Can Coleman's team cut the mustard?

Last updated : 23 August 2006 By Harry Shackleton

This season marks Coleman's fourth full term in charge of Fulham and he may well find it his hardest to date. Once again Cookie has been made one of the favourites to be sacked and Fulham widely tipped to be facing a relegation scrap. However, the predictions of doom have come every year, and each season the team have performed when it has come down to the wire.


Following Fulham's disastrous opening to this season with a 5-1 mauling by Manchester United, the calls for Coleman's head are getting louder, even from amongst the fans. The tactical naivety that saw the manager play a narrow midfield against the threat of Ronaldo and Giggs is simply the latest in a series of perceived blunders. What grates the Fulham fans has been the transition from a side that won promotion from Division 1 with odds of 33-1 to win the Premiership, to a team that will have to work hard to avoid the drop.


Gone are the days of Jean Tigana, when Fulham won plaudits across the country for their fluent attacking style of play and ambition oozed from the highest echelons of the club. Today, the chairman has taken a low profile, the manager seems lack-lustre and the talk of making Fulham ‘the Manchester United of the South' has long been forgotten.


Despite Cookie's status as a fan's favourite, it is the inexperience of the current management team that seems to upset the supporters so much. Coleman's assistant, Steve Kean, has no managerial experience at this level, and the same can be said for goalkeeping coach Dave Beasant. Over their tenure, Fulham have deteriorated into a broken outfit, with little semblance of a team. This was epitomized in the Manchester United game, where the midfield and defence rarely linked up and players seemed unaware of their role in the team.


The team has also undergone a similar transformation. Gone are the players who would terrify opposition defences such as Louis Saha, and more recently Steed Malbranque; now frozen out of the team and now widely tipped to sign for West Ham. In have come hard-working but less technically gifted players, whose grit and determination alone are being relied on to carry the team. However, this commitment was distinctly lacking against Man Utd, and this will be a huge concern, because without this Fulham really don't have a lot to offer. With Boa Morte now linked away from the Cottage, the final pieces of the Tigana era are disappearing and Coleman must take complete responsibility for any consequences.


The onus will fall mainly on Jimmy Bullard, a superb £2.5 million pound capture from Wigan, who will now have to orchestrate the midfield and the team as a whole. Last season he was immense for Wigan, and Fulham fans will have to pray he can repeat some of those performances. The team is still crying out for a right-winger in the absence of Malbranque, but even more importantly an experienced and dedicated centre back. The defence has been a problem for the last few years, with concentration, commitment and talent all lacking in the central positions. It is vital that something is done to address this before the close of the transfer window, as a season with Ian Pearce as first choice can only spell disaster.


It is vital that Fulham make a huge step up in the next game against Bolton and to turn Craven Cottage into the fortress that it became last season. If they can pick up points in the coming two home games, and then transfer that form away from home, there will be little cause for concern. For this to happen, Fulham need their notoriously quiet fans to raise the roof and give the players the belief that they look like they so desperately need, without this, it could be a long year ahead.