Damiano's encouragment

Wednesday 4 September 2002

By Ian McCulloch

Fulham suffered an Intertoto hangover against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. Against a team inferior, both individually and collectively, they were unable to match the Premiership new boys' work-rate, enthusiasm and desire, and subsided to their first, disappointing, loss of the season.

Despite their victory, it is still difficult to see the Baggies avoiding the drop this season, a conclusion that will do nothing for the confidence of the Fulham team who looked tired and lethargic after the excitement of their Intertoto Cup win in mid-week.

Fulham had the bulk of the possession, but failed to break down an opposition who chased, harried and fought as they their lives depended on it. It was an uncomfortable lesson for the Whites, and one that they will need to take on board quickly if they want to keep themselves out of the relegation mire.

Clearly, skilful football needs to be allied with effort. There are plenty of teams in the Premiership who rely on exertion and attitude as the main weapons in their armoury, and it's important that Fulham don't earn a reputation as an easy touch for this type of team.

Equally important is that the glamour of European football does not take priority over the bread and butter of the League. Ipswich are a very recent example of a good team who took their eye off the ball, and suffered the disastrous consequences.

Fulham's assistant manager Christian Damiano, speaking this week, acknowledged that the team need to display the same spirit and determination as sides like West Brom, but emphasised that the Whites are capable of playing very good football and must continue to focus on this side of their game.

"The result wasn't good, because this was a game we shouldn't have lost," he said, "But I would say that overall I thought we deserved a draw. They were a very aggressive team, perhaps too aggressive in my opinion, and on the day that approach was successful when on other days I don't think it will be.

"In a way I don't think it has helped us playing against the teams in the Intertoto who all had a more European style about them. Against West Brom it was just physical, there wasn't much else to it, there was too much contact and the referee didn't have enough control. It is always very difficult to win a game like this - Manchester United were very lucky to win 1-0 against them, even though they were playing at home.

"Usually in this sort of game, there will be only one or two chances. They had their one chance from a set-piece and took it. We played it very tight, as we knew we had to, but it was a real fight in midfield and very difficult to play football which is what we always try to do.

"It was disappointing that the goal came from a corner, if there is one important thing to do in football, it's to defend set-pieces properly. It was a big mistake by us - to let the same player have two headers from a corner is inexcusable.

"But now we turn our attention to the next game, and what is important is that we continue to encourage our team to keep playing football, that is the right attitude for us and is the way that this club will continue to progress to the highest level."

It's Spurs up next, and after last season's set of miserable results against them, this surely is the perfect time for the team to demonstrate that last Saturday's game was just a temporary aberration. Tottenham are top of the table, and I sense that the Whites are going to be in exactly the right mood to give them a good footballing lesson.