Barn doors & banjos

Friday 8 March 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

After a short loosening up session on the morning after the Chelsea game, striker Steve Marlet sat down and considered the question of goals. The Whites may have scored two at Stamford Bridge but the inability to convert a greater percentage of chances has cost Fulham dear this season. It's difficult to say why the goals have been so hard to come by, especially when contrasted with last years free-scoring frenzy, but Marlet is convinced that there is no underlying problem - given time and the gaining of experience, things will gel.

"We were very frustrated after the Chelsea game to have lost, because we played very well," he said, "We had some good chances to score, but once again we have lost the game so we all ended up very disappointed.

"I really don't know why we are not scoring the amount of goals that we should be should - we have been unlucky at times. We scored twice against Chelsea and hit the bar, but we had many more chances that we should have taken. It's difficult to explain why it isn't happening, difficult to say it's because of this or that.

"I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong with the team or the way we play - we put in a good performance against Chelsea and against Liverpool as well, and that shows we can do it against top class opposition. What we need to do is win a game and then go on to win some more games after that, if we could get on run that would really bring back all our confidence. It's that simple - we need to win the next game!

"Confidence is a big part of football, you could see that against Arsenal where everything that their forwards tried to do came off - you can only play that sort of one-touch football when mentally you are very sure that you can do it. We've played very well in recent matches, we've kept the ball and we've created lots of chances against big squads like Chelsea and Liverpool, so there isn't really much wrong with our approach or the way we've gone out to play the game.

"I think if we could beat one of the top five sides, that would be good for us. We had many chances against Liverpool, and they scored twice from only two or three opportunities. I think that the difference between us and the top sides is experience; they have played at the highest level for longer than us and I think that counts for a lot. But we will get that experience and then we will do better. It is important that we learn this season, and then next year we can really challenge."

Marlet has now scored six times since his return from injury at the beginning of the year - a reasonable return. But we are also starting to see just how good his all-round game is, and also starting to see just why Jean Tigana valued him so highly. Also hitting the form that we know he is capable of has been Louis Saha. His two goals on Wednesday were a very welcome sight, and the signs are there that the two Frenchmen could form a formidable strike partnership together.

"I feel I am getting better with each game I play," said Marlet, "The only problem is that we've been losing. I have scored goals, so that makes me happy, and I think I have been playing well within the team, but until we win the games then I can't be happy.

"Louis Saha played very well against Chelsea and Liverpool, and he scored again, so it is very good for the team that he is in form. He is a very good player and I think we can do well together."

Next up is the Cup and a very tricky tie at the Hawthorns. Does Marlet think the team are going to be in the right frame of mind after having lost so many matches in a row?

"This is the most important game of our season coming up. It's going to be difficult for us to get a European place in the league, so we must give our absolute best in the Cup against West Bromwich. We must keep our focus and keep playing the way we have done. We very much want to win this and are determined that we will."

There seemed to be little wrong with team spirit during our discussion, Steve receiving many "helpful" comments from his team mates about what he should be doing in front of goal. Typical of these was from Sylvain Legwinski who made the point several times, very loudly and in French, that it would help if Steve could stick the ball in the back of the net a bit more often! Noisy conversations held well within earshot concentrated mainly on crossbars.

But the light-hearted nature of the session couldn't disguise the determination there is in the squad to put the bad run behind them and show what they can do in the Cup. These are professionals, and they are clearly hurt and upset by what has happened over the last few weeks. The team are confident they can do it.

I suspect that Sunday at the Hawthorns might turn into one of those occasions to rank alongside Carlisle and Blackburn when supporters can proudly say, "I was there". Don't miss it.