GIVEN that the combined total of Fulham supporters to have watched the club's seven InterToto Cup games so far may almost be matched by the number that turn out for their FA Barclaycard Premiership opening fixture at home to Bolton Wanderers, the impressive progress of Jean Tigana's men will have gone unnoticed by many followers. Those who see the team for the first time this season at Loftus Road on Saturday may be pleasantly surprised.
After making heavy weather of weak Finnish and Greek opposition and then grinding out a 1-0 win at home to Sochaux, they then beat the French side convincingly 2-0 before earning a deserved 2-2 draw against Bologna in Italy on Tuesday in their InterToto Cup final, first leg. The latter two games finally featured a Fulham side producing both penetration and finishing, a feat that was beyond them for much of last season.
The most significant change has been brought by the one-year loan signing of Junichi Inamoto, whose excellence is a reward for the army of Japanese journalists who followed their compatriot at Arsenal for a year in vain. Eye-catching as a creator in his first three games, all of which he has started from the substitutes' bench, he demonstrated that his fine goal against Belgium at the World Cup finals was no fluke by scoring an even better one on Tuesday, when he tackled an opponent, evaded another and slid the ball home.
Inamoto's presence, though, has created a problem for Tigana, who prefers to use just one attacking midfield player in his line-up. Steed Malbranque, the young Frenchman whom the Japanese player has replaced in the past two games, is one of the side's outstanding talents and deserves to be a constant presence. Should the coach opt to put both men in his side, Fulham would be less likely to repeat the eight goalless draws that marked their often turgid first Premiership campaign.
Having conceded four goals in seven matches in the competition, their defence remains strong, notably the partnership of Andy Melville and Alain Goma at its heart. Their importance to the team is underlined by figures from last season, when Fulham gained 41 points in the 29 Premiership games when they played together but just three points in the nine when one or the other was missing. Chris Coleman may have difficulty in forcing his way back when he is eventually ready to return after his long-term injuries.