Fulham Focus – Cottagers show signs of progress despite letting lead slip

Ultimately, Fulham may be disappointed to have only come away from Sunderland with a point after racing into an early two goal lead thanks to the cheekiest of penalties from Dimitar Berbatov and a close-range Sascha Riether strike.

Indeed, boss Martin Jol will feel more than aggrieved after seeing the penalty decision which brought Sunderland back into the match. Philippe Senderos did pull back Danny Graham inside his own area but frankly, the contact was minimal and on par if not a whole lot less than a lot of what we often see from defenders in the penalty box.

However, it was given and once Sunderland had scored it was always going to be difficult for Fulham, notoriously poor away from home, to come away with the victory. Indeed, after Stephane Sessegnon fired home the equaliser with 20 minutes to play, one rather expected the Cottagers to crumble and concede a third.

However, Jol’s men have shown an upturn in form of late and they showed admirable effort and defensive aptitude to hold on for a point to lift them into the top half of the table for the first time in 2013.

With West Brom a full seven points ahead of them in ninth place, 10th position looks rather like it could be the highest achievable position for Fulham this season. That may come as a disappointment to manager Jol, who earlier this season had been targeting the upper echelons of the table, particularly when his options included Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey.

However, after the duo’s departure to Tottenham and the downturn in Fulham’s form since early November that at one point saw them perched perilously in touch with the relegation dogfight, the Dutchman will surely be more than pleased to end the season in the comfort of mid-table.

After the nadir of their 4-1 FA Cup surrender at Manchester United in late January, Fulham appear to have employed a back to basics approach and it is one that has suited them well, with only one league defeat and four goals conceded from their five matches played since then, two of them coming at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. The defenders defend, the midfielders go forward and track back with equal vigour while up front, Dimitar Berbatov has been told to stay as close to the final third as possible, where he can inflict the most damage.

The Bulgarian may hog the headlines and quite rightly so considering the way he has gloriously led the line for the Cottagers at times this season but in recent weeks, winger Ashkan Dejagah has caught the eye, so much so that Alex Kacaniklic has been allowed to join Championship outfit Burnley on loan.

The Iranian arrived from Wolfsburg in the summer having somewhat lost his way in the Bundesliga due to injury problems. He undoubtedly took some time to find his feet in the Premier League but recently, and particularly against Sunderland, Dejagah has been most impressive. With challenging games to come against Tottenham, QPR and Newcastle, Martin Jol will be hopeful that the 26-year-old can continue his recent form.

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