Focus is on goals

Thursday 20 December 2001

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

On a cold and frosty morning at Fulham's Motspur Park training ground, assistant manager Christian Damiano took some time off from putting the team through some very complicated training manouvres to talk about the side's prospects. His main concern was ensuring that the squad were reacting properly to the defeat at Tottenham, but he also spoke at length about the current goal-scoring problem.

"At the moment, we are focussing on one thing," he said, "We must score more goals. We have the fourth best defence in the League but unfortunately the fourth worst attack. We are playing well, we are creating chances in every game, but we just don't score enough. If you look at our attacking features, we have two strikers who have scored ten goals and one midfielder who has scored four goals - so out of a total of seventeen goals, fourteen have been scored by only three players.

"A team needs to have the potential for goals from a lot more than three players. It's very important, and we are working very hard at this to try and improve, and find a solution to why things aren't going quite the way we would like them to."

Last season's goal-scoring sensation Louis Saha has not been hitting the net with the same regularity this term. Confidence is obviously a big factor here, and despite scoring wonder goals against Derby and Newcastle, goals which could have triggered the eagerly anticipated avalanche, the young Frenchman still does not look to have the same composure in the box as he used to. Damiano concedes that there is work to be done in helping him to make that step up in class.

"At this moment we are working hard with Saha, we are pushing him, trying to get more out of him. He needs to play deeper and he needs to play quicker, and we are spending a lot of time helping him with this. In the Premiership, he is playing against the best defenders in the country, he is being marked tighter so he needs to come deep and move more. There is no doubt that he is finding it a lot more difficult this season.

"He needs to improve and to progress more when he moves without the ball. When he has the ball everybody feels that he is able to score, but he needs to work more before he gets the ball. If he works before he gets the ball, deeper and quicker, I think that he will have more chance to score.

"He has fantastic agility and suppleness. He's a natural athlete. With one movement he can control the ball and take out the defender. Now we need to work more on his head. He needs to get to another level, to become stronger mentally, and also to add muscle to his game. It's the same for Malbranque, but these are young players and it's difficult for them. But they have many fantastic examples to them here in the Premiership - experienced players like Sheringham and Shearer - they can see exactly what it is they have to do in difficult situations, and what they have to do to improve. I have no doubt that Saha will become a major force in the Premiership."

One of the options Fulham have to take the pressure off their beleaguered strike force is to bring in some new faces. While not completely ruling out the possibility, it is clear that Damiano believes the players here already are more than capable of doing the business.

"We have been unlucky, because we brought in Steve Marlet, who cost a lot of money, and after two games he suffered a bad injury, from a bad tackle, so he's out for two months. He was a big part of our plans for the team, so to lose him was a big blow. We are always looking at new players - always. But at this moment we have no plans to bring anybody else in. We have good players here already, and while we would like to have a bigger squad, we have a team capable of winning in this League."

With some tough matches coming up over the Christmas period, the Fulham faithful will be hoping that Christian can work his magic with the strikers. The man himself is under no illusion how difficult the next few games will be, but is confident that the Whites can put the disappointing Tottenham result behind them and continue their climb up the table.

"Middlesbrough have improved since the beginning of the season," he said, "They were in difficulties but have tightened up considerably. They have a big potential to score with players like Alan Boksic, and the fact that they are at home makes it more difficult for us, but we will continue to play our game. If we do that we will do well.

"On Boxing Day we have Charlton, and they are another team who have improved, and their confidence must be very high at the moment. They have had some good results against big teams recently - Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. It means they are a very good team and will be very difficult for us. Mentally they are a very strong team, they never know when they are beaten, and they have some very good players. They have just brought in Costa, which will make them even stronger at the back. Nevertheless it is a game we should win, and I look forward to it very much."

It is a difficult Christmas, and the old adage of not really being able assess a team's merits until the new-year has arrived has never been more true. A couple of positive results and the Whites will be in a very strong position, ready for an assault on a European place - a barren festive period and the relegation end of the division will be looming. So on behalf of Fulham fans everywhere I'd like to wish the White's strikers a very successful and productive Yuletide - hat tricks from each of them would be the perfect Christmas gift.