In a result few saw coming, Fulham thrashed Capital One Cup winners Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.
The 3-0 win not only emphatically brought to an end a worrying run of five consecutive defeats but also lifted the Cottagers up to a 12th-place finish in the 2012-13 Premier League. That still marks a regression of three places and nine points from last season for Martin Jol’s men, while the Dutchman will wonder just how the likes of Norwich, West Ham, Swansea and West Brom, sides of admirable quality but not of the sort that Fulham’s squad contains, were able to finish above them.
Indeed, the win in South Wales showcased Fulham at their most convincing best and sent a pertinent answer to Jol’s critics, who had been suggesting the Dutchman’s departure in the week in place of Brighton manager Gustavo Poyet.
Led by the excellent display of youngster Alexander Kacaniklic, who may wonder exactly why he was farmed out on loan at Burnley earlier this season after such a promising breakthrough campaign in the top flight, Fulham eventually ran out comfortable winners thanks to goals from the Swede and two more late in the second-half from Dimitar Berbatov and Urby Emanuelson.
Berbatov in particular was at his bewitching best for the Cottagers, netting his 15th league goal of the season, his highest tally in all bar one of his seven seasons in English football. It is also the highest ever tally recorded by a Fulham player in the Premier League, surpassing the 13 scored by Louis Saha in the 2003-04 season before his mid-campaign switch to Manchester United.
It will also have pleased Jol to see countryman Emanuelson end his season with a flourish. Signed on-loan from Milan in January, the Netherlands international has failed to match the high expectations he brought with him, though in recent weeks, as the performances of his teammates have dropped around him, Emanuelson has been a bright spark and a goal was a fine way to end his loan spell at the club.
The game could also prove to be the final farewells for Mark Schwarzer, John Arne Riise, Emmanuel Frimpong, Eyong Enoh and Giorgos Karagounis, with all bar Riise set to leave upon the expiration of their contracts in the summer.
As satisfying as the victory was, Jol will be under no illusions that the hard work must begin immediately if Fulham are to progress next season. Nobody wants another repeat of this season, where the Cottagers are closer to the relegation zone than they have been since the early days of Roy Hodgson’s tenure at Craven Cottage.
The first question that must be answered however is that of the manager’s future. Fulham certainly cannot allow the situation to drift for too long. If Jol is to depart and Poyet is to arrive, it must be done quickly if the club is to give itself the best chance of making the changes to the squad it so desperately needs.
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