Any which way but lose

Tuesday 2 April 2002

From Ian McCulloch

For a short while on Saturday it looked as though Fulham's luck had finally turned. With Steve Marlet's well-taken but fortuitous goal quickly followed by Southampton's failure to cash in on Andy Melville's woefully under hit back-pass, the travelling fans thought that this was finally going to be their day.

Unfortunately, striker Barry Hayles made it very clear that any such optimism was to be unfounded when he failed to finish off a couple of golden chances that would have effectively sealed the win. The fact that he created the opportunities purely through his own sheer hard work and endeavour made the misses even more frustrating.

When he did the same against West Ham on Monday, fighting off a fierce challenge to get himself one on one with the goalkeeper, only to fluff the opportunity once again, the writing was firmly on the wall.

When West Ham scored from the only decent attacking opportunity that they put together in the whole game, any fragile confidence that the Whites did possess seemed to ooze right out of them. You can sense that the team just haven't got it in them at the moment to come back from a goal down - to do so would require a stroke of the outrageous fortune that other teams always seem to get against them.

As has been said many times, you make your own luck in this game, but it's not unreasonable to expect the ball to run kindly for you occasionally, and there's no doubt that the Whites are due a good dollop of fortune somewhere down the line.

In a second half of very few chances on Monday, no one came closer to scoring than substitute Jon Harley whose header late on from the edge of the box was scrambled to safety round the post by keeper David James. Close but not close enough, was his view, and the story of Fulham's season recently.

"We're very disappointed," he said, speaking after the game, "We're playing decent football but not getting the results. Things just aren't going for us at the moment. Everyone's frustrated, but it's important that we all pull together and somehow grind out a couple of results.

"Confidence is a big factor at this level, and if a goal goes in you can see people thinking, "Oh no, here we go again," but the boys here are strong enough to pull it round, there's no doubt about that.

"What we've got to do is just nick a win from somewhere. We were saying in the dressing room, even to play badly and get a win would make a real change for us, we've been playing good football but getting nothing out of it. It's important that from now to the end of the season that we focus on getting results - and it doesn't matter how we get them.

"I don't think we will go down. The whole team are confidant that we'll stay up, but it's important to take that confidence on to the pitch and show what we can do. But we're certain we'll pull things our way."

It was the same old story on Monday. Statistically Fulham ran the game, created more, and had only one uncomfortable moment at the back - when West Ham scored. Harley confirmed how difficult it is to break down a well-organised side who aren't prepared to push forward, and if you let a soft goal in against them then you really are in trouble.

"We had a few good chances," he said, "And as has been happening we haven't taken them, and they get one opportunity and score. With them playing all their men back and hitting us on the break it then makes it even more difficult for us.

"But at the end of the day we're a Premiership team and everyone's determined that's where we're going to stay."

Fulham are showing all the luck of a relegation side at the moment, there's no doubt about it. But with five games to go and destiny still in their own hands, it's time for the players to show what they are really made of.