Fulham 0-2 Aston Villa: The Losing Streak Continues.

January 31, 2010

Another game, another loss. 2010 is starting poorly for Fulham. I have not dusted off the keyboard in a while and expressed my thoughts due to a combination of work and very little to positively talk about with regards to Fulham.

Whilst Fulham had lost their last four games, we were all able to hide behind the ‘poor away from home’ excuse. Not so anymore. Villa did not do much, but walked away with an easy win. Gabriel Agbonlahor is a very good player, and a promising young English star. Two goals from him, one a bullet header, the other sweetly turning Hangleland before curling the ball into the far corner, silenced the Fulham crowd and left Roy Hodgson wondering how we had become so porous in defence. Fulham put in a weak performance, obviously missing two bombarding full backs and Clint Dempsey, the tireless and attack minded midfielder out for several months courtesy of a forceful Blackburn challenge.

The difference in the fullback position had been the one that has interested me the most. So often we have heard the mantra that if you stop Danny Murphy, you stop Fulham. Yet against Villa, Murphy had lots of space in both halves, and whilst he created a few chances, we still looked impotent up front. The lack of confident full backs has been crucial. Fulham are a team that play a very narrow game, especially away from home. They force the ball into wide positions which are theoretically less dangerous; and this usually works with the towering Hangeland heading away any aerial threats, and Hughes sweeping up any leftovers. But for all the defensive solidity playing narrow affords Fulham, it poses challenges in attack. The usual remedy is to use the overlapping fullbacks as an ‘out ball’ or to pull the opposing fullbacks out wide allowing Duff and Dempsey to cut inside into space. Without the fullbacks we have little width and teams find us easy to defend against, with the opposing midfield simply dropping deep to stifle our creativity.

So should we be worried? Not really. Fulham have been struggling with injuries and this will get better. Upcoming games are also all very winnable (not that it guarantees anything) with lots of home games. Fulham only need 13 points to reach safety, or in other words four and a bit wins, which with so much of the season remaining is extremely possible. Finally, the teams below us are not very good. Hull, Pompey and Burnley look the most likely to go down, and will probably all sabotage their own seasons with a combination of poor defending and turgid displays.

Wednesday will be interesting. Pompey are struggling on and off the field and have lost their best player. Fulham are looking to end their losing streak. The bookies will favour Fulham, but I am worried about Avram Grant. There is no doubt that he is a good manager, lets just hope Roy can outclass him in a tactical battle.  On Saturday we will face a resurgent (sort of) Bolton under the guidance of Owen Coyle. This will be a tough test, and whilst I dont think Fulham have much of a chance, you never know.

Ultimately, injuries have forced our season off track in terms of the league. I for one hope that we go all out in the cup competitions as our premier league status is fairly secure and finishing 16-10 is certainly not the end of the world when you consider where we were a mere two years ago.

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