The Tony Gale Column

Tuesday 21 January 2014 15:30

As a former centre-back myself, I was keen to see young Dan Burn in action for the Whites and he played well on his league debut for Fulham at Arsenal on Saturday. He looked a bit nervous at the start, understandably so, but he performed well in the 2-0 defeat.

He’s left-sided and that gave a good balance to the central defensive partnership with Brede Hangeland. Brede normally plays on the left of the two centre-backs but it shouldn’t be a problem for him on the right and it wasn’t on Saturday.

It’s all about concentration levels when you’re playing a team like Arsenal because you’re very rarely up against anyone in a man-marking situation. Instead, you have to try and pick up runners as they come through from deep so it must have been very different for Dan from playing Championship and League One football.

Playing a team like Arsenal suited Brede and Dan as we defended deeply but it may be more difficult against a side with a bit more pace as the pair are very similar. But overall I was impressed with Dan’s debut and good luck to him.

Aside from the opening 15 minutes in the first half, I thought Fulham were the equal to Arsenal. We had a couple of good half-chances which didn’t really result in efforts at goal but, with a little bit more care with the final ball, they could have done.

I thought our organisation looked good and we were difficult to break down so there were definite positives to take. When you go to a top team you don’t want to get hammered and if we’d got through that first little bit of the second half we might have been okay, but two goals in a matter of minutes killed the game.

I am concerned about the amount of goals Fulham have conceded this season – it’s now 48 in the league. It’s strange really as in all the years Fulham have been in the Premier League, the defence has always been the strong point. This season it’s been a weakness but I saw signs on Saturday that the organisation was a lot better and we can take a lot of heart from that and crack on from there.

I said a while back that Fulham will definitely stay up and I stand by that statement. If you look at the half-dozen games of the run-in, Fulham’s is amongst the best. But what’s going to be vital, and I know it’s an obvious thing to say, is how we do against the teams around us. There are some mini-cup finals between now and the end of the season and I think we’ll see teams dipping in and out of that bottom three right up to the last day. From being the two teams that everyone thought would be cast adrift, Crystal Palace and Sunderland have had a little bit of a revival and they’re now in the mix. I’d say there are 11 teams, all the way up to Hull City, who’ll be involved in the relegation battle.

We’ve got a brief respite from the league this weekend when we head to Sheffield United in the FA Cup with Budweiser. I actually scored there for Fulham to get one of my very rare goals! It’s not an easy game but it’s one where our quality should come through. It would be nice to have a good cup run and it also gives some important game time to a lot of fringe players who will be needed in that vital run-in.

Just a couple of days after that it’s Swansea City away in the league – a side who are also underachieving this season. They’re playing a lot of good football but they’re struggling in the vital areas – the last third of each half. They’re conceding too many goals and not having a final ball at the other end of the pitch. They’ve missed Michu who’s been out for a large chunk of the season. If he’d have been playing with Wilfried Bony I think they’d have a few more points on the board. But they’re not a bad side and it’s going to be a tough test for Fulham.

Then it’s back to the Cottage to play Southampton on the Saturday. They’ve arguably been one of the best sides of the season. Although they’ve had a little bit of unrest lately with matters off the field, they’re a dangerous team to play. They’re good in possession and they’ve got strikers who score goals. They spent a lot of money in the summer but they spent it wisely with some good signings. It’s a difficult game but one, if approached correctly, we can get three points from.  

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