"Away form has been the problem for several seasons under Coleman."
Teeth well and truly skinned, Fulham avoided relegation to the Championship by just one point at the end of a dismal campaign.
Survival was actually assured with a game to spare following an unlikely 1-0 win at home to a suspiciously under-strength Liverpool, yet Cottagers fans will be grateful of another crack at the top flight nonetheless.
Results were so unsatisfactory that manager Chris Coleman was relieved of his duties in early April after a run of seven consecutive defeats. Lawrie Sanchez was borrowed from the IFA for the run-in, and his appointment has now been made permanent after he relinquished his position with the Northern Ireland team.
Results to date suggest that he may yet live to regret that decision. The Irish are on the verge of what would be a famous achievement in qualifying for Euro 2008, sitting as they do just two points behind Group F rivals Sweden and Spain with a game in hand on the latter. Meanwhile, the victory over Liverpool was Fulham’s only one during Sanchez’s five games at the helm. Some major rebuilding work is necessary if the west London outfit are to avoid another lengthy battle against the drop in 2007/08.
Though we didn’t know what lay ahead at the time, Fulham’s opening day thrashing at Manchester United was a clear example of the chasm which exists between the top and bottom of the Premiership. United were four up in 20 minutes displaying football seemingly from another planet, going on to win 5-1 at a snoozy, second half canter. That United regained their Premiership crown from Chelsea in such fine style offers some mitigation for Fulham’s obliteration that day, but the game also highlighted the defensive frailties which would cost Coleman his job.
Fulham conceded a whopping 60 goals in the league, 42 of them away from Craven Cottage. No team conceded more on their travels, with only Charlton displaying an equal propensity to leak goals overall. Away form has been the problem for several seasons under Coleman, and another 10 defeats on the road contributed tellingly to the end of the Welshman’s four-year reign. At the Cottage, only Manchester City, Manchester United, Reading, Wigan Athletic and Chelsea came away with all three points, again highlighting the Jeckyll and Hyde nature of Fulham’s campaign.
Indeed their worst home defeats came in the cup competitions. The fifth round of the FA Cup saw a Robbie Keane-inspired Tottenham hand out a fearful 4-0 spanking to deny Fulham progress to the last eight. Coleman’s side had shown reasonable form in the cup until Spurs came to town, having come back strongly to beat Leicester City 4-3 in a thrilling third round replay, and cruised past Stoke City 3-0 in round four. Meanwhile, Wycombe Wanderers won 2-1 in the Carling Cup on their own journey to the quarter finals.
And so to Sanchez’s rebuilding job for next year. He has begun by releasing former Everton striker Tomasz Radzinski, while midfielder Claus Jensen also departs along with Welsh internationals Mark Crossley and Mark Pembridge. With the loan periods of Wayne Routledge and Vincenzo Montella at and end also, Sanchez knows that he must bring in quality replacements in time for the August kick-off.
Leeds’ Northern Ireland international striker David Healy has been heavily linked with a move south, while a £2.5million bid for another Northern Ireland man in the shape of defender Chris Baird has been rejected by Southampton. Gossip continues over yet another of Sanchez’s former charges Chris Brunt, who could be available from Sheffield Wednesday after an impressive season in the Championship.
Chairman Mohammad Al Fayed has promised to back the new manager with significant funds, that after several years of criticism regarding his frugal ways. The bid for Baird is a start in this regard, but a cash-plus-players bid for West Bromwich Albion pair Diomansy Kamara and Jason Koumas could indicate that Sanchez will still have to wheel and deal for the most part.
It should be a busy summer at the cottage.
By Stephen Orford
12 June 2007