It may not have been via the easy route and indeed it may not even have been the first target of the season following that 5-0 opening day thrashing of Norwich, but Fulham have reached 40 points after taking a drawing away at Aston Villa.
It was a point well-earned in an even match that neither team deserved to win nor lose. As much as Fulham threatened on occasion through the class of Dimitar Berbatov, again looking as sharp as he has ever looked in his career, and Bryan Ruiz, who remains one of the most under-rated forwards in the Premier League, the Cottagers were indebted to another splendid display of goalkeeping from Mark Schwarzer.
However, at the final whistle, Jol could rightly be satisfied that he has now led his side to only one defeat – via a last gasp Papiss Cisse goal for Newcastle – in seven league fixtures, an excellent run of form and more importantly, at a time when it was most needed by the club.
What the Dutchman will be most pleased about though is his side’s improvement away from Craven Cottage. While on the banks of the Thames Fulham have often proved capable of shocking even the very best sides over the years, away from home it has been a tale of persistent struggle for the Whites ever since their promotion to the top flight in 2001.
After looking as if he may have settled on a formula that worked on the road last season, the departures of Bobby Zamora, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey appeared to scupper those plans as the Cottagers returned to their at times flimsy ineffectiveness away from Craven Cottage.
However, after the nadirs of the defeats at Liverpool, Manchester City and then Manchester United in the FA Cup, Jol appears to have struck upon a team shape and selection that has proved capable of getting results away from home.
Indeed, in the five matches since that cup defeat at Old Trafford in late January, Fulham’s only defeat was that late one at Newcastle. The games away from home have been no walkovers either, with points ground out at then-relegation rivals rival Norwich and Sunderland as well as an impressive and deserved 1-0 victory at Tottenham.
Those successes have been based on primarily a settled defensive line-up, with Brede Hangeland now in top form once again and partnered by the solid if at times error-prone Philippe Senderos. Schwarzer’s form in goal has also hugely improved since those dark early months of 2013 and the veteran Australian will now surely be extending his stay in West London into next season.
Pessimistic Fulham supporters will note that the side finished last season on a similar run only to begin this one in poor shape but Jol will hope that with no prized diamonds to be plucked away from the side in the close-season bar the ageing and settled Berbatov, that with a successful summer of transfers, this progress can be taken into next season.
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