The wave of hope and excitement brought about by the arrival of Rene Meulensteen was quashed all too quickly on Saturday, as Fulham lost their fifth consecutive game in all competitions.
Complementing the initial positive atmosphere were the visible changes influenced by Meulensteen’s appointment – Scott Parker taking the captains armband from Dimitar Berbatov and Aaron Hughes playing in place of the calamitous Philippe Senderos.
We started well. Attacking from the front we pressed and closed down the opposition when they had the ball. Our midfield looked more alive than it had in a long while. Forward passing seemed to be back on the agenda, and there was a sense of urgency when going forward – something picked up on and acknowledged by one of the louder crowds I have heard this year at the Cottage.
Then, as seems to always happen this season, the wheels came off. In some ways it was to be expected. Fulham only ever appear to be truly ‘up for it’ when they go a goal down, as frustrating as that it. Later we did show some grit – notably in the form of Derek Boateng and Scott Parker who both put in more than adequate shifts – but, fundamentally it was too little too late.
Fulham, if you hadn’t already noticed, are very much in the thick of this years dignity-stripping dogfight. While players like Scott Parker, Pajtim Kasami, Giorgos Karagouni and Damien Duff – who may or may not be consistently playing – exemplify hard work and passion, our squad features far too many luxury players.
Last week’s footage of Darren Bent and Adel Taarabt sharing a joke on the subs bench as Liverpool put four past Fulham highlights this entirely – but do their attitudes surprise you?
On well paid gap-years, the pair are still, more than likely, going to be in the Premier League next year, regardless of whether Fulham are or not. Martin Jol, through failing to eradicate the infectious, lazy atmosphere, has unfortunately taken the club back to a time before Roy Hodgson existed in Cottage folklore.
If we are to improve, then the club must revert to an almost instinctive state of working hard to make everything count and taking nothing for granted. Despite what you were told, this year is not going to be particularly pretty, regardless of whether we stay up or not.
While Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov are players that we could have perhaps facilitated at the height of our success, we can no longer. Ruiz’s inability to think on his feet or withstand any form of physical contact and Berbatov’s lackadaisical passages of play, wasteful flicks and continuous arm-throwing when things aren’t going his way disrupt both the progression of the play and the confidence of the team.
Little changes, as aforesaid, were made prior to Saturday’s game against Swansea, but big and bold ones must now follow. Fulham need to remaster the basics to find a balance of seamless stability in all areas of the pitch. Offloading those who aren’t for the cause in January is a great way to start, before rebuilding shrewdly, attracting the correct player for a tactical system – while targets are still interested that is.