Interview: Paul Thorpe
Words: Ian McCulloch
One of the few good things that can be said about Fulham's one-nil defeat to West Ham was that it happened on a Wednesday. The Whites now have an early opportunity to prove that the performance was just a temporary aberration by putting on a good show against Southampton on Sunday.
It's very fashionable at the moment for clubs to put their bad displays down to fatigue - Arsenal's Wenger and Henry both said that their Champions League defeat to Auxerre was down to the number of games that they had played, and Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson put his side's lacklustre display against Fulham down to the international games the week before rather than any particular prowess by the Whites. It might be easy for fans to sneer, but there is no doubt that it is now a feature of the modern-day game.
Sylvain Legwinski, speaking after the Hammer's game, explained that it's not just physical tiredness that can affect performances - the concentration and focus needed to outplay a team like Manchester United, for example, can leave the players drained mentally for days afterwards.
In Fulham's case on Wednesday, a combination of tiredness and the wholesale changes that were made, gave the team a disjointed feel and it was a display that rarely spluttered into life.
"We were very, very bad", said Legwinski, "Especially in the first half. I think that some of us were still feeling the effects of the Manchester game. There's no doubt that fatigue played its part out there; we didn't seem to have enough energy to pass through the midfield properly, we weren't able to get our usual game going.
"In the second half we were better, but then we made a mistake and it left us no time to come back. All we can do now is work hard at the training ground and aim to get a good result against Southampton.
"We could easily have lost the game in the first-half, so we were pleased we were still in it after the break, but we just didn't have the energy to go on and win the game when we started to get on top a little bit."
Fulham might have ridden their luck somewhat, looking as though they had made it to the end of the game with a draw, but to go down to a late penalty is always a kick in the teeth whatever the circumstances. No blame can be attached to Zat Knight who was left in an impossible situation by his fellow defenders. Legwinski agreed.
"We should have cleared the ball before it got that far," he said, "But it was a clear penalty, we have no arguments about that.
"West Ham played more defensively in the second half, but whenever we got an opportunity to get forward they were very quick to get their players behind the ball. We found it very difficult to create many clear-cut chances."
"We have very good players here at the moment and we have the makings of a very good squad - but I think that to do well in all of the competitions that we are in, we do need some more players.
"The Southampton game is very important for us now. At the moment we have still had a very good start to the season, but if we lose to Southampton then it won't look so good. I think that there is a determination amongst the players to put things right on Sunday and show what we can really do."
Southampton are one of those teams that fans always think their team should take three points from. The reality, of course, is that the Saints aren't a bad side at the moment; but if Fulham really want to prove that their current league position is not a false one, then they have to come away from St Mary's with a result - nothing less will do.