastle were Fulham’s first since their 3-1 defeat at home to Sunderland and even then, the victory could hardly be described as a sparkling one full of chances and missed opportunities.
Indeed, there seems to be a sense around Craven Cottage that perhaps Fulham’s attackers have subconsciously become a little too reliant on Berbatov. Of course, the injuries in recent weeks to Ruiz, Kakaniklic, Duff and Kieran Richardson have hardly helped matters, with the Bulgarian being the only constant. However, there does appear to be too heavy a reliance on the former Manchester United striker, even when surrounded by other attackers.
Berbatov’s languid style undoubtedly demands the ball to feet and with his talent almost always being far too superior to anyone else’s on the pitch for both sides, let alone simply Fulham’s, you can understand his team-mates’ temptation to simply give him the ball at all times.
However, given the ball too deep and Berbatov’s influence can be nullified. Indeed, in recent weeks, Fulham’s lack of central midfield creativity has seen the Bulgarian drop back almost into a midfield role to try and orchestrate attacks. While he can certainly do that, it is not where you want to see Berbatov on the ball if you are a Fulham supporter.
Perhaps the eventual return of Ruiz from injury could eventually help matters, with the Costa Rican being the one to drop deeper, leaving Berbatov free to roam in and around the penalty area, where he certainly can produce the brilliance to take Fulham up the table and into the top half.
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