Martin Jol’s tactical nous saves Fulham’s blushes

October 3, 2012 in Premier League

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Deadline day almost sounded like a death-knell for most Fulham fans, as our two creative outlets, main goalscorers and best players left for the supposed greener grass that was Tottenham Hotspur. Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey seemingly gutted Fulham’s midfield from the original outset, leading to a rather fitting gutless first half against West Ham United, conceding three goals in quick succession. A lot of fans were re-watching videos of Kamara and all that from the ‘great escape’ a few seasons ago, reassuring ourselves that we can fight ourselves out of a crisis - as it seemed we were heading that way.

Step forward Martin Jol, who, much like 1990′s street poet Vanilla Ice, had a problem, and yo, he solved it. He saw that the creative outlet came from the middle of the park, and with that completely removed - he could not start all of Fulham’s attacks from the middle, especially with the midfield consisting of an ageing Mahamadou Diarra and a lightweight Steve Sidwell. He tried using new boy Kieran Richardson on the left hand side, but after having the worst first half debut I’ve ever seen that wasn’t Ali Dia, he needed a new plan.

Enter this man.

Chris Baird was one of the key players in Roy Hodgson’s march to the Europa League final, but he became a forgotten man under both Mark Hughes and Martin Jol. He is also very versatile, operating across the back or where he currently resides at the moment, in the middle of the park. The Sidwell/Baird combination started off very well, with two wins against West Brom and Wigan, and a complete transformation of how Fulham went forward. It became all about the wings, with seasoned veteran Damien Duff on the right hand side, and young Swedish starlet Alexander Kačaniklić on the left.

Twenty-one year old Alex started off getting a few cameos in the first team at the back end of last season. From seeing him against Norwich, I noticed one particular thing - he is quick as lightning. Bombing down the wings with reckless abandon, terrorizing full-backs into submission, he was the rapido winger we needed. But this was meant to be alongside our two more attacking midfielders, but the best laid plans and all that.

So more pressure was put onto the wingers to provide the service to the strikers, and make the centre of the park more defensive, making them the enforcers rather than the flair players. This wasn’t exactly helped by the long-term injury to Diarra itself, so it seems that Sidwell and Baird will become the midfield duo, with Pajtim Kasami and new old-boy Giorgos Karagounis as the back-up duo. The money that went from the Dembele and Dempsey deals went partly on signing Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United (a ridiculous steal in hindsight) alongside a great free transfer in Mladen Petric, with the rest in safe keeping for January. Definite case of counting chickens before they are hatched for those who plotted the downfall of the West London club once our two biggest players have left.

It’s why I always say in Jol we trust. It will be another season of mid-table mediocrity for us - but you must admire the fact that we’ve turned a very big negative into a great positive.