Martin Jol has urged his Fulham team to play with confidence when they take on West Ham United at Upton Park on Saturday afternoon (3pm).
Going behind in games has been all too frequent an occurrence for the Whites this season, and our Manager is keen to see his men take the weekend’s Barclays Premier League clash by the scruff of the neck.
“Don’t be nervous, that is the message,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “Play your own game, that is what we need, try to take control and take initiative. That is what we want, that is our style.
“That is why I took Rene Meulensteen, for example, because he wants initiative, he wants to control games and that’s our philosophy. So I can’t tell them [the players] now to wait and hope and pray that we don’t concede and maybe win a game. We have to take the initiative.
“It’s not only about not conceding, you have to be productive as well. You have to play in a style that creates things and allows you to get crosses in and shots in, and that was disappointing this year.”
He continued: “If you concede too many goals too easily, and that is what we did sometimes, you create a problem for yourself so we have to try to leave that in the dressing room.
“The main message that we’ve got here is that we have to keep the work rate up and we need to work hard. That is the first thing you have to do in football and if you’re mentally good and tough then you will get back to winning ways if you’ve got the quality, and I think we’ve got the quality.”
Fulham’s 2-1 defeat by Swansea City last time out was a fourth consecutive loss in the Premier League, and Jol needed no reminding about the urgency of securing victories.
“That is what I told everyone and I told my players, we need wins,” he stated. “So every game is almost a must-win game. We really wanted to start against Liverpool, or Manchester United, or Southampton away, but against Swansea last week was a great opportunity.
“But we showed [against Swansea] that there was more tempo, we pressurised them more, we played in a good rhythm so hopefully we can continue to do that. We are aware of the fact that you need points to get back to a winning culture and to get back to a little bit of stability and consistency.
“You can lose once or twice but you can’t lose four or five times on the trot because that puts you in a bad position. Of course, there are other teams having the same problem but I think one win will get us back among the others and that will take the pressure off and hopefully we could have a good run, like last year. The only thing is last year we scored 10 or 11 more goals than this year at the same place and that is inconsistent.”
For more than a fortnight now, Meulensteen has been involved in training and the new Head Coach is having a positive impact according to his compatriot, as Jol explained: “If you have the three defeats like we did against Southampton, Man United and Liverpool, sometimes you have to change something to get back to another culture and get back to winning ways.
“I thought it was really necessary to take someone like him, and it paid off in training because I think all the players responded to it. There are players who have almost got a new lease of life, Adel Taarabt for example.”
In the press conference, the Fulham Manager regularly alluded to the upbeat mood around Motspur Park this week and when quizzed as to why there was so much positivity, Jol said: “Because we are not a typical club who has problems. There is a very good atmosphere and a good spirit, a good rhythm to training. I feel that we are good enough; if I look at the players and the other teams around us, I think we are good enough to get higher up the league.”
In recent matches, the Fulham faithful have voiced their displeasure at the current dip in form, but Jol has pleaded with the travelling black and white army to make sure the players have their full support throughout the 90 minutes at Upton Park.
“My message always is that you have to back the players,” he explained. “If you talk about Dimitar Berbatov or Bryan Ruiz, they are different, they are skilful players.
“Berbatov and Ruiz are giving 100 per cent, believe me, but they look a bit different sometimes and I feel that is the trust and that is the belief you need as a fan that they will try to do their best and produce the goods for the Club.
“Hopefully the fans will back them and after the game it doesn’t matter if they boo them or me off the pitch, but during the game they need support and that is an important thing.
“I expect from my players that they will think straight and right and that they will win games. Every time before games they assure me that they will do anything to get points.”
The Whites may be making the short trip to the Boleyn Ground without Berbatov who is under the weather, although Brede Hangeland could make a welcome return. Jol actually greeted the media before the team’s final training session, though, so was unable to provide a definitive verdict on his Captain’s status.
“The situation is a bit different,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve done a press conference before the session, so we have to wait and see, but Brede looked great, he looked fine. We will talk to him to see if he’s ready to give 100 per cent.
“We’ve got Hugo Rodallega still out for another week. Matthew Briggs, of course, he’s slowly coming back now but he needs a few weeks to get back to fitness. And Berbatov is a doubt; he’s not feeling well and we have to make an assessment.”
With West Ham sitting on the same amount of points as Fulham in the table, there is added significance to the fixture but Jol has faith in his side to put the Hammers under pressure from the first whistle.
“If you see them away from home, they have a lot of clean sheets, they are organised with five in midfield,” he said of Saturday’s opponents. “I can remember the game against Tottenham Hotspur away from home when they won 3-0. They did ever so well - they played in a different way but a very good way.
“But at home it’s different, you have to take the initiative and it’s up to us to try to do something. In training we’ve had a nice rhythm and there are only two or three people out so almost everyone is there and that is a nice thing when you are in November, so we are very positive.
“It’s a matter of three points, and if you look at the other teams almost all of them in the bottom half have got pressure. Swansea would have been in a terrible position if we had beaten them, and now they are on 15 points. We would have been on 13 points so that is what I always mean - there is not a lot of difference between doing well and doing bad.”