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West Brom 2, Fulham 1: Where attacks go to die

23 October 2010

I'm told there are two Fulham players in this photo, but it's hard to make them out in camouflage.

There’s not a ton to say about today’s match that wasn’t addressed in the preview. Despite a fortunate ricochet off the post that turned Zoltan Gera’s early piledriver into a Scott Carson own goal and a 1-0 Fulham lead, the injury-plagued Cottagers spent 90 minutes at The Hawthorns showing no potency (one total shot on goal) and no creativity (Jonathan Greening has a VORP of 0.0; he is the epitome of a replacement-level midfielder). By the end of the inexorable 2-1 defeat to a decent West Brom side, Fulham’s fans were as green as their curiously drab change strip.

There is nothing more frustrating as a fan than having hopes for a season immediately dashed due to injury. Purdue basketball fans know the feeling, with a potential national championship season all but going up in smoke the minute Robbie Hummel re-tore his ACL, and Fulham’s season, for all intents and purposes, went south when irreplaceable (who would have expected that adjective two seasons ago?) striker Bobby Zamora fractured his leg against Wolves in the fourth match of the campaign.

Yes, there have been other injuries that have compounded the situation. Fulham started Saturday’s affair with an entirely second-choice midfield (acknowledging that Clint Dempsey, the team’s often-starting “sixth man,” was in there) and it was sadly apparent from minute one to 90. But nothing has compared to the wastefulness and general incompetence up front since Zamora exchanged his robust target-man role for crutches and a walking boot. His absence likely cost Fulham wins over Blackburn and West Ham, probably a point against Spurs, and was so pronounced against West Brom to almost be painful to watch.

I will never truly speak ill of Diomansy Kamara, for his glorious 93rd minute winner at Eastlands late in the 2007-08 season was the goal that essentially kept Fulham in the Premiership. That said, the dropoff from Zamora to Kamara is like watching a remake of Casablanca with Gilbert Gottfried in the lead role.

Time and again over the past few matches, Fulham would patiently build through the midfield and an incisive ball would make its way into Kamara’s path. He then comes to a labored and belated decision, like a man suffering from post-concussion syndrome. Sometimes he dawdles on the ball, eschewing a lethal pass, until it’s stripped. Sometimes he waits two dribbles too long to shoot and gets closed down. Every now and again, he just misreads a flick-on or a tantalizing cross and the chance goes begging. Having missed a bunch of matches himself through injury, this probably isn’t the best Kamara has to offer, but right now he is KILLING … FULHAM’S … ATTACK.

I knew going into this season that nothing would match the drama of Fulham’s Europa Cup final run. After four years of either deep relegation concern or massive overachievement, my Fulham preview discussed how this campaign would be the proverbial calm *after* the storm. But now I’m pissed. And disappointed. And looking at Fulham’s upcoming schedule and wondering how the Cottagers *won’t* be mired in a relegation-level position when Zamora (assumedly) makes it back in February.

The early shine of Mark Hughes’ tenure has rapidly tarnished. It’s not his fault that half his preferred starting XI has been gimpy, but he needs to come up with something better than his side offered today. His post-match complaints about missed offside calls on both West Brom goals rang hollow and hopefully were lobbed to the media just to deflect blame from his players. Both goals seemed good enough on replay, and the scoreline flattered Fulham after they were played off the park after the break.

The Premiership is an unforgiving place. Fulham almost dropped into the Championship three seasons ago because of the hole dug while Brian McBride recovered from a knee fracture. In a season where there is no clear relegation candidate, if the Cottagers can’t produce better quality than this with the current roster, then Hughes needs to be very proactive in January and find more players who can.

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