It may not quite have been as comfortable as Martin Jol and the club’s supporters would have liked but Fulham did indeed take three points at home to Queens Park Rangers on Monday night.
The victory, secured after a vibrant first 45 minutes that saw the Cottagers take a three-goal lead that could and should have been several more, not only virtually assured them of a place in the Premier League next season but also, following defeats by ninth-placed Swansea and eighth-place West Brom at the weekend, saw the gap close on both those sides to just one and four points respectively.
Indeed, Jol’s team have one game in hand on their rivals and the Dutchman will feel that if his side can replicate the performance they showed in the first-half at Craven Cottage against the relegation-haunted R’s, then a repeat of last season’s ninth-place finish could be matched or even bettered.
Certainly, Jol will want to forget a miserable second-half performance that seemed to encapsulate everything that can be wrong with Fulham. Lethargic, complacent, sloppy and ill-disciplined, the Cottagers were arguably lucky to even come away with a point let alone with their eventual three after goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved a Loic Remy penalty and midfielder Steve Sidwell was dismissed with 11 minutes to play.
However, that should not take anything away from the vibrancy Fulham showed in the first period. The visitors’ defence and Christopher Samba in particular may have been culpable on at least two of the three goals scored, but the Cottagers at time looked back to their very best as Dimitar Berbatov, scorer of two on the night, Bryan Ruiz, Damien Duff and Ashkhan Dejagah combined effortlessly at times.
The Bulgarian talisman was particularly excellent, taking his two goals with aplomb to take his tally to five in four games. Fulham remain undefeated this season when Berbatov has scored and that is possibly the starkest statistic when analysing the impact the 32-year-old has on matches when at his sharpest. The immediate question may be whether the West London outfit can keep hold of him in the summer transfer window but Berbatov appears to be comfortable with life at Craven Cottage and at his age, it remains an unlikely prospect for him to move away.
The Cottagers travel to Newcastle this weekend as they face a testing run of fixtures that see them take on Champions League-chasing Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton in successive matches.
Indeed, the feeling around the club may just be one of relief that the points are already on the board ahead of this challenging set of games but having gone to Tottenham just a few weeks ago and won more than comfortably, Jol will be quietly confident of picking up the points to overhaul his near rivals and ensure that a testing season for the club ends with relative success.
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