Martin Jol has had a bumpy ride on the rollercoaster that has been Fulham’s season. His side have skipped from the jubilation of wins over QPR and Liverpool to last minute heartbreaks at the hands of Spurs, Everton and Odense. This isn’t forgetting the mixed pair of results recorded at home to the two Manchester clubs. City saw the Whites roar back from 2-0 down to draw whilst United stuck five past the Cottagers without reply – Fulham’s heaviest home defeat in the Premier League.
Finally though, Jol was able to dish out some late punishment on Monday night against Arsenal, a side he had never beaten in English football. It wasn’t without a struggle although Johan Djourou decided to take matters into his own hands in causing Arsenal’s latest self destruction picking up two yellow cards with the Gunners a goal to the good.
Steve Sidwell then bit the hand that once fed him by nodding in from close range to grab the equaliser before Bobby Zamora lashed in the winner deep into stoppage time as Craven Cottage rocked with delight. The final whistle brought a rather unpredictable scene as Martin Jol shared a brief embrace with Zamora.
Many a column inch has been filled about a supposed ongoing row between player and manager. Subsequent post match interviews dispelled these reports. As murmurs of dressing room discontent have brewed in the tabloids, it has unsettled fans at with some inconsistent performances. Fulham are yet to record back-to-back league wins under their new manager.
Aspects of the Dutchman’s reign in West London have been well received, particularly the way young winger Kerim Frei has been brought through. The Swiss, only 18, has turned in a string of terrific performances in December. On Monday night, he helped to unsettle his fellow countryman Djourou before seeing him make the long walk back to the Cottage dressing room. His skill is mesmeric at times and combined with a good turn of pace, Frei has all the weapons in his armoury to trouble Premier League defenders. Playing alongside the likes of Moussa Dembele and Bryan Ruiz will only benefit him further.
However, concerns have been raised about Jol’s reign. For example, Fulham’s tendency to concede late has irked a few, leaking ten of the 26 goals after the 80th minute. The splitting up of the central defensive partnership of Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland has puzzled some, especially taking into consideration the Whites having the fourth best defence in two of the last three seasons.
Nevertheless, the positive is starting to outweigh the negative for Jol as he looks to refresh Fulham’s ageing squad. The Dutchman also looks to be removing the overreliance on Danny Murphy as the string puller of the side and overhauling the rather rigid 4-4-2 many have become used to at Craven Cottage. The talent is there to play a more effusive 4-2-3-1.
It’s a work in progress though as is Jol’s answer to solving the perennial bugbear of a Fulham manager in the Premier League – the away form. A victory at Wigan is the Whites only success to date and despite good draws at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, Fulham have scored the fewest goals on the road in the Premier League. If the former Spurs manager can resolve his side’s travel sickness, it’ll go a long way to pushing Fulham into the top half.
Whether Monday night’s victory against Arsenal will be a turning point for the campaign remains to be seen. However, it did mark the first time his team have come from behind to win against any opposition. Perhaps this can act as a springboard for Jol to level out Fulham’s rollercoaster season.
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