This week I’ve been struggling to make sense of my thoughts about Lawrie Sanchez and his future as Fulham manager. I knew two weeks ago the chances were high that this week would see the pressure for his removal reach a new high. We played two tough back to back away games and as expected lost them both. Before those games I thought there were signs (in performance if not results) that we were improving. However, I now find myself in the build up to Newcastle feeling this is a make or break game. To try and make sense of all this, and think with my head instead of my heart, I thought I’d try to compare the current team with where we were before the arrival of LS.
We've stayed much the same as we were under Coleman. Niemi has looked solid since reclaiming his spot and all Sanchez has really done is shuffle the back-up 'keepers a little. It was sensible to bring in Kasey Keller as a reliable back up, but having survived an early season wobble there’s no serious threat to Niemi’s number one position.
The right back slot has been full of controversy. Chris Baird has taken a lot of flack and has now been usurped by a player from our youth system. Moritz Volz has been ignored when he could have made a difference, and then injured when he could have played. Liam was sold as Sanchez cleared the decks, and whilst I'd have liked him to stay, Sanchez' faith in our younger players has so far paid off. Aaron Hughes has been consistent and a good purchase. Stefanovic is ok but has looked a little of the pace in recent games. I’d rate Christanval as better than both but it’s unclear whether he fits into Sanchez plan or not. Bocanegra has been fairly reliable, and whilst I like Stefanovic's football brain, it could be time for a return to Carlos' athleticism. Left back is the only position in defence where I can see an obvious improvement. Konchesky being a mile better than Queudrue.
The midfield was looking pretty poor during the last days of Coleman. Radzinski and Jensen were sensibly moved on. Bullard remains injured where he has been joined by new signing Lee Cook. Our wings look better with Simon Davies settled in and playing the best football of his Fulham career, and Bouazza much livelier and capable than anyone who has filled that role since Boa left. Other than a 20 minute cameo against Man City Seol has looked poor but it’s in the centre where our biggest problems exist. The sale of Papa Bouba Diop and Michael Brown removed our physical presence. Smertin had looked good in a holding role early on but now seems to have fallen out of favour. Steven Davis has shown signs of promise but not really enough and whilst Danny Murphy has been improving he just isn’t capable of bossing the midfield. We desperately need a ball winner in the middle, an enforcer to do the dirty work.
Our attack was also struggling under Coleman. Helgusson has been moved on and Collins John won't be far behind him. I do regret our decision not to pursue Montella but even if Coleman had remained he would have probably been a luxury we couldn't afford. McBride was looking like being an important player again and has been a massive loss which has only served to highlight Sanchez' failure to find a suitable backup. Kuqi has done a decent job in this role for little outlay but is not a long term solution. Healy has not had the opportunity to really shine and I’d like to see him used more often than he is. Kamara has been very poor indeed though both might benefit from a big centre forward to lead the line.
The results speak for themselves and have been the most disappointing aspect of the season. Our worst ever start to a premiership season and, most damning of all, we've only managed two wins.
I can only really judge performance for the eight games I’ve been to.
v Bolton – We were ok. We did enough and got the win.
v Boro – We started well and looked sharp, but then following the injuries to McBride and Bouazza fell apart and were very poor.
v Spurs – We were poor until the last stunning 20 minutes when we suddenly found an extra gear and were very good.
v City – We were good. I was disappointed at the time but this was a decent performance against good opposition.
v Pompey – Poor, got mugged and caved in.
v Derby – Poor, failed to grab a good opportunity.
v Reading – Despite winning I was not that impressed. We tried very hard and got the result and there were a few signs of an upturn in form.
v Rovers – Rode our luck, but a great effort and for me a better performance than the previous game.
Individually I don’t think we’ve made any great strides in the quality of player in our squad. Possibly the biggest indictment of the Sanchez era is that our best players so far (Niemi, Davies & Dempsey) are all Coleman signings. As are the two injured players we are missing most (McBride & Bullard). Konchesky, despite a recent dip in form, has probably been the best of the new players and Aaron Hughes has looked good as well. As a team we have possibly looked a little more organised and have fought harder in games we've gone on to lose. With so many new players in the side, many of them from the Championship, we are very much like a newly promoted side. Maybe with time and a couple of key signings we could see the team click into shape. The bottom line is we're not winning enough games and we need to change that soon or we'll be adrift at the bottom with no hope of salvation.