No margin for error
Tension will fill the West London air again Saturday afternoon as Fulham take on Hull City in their penultimate home game at Craven Cottage.
Once the latest round of fixtures had all been completed the Whites found themselves back below Cardiff among the bottom three, and Sunderland, who two weeks ago I had written off, are breathing right down Fulham's necks after taking four points in a week from games with Man City and Chelsea. Who saw that coming?
Even the one big result to go in the Londoners' favour, home defeat for Norwich at the hands of Liverpool, saw the Canaries give it a real go against the new favourites for the title. Getting through these last three games of a torrid season is real torture for fans of every struggling club -- and followers are losing sleep across all corners of the land.
In a results-driven business, one has only to consider the madness at Manchester United this past week, where David Moyes is not even given a one-season period of grace to reshape and rejuvenate the ageing team left him by Sir Alex. The 7 million banked by Moyes for his brief tenure will be small recompense for the stain on his CV and the humiliation suffered to his reputation.
Felix Magath also boasts an impressive track record in football, both as player and coach. His owlish countenance has changed little from the day he first surfaced in SW6 wrapped in his pristine new black-and-white scarf for the cameras. He said then, and has maintained since, that Fulham would beat the drop. Their chances of doing so are stretched as thin as the skin on a bat's wing. One slip-up against Hull on Saturday and surely it's curtains for the Whites.
Though last week's trip to Spurs proved a downer, defeat was not exactly unexpected, and only served to highlight how stretched are the club's resources. With money on the table from a new owner in January, the current dearth of quality in depth among the first-team squad is a shameful indictment of shambolic work behind the scenes. Magath, I now suspect, wrote the game off at Spurs in advance.
A week on and reports say Sascha Riether, Kieran Richardson and Mahamadou Diarra are all fit to return. Fulham fans will pray they are. Magath needs his strongest 11 out there for this and the last two games of the season, at Stoke and then home to Crystal Palace.
But then the boss, I'm certain, was telling the fans that record signing Kostas Mitroglou would be in the frame this week, yet the Greek is still not ready for first-team duty. Can Fulham pull off a third home win in a row and keep the flame alive for another seven days?
The game plan is a simple one. The Whites have to go for the win. High-energy football, but hopefully wedded to some rigorous defending and controlled football rather than the headless chickens we saw in that crushing 6-0 defeat at Hull in the late December fixture -- truly the nadir of Fulham's miserable season to date.
Steve Bruce's side are no mugs, but their season is effectively over, with only the Cup to play for. The Tigers were too easily turned over by Arsenal last week, maybe, but they won't be relegated. Their away form is almost as bad as Fulham's, it is true, but with the imperative of home wins needed here and against Palace for Magath to deliver on his promise, I am taking Fulham to find the win they need to climb out of the bottom three.
Now if I keep repeating that perhaps I'll get a good night's sleep. COYW!