At the final whistle of Fulham’s fifth consecutive defeat to Manchester United in all competitions, Martin Jol must have wished that the floodlights had stayed off at Craven Cottage after a failure just before half time. In a poor game that contained very little in the way of goalmouth action from either side, Wayne Rooney’s superb 79th minute proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Although the pain will be numbed by Fulham’s victory over West Ham in their previous fixture, Jol will be aware that wins for Reading and Newcastle coupled with his side’s defeat brings the Cottagers back in touch with the relegation mire again.
Perhaps if Dimitar Berbatov had been available for selection then the Bulgarian may have produced a moment of magic akin to Rooney’s to help tip the encounter in Fulham’s favour but really, Jol can have little complaint with the end result, United just having the firepower to sneak the three points.
However, the Dutchman can at least rightly be pleased with his side’s defensive performance. Playing against the likes of Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Nani and Antonio Valencia can and has troubled even the best defences this season. Considering Fulham have shipped 13 goals against the Red Devils in their four clashes since Jol arrived at the club, one feared that the Cottagers’ backline could be in for another torrid afternoon on Saturday evening.
Yet the solid displays of Philippe Senderos, Brede Hangeland – until his half-time withdrawal due to injury – replacement Aaron Hughes and full-backs Sascha Riether and John Arne Riise are ones that can be built upon for the rest of the season. The names mentioned are certainly not bad defenders but when lacking in confidence as they have been for some time in this Fulham side, they can be prone to lapses in both concentration and execution. Thus, Jol will surely be hammering into them that they were 11 minutes away from keeping a clean sheet against the potential champions of the Premier League and the division’s top scorer in Van Persie.
Indeed, with crucial games to come against Norwich, Stoke and Sunderland before the West London derby at home to Chelsea, Fulham will hope that an improved defensive solidity can provide the platform for Berbatov to return from injury and provide the brilliance to bring his side firmly away from the choppy waters of the drop zone.
There is no doubt that this Fulham side remains a work in progress with the midfield in particular remaining rather passive and uninspired. However, Jol will hope that the return of Berbatov’s creative influence, supplemented by loan signings Urby Emanuelson – who made an encouraging debut off the bench against United – and Emmanuel Frimpong, can boost the Cottagers until the end of the season. Then, provided he remains as manager, Jol can begin to add some more permanent solutions to the problems that his side face.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG