Fulham following script

Monday 18 March 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

Is there someone writing the scripts for Fulham? It's almost as though it's been decreed that the Whites can no longer do anything boring. Finding themselves unable to make a decent challenge for European football and in grave danger of mid-table mediocrity, perhaps 'someone' has decided that a relegation dog-fight is necessary to keep the fans' interest going!

Imagine how much more upbeat and excited everyone will be if the team escaped the drop by beating Leicester City on the last home game of the season courtesy of a Sean Davis injury-time goal. The summer break will become just a blur of anticipation as we all wait breathless for the next campaign. If the season did finished off with five straight defeats in games that mean absolutely nothing to anybody, we'll all wander off weighed down by apathy and indifference. Who'd buy all the season tickets and merchandise then?

It's clever isn't it? These marketing people know what they're doing all right. And it's been happening for a few years now. Let's face it, we walked the First Division last year - it was all sewn up by Christmas but we still managed to extract as much drama out of the situation as possible. Firstly, promotion was virtually guaranteed with Sean Davis' unbelievable last minute winner at Blackburn in the most absorbing and tense game I can remember seeing, and then the Championship was won with the same player, the only home grown member of the team, scoring in injury time after an awful anti-climax of a game had everybody practically falling asleep. There was a lot more jubilation and euphoria than if we just gone out and stuffed them five nil.

Now I come to think about it, I wonder if Fulham are using the same script-writers as the England team. Look at the way they ensured qualification to the World Cup - struggling against a Greek team they should have thrashed, Beckham missing a dozen free-kicks before scoring the one that gave them the draw - it was so incredible that it won the award for television's most dramatic moment. I bet England supporters are a lot more fired up and optimistic than they would have been if the team had gone through after grinding out a goalless draw.

Scripted or not, Saturday was the same old story up at Everton; lots of possession, lots of pressure and nothing to show for it. It was an amazing second half - how can a team so dominate a game and yet have only one goal to show for it?

Two up within thirteen minutes, Everton had to play for over an hour with ten men after Graveson was sent off, but Fulham's unrelenting pressure was just not good enough to bring them the result they deserved. The Whites have never won in the league at Goodison Park, and you had the feeling that if they'd played on for another month it wouldn't have made any difference.

It was such a familiar sight - Everton with nine men behind the ball and Fulham playing the ball around the edge of the penalty area, probing and pushing. In the end, all the Blues could do was hurl bodies in the way and hack the ball up field whenever they did get it. Fulham had opportunities, Saha hit the crossbar again, but the number of chances wasn't a fair reflection of the possession, and once again three points went begging.

Last year's "Goals of the Season" video was one of the most thrilling and exhilarating experiences I have ever sat through - I suspect this season's might not be quite so enthralling. Instead of the stunning goals, the pace and the movement, we'll have two hours worth of pressure around the edge of the opponents box. There'll be plenty of near misses, fluffed chances, over elaboration, great saves, and a great deal of frustration.

Fulham redesigned their shirt-badge this year to better represent the values and traditions of the Club. For next season, a little addition incorporated into the design might be appropriate - a football hitting a crossbar!

Rest assured though, this season is all going to plan. Come May, when relegation has been dramatically avoided and Andy Melville is running round Cardiff with the FA Cup, we'll all look back and say - this was the best season ever.