Struggling Fulham face further woe
First it was Gus Poyet, then it was Tony Pulis. And now it’s Rene Meulensteen’s turn to spark a revival at a struggling club haunted by prospects of relegation.
Fulham need points on the board and they need them quickly if they aren’t to be dragged so far into the mire at the foot of the Premiership table that no end of changes in management or playing personnel can drag them out.
Martin Jol has followed Paulo di Canio and Ian Holloway out of their jobs (at Sunderland and Crystal Palace) and the new boss at Craven Cottage perhaps faces an even bigger challenge to keep his side afloat.
Coral now have Fulham at 5/6 to be relegated and 4/1 second favourites to finish bottom behind 4/5 Palace. And though we should expect the same sort of spirit under the new management of Meulensteen as has been evident under Poyet and Pulis, there is a strong suspicion that the Dutchman just doesn’t have the full set of tools at his disposal out on the pitch to survive the drop.
We know that Dimitar Berbatov is all class, but Fulham will need every member of their ageing squad to roll up their sleeves and scrap for every point from now until the end of the season if they are to stay in the big league.
There were good signs against Spurs in midweek, but in the end they lost to a team which has troubles of its own. And it is unlikely to be any easier today against an Aston Villa side at their most dangerous away from home.
Villa are likely to remain around the middle of the table throughout the season and that will be thanks in no small part to their counter-attacking ability, which has already seen them gain away victories at Arsenal, Norwich and Southampton. Fulham, on the other hand, have recorded just one win from seven on home turf – and that was against Palace.
Cristian Benteke, Villa’s main striker, appears to have fallen out of favour at the moment and might again start on the bench. But others have stepped up to the plate, notably the hard-working, pacey Gabriel Agbonlahor, probably playing the best stuff of his career this season and still with a fine eye for goal – Coral go 15/2 he scores first or last in west London, 9/4 at any time.
Fulham might turn things around in time, but it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Coral make this fixture a close call, but Aston Villa (7/4) may nick it, perhaps 2-1 (9/1).