As one Tweeter put it, “one of the worst losses for Fulham I’ve seen in a long time.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. There’s a lot to break down here, and I’ll get into more specifics later, but boy, a I’m putting a lot of the blame here today on new manager Martin Jol. A disasterous lineup card and still his refusal to make something happen now in the transfer market as far as a goal scorer is concerned has left Fulham still goalless in the Premier League and the defense more porous than a sponge on a cactus (I just made that up). And not only was the lineup an issue, but the entire team looked like there was no overall game plan, no overriding strategy. It was more of reactionary soccer than proactive play, and that lies directly on the coach. More in a bit.
The better: (today there was no “good” only some play that was slightly better than the rest. Have to go with the relative term here)
-Steve Sidwell: There’s not much to put here, but I think when Sidders came on he made a difference. There was at least a little more flow and pressure, as well as the possession improved a touch. But not enough to make too much of an impact on the overall run of the game.
-Mark Schwarzer minus 10 seconds: Schwarzer played incredibly well and kept the game from getting any more out of hand than it already was. He made a lot of not incredibly difficult but still very important saves that gave Fulham somewhat of a fighting chance. He was key to at least keeping it a bit close, except for one moment…
-Wolves effort and desire: I give Wolves a lot of credit here. They pounded and pounded and pounded and didn’t back down, even when already up 2-0. I predicted them to stay up this season, unlike many other writers, and we saw why today.
-The attack: Look, the one thing I DON’T blame Martin Jol for is sitting Bobby Zamora. The guy has a broken hand for crying out loud, and now has apparently picked up an ankle knock as well. To top it all off, he hasn’t been himself the last few matches, especially against Dnipro on Thursday, and a frustrated Bobby was relatively ineffective. So I really don’t fault Martin for leaving him out and giving him some time off. What I DO blame Jol for here is we are still without that third striker to go along with Zamora and AJ incase one of them is injured, or to inject some life into the offense should a sub be needed. Dembele, while effective in helping keep possession, still does not have the hunger for the back of the net that a striker should, and Dempsey is clearly out of position up front. An addition is needed badly.
-10 seconds of Mark Schwarzer: As well as he played, Schwarzer was directly responsibe for the second goal scored by Wolves. As much as the defense was poor all day, he never should have come out for the punch attempt he pretty much whiffed on, leaving the goal wide open for Jarvis to put Wolves 2 up. As awful as the defense was, without this blunder by Mark it’s a much different 1-goal match rather than the Mt. Everest that Fulham was looking up at being down 2-0. He played well, but this mistake was very costly. Such is the life of a goalkeeper.
-Dickson Etuhu: I was angry when I saw him in the lineup, but many Twitter followers reminded me we needed a basher and bruiser in the mid to counteract the physical play of Wolves. That’s actually a great point, and I went with it. But again today, he was awful. As one Tweeter put it: “At least Etuhu is consistent today…consistently a poor passer.” The possession play was a disast as er today all around, and Etuhu was in the center of it. Jol noticed it too and pulled him at halftime in favor of the much better Sidwell, but it was too late then. Etuhu’s effective as a physical defensive midfielder today, and he was ineffective at his strong point. It’s time to take him out of the lineup for good, because in a match where his presence was supposed to be a plus for the side, it wasn’t.
-The defense as a whole: John Arne Riise was the toughest and most brave defender today, but it wasn’t close to enough as Wolves mounted attack after attack, finally breaking Fulham for the 2 goals just before halftime. Philippe Senderos played relatively well as well, but his presence alone was the issue. For whatever reason, to much dismay of many Fulham supporters, Martin Jol has insisted on breaking up the pairing of Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland in the center, which has been hailed by many journalists as possibly the best center back pairing in the Premier League. As a result, Aaron Hughes has looked lost on the right hand side, and Hangeland was not himself in the center with Senderos. Hangeland actually was probably the worst defender today, with the most glaring mistake coming on the missed Kevin Doyle empty net shot about 10 minutes before he atoned and scored the first goal. Brede was flat out 1-on-1 beat by Doyle on a break, forcing Schwarzer to come out early and left Doyle with the empty net that he inexplicably missed. Also, Jol doesn’t even have fan favorite and natural right back Chris Baird on the bench, refusing to give him time in favor of Senderos and Stephen Kelly. It’s not working. Time to change things up Martin. Which brings me to my next point…
-Martin Jol: As my title of the post suggests and as I eluded to in the last paragraph, the new Fulham manager has decided to make his mark on the club not by adding a difference-maker up front, but by changing the pairing in back just to do it. It’s a disaster and needs to be fixed. I won’t beat a dead horse anymore. Not only this, but Baird is gone, Etuhu is still starting, Dempsey’s out of position up front, and there’s no striker on the bench or on the pitch to go along with Andy Johnson now that Zamora’s on the bench, even though Bobby’s had a broken hand for two weeks already. What frustrates me the most is how Jol has made a few cheeky offers, but once they’re (usually predictably) rejected, he refuses to go any higher. It’s like he’s tossing out offers just to say he tried, but in actuality none of them had any seriousness from the get go. I know we’re supposed to be patient on this stuff, I realize that. But when it’s visibly hurting the club on the pitch, I’m no longer able to be patient. It needs to happen really soon. Martin deserves most of the blame for this loss in my eyes, as many of us on Twitter predicted this result, and not only that, but accurately pinpointed the reasons why it would happen before it did. And everything came true.
Finally, something else I’d like to touch on before moving on is Jol’s attitude. Everyone’s managerial strategy is different, and I realize that. Not all managers are the fiery, passionate guys we saw from someone like Mark Hughes. Him kicking a water bottle last time out at Monlieux was funny, but in all honesty I liked it and praised it for the attempt to inject some life into his players. Often, a manager’s attitude is reflected in his team’s play. Now, I don’t want to suggest Martin Jol’s demeanor on the sidelines and in the clubhouse is the reason why we lost, far from it. In fact, we haven’t seen nearly enough from Jol with this club to suggest he needs to get more passionate. But it’s just interesting to note that the team played with an obvious lack of intensity and passion today, and Jol was very passive and quiet on the sidelines. Not something to get worked up about, but definitely something to monitor.
Hats off to: The entire Wolves team, especially Doyle and Jarvis. Fitting those guys got the goals, they were the most effective. They mounted effective and demoralizing attacks for up to 10 minutes at a time, and then sat back and played frustrating and flawless defense when Fulham tried to meakly counter. I give this tenacious club and Mick McCarthy a lot of credit. They may not be the favorite of many Fulham fans for their style of play, but I think you’d be a sore loser and nothing more to not give this club credit for the 3 points. They earned their points today.
Something else that’s getting frustrating for both me and I’m sure my readers out there is seeing me post about the same things day in and day out. I hate having to reiterate 300 times a week we need another striker. But it’s things like that that are frustrating me most about Jol. Just last week I posted how Martin Jol has continued to impress me. He has, no doubt. I’ve loved a lot of things he’s brought to this club, and I’m certainly not jumping off his ship or anything. But today was a rude awakening that there’s still a lot to be done, and if Jol wants to completely win over the fans, he needs to act pretty fast to fix what happened today. Wolves took advantage of a lot of Fulham weaknesses, which this early on in the season could actually, down the road, be a positive for the club. But in order to turn this into a positive, things need to change, and it starts at the top.
Finally, one more plea……PLEASE don’t sell Chris Baird, and please, for the love of Michael Jackson, put Hughes and Hangeland back in the middle. I’ll update this post in a few hours with Jol’s reaction and quotes once they come in, so be sure to check back in for that.