It’s been another torrid three-week period between international breaks. Drew Heatley dips into the past for reasons to stay calm.
And breathe. The Premier League is hard, isn’t it? Eight games in and we’re out of the relegation zone by virtue of our only win so far this campaign, against Burnley. As the nights draw in and memories of summer fade, even the most ardently optimistic Whites fan would be forgiven for getting a bit twitchy as Fulham struggle to keep their heads above water amid wave after wave of Premier League lashings.
But we’ve been here before, of course. 17 years ago, a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park left Fulham with just one mark in the “W” column after eight games. That 2-0 home win against Sunderland, along with draws against Derby, Charlton, Leicester and Chelsea, gave us seven points. That’s two more than we have now – but we were just two points off the bottom of the table, sparking the Guardian to write: “the euphoria of winning promotion from the First Division by several streets and a shopping mall has all but evaporated”.
Two second half goals from Darius Vassell and Ian Taylor secured the points for Villa that day, and the same Guardian match report read: “Yesterday was the story of Fulham’s season so far. First, a series of opportunities were missed, then poor defending let them down”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Fulham side of 2001/02 had only conceded a goal a game – far from the 21 we’ve shipped so far this season – which was largely the benefit of a settled back four of Steve Finnan, Kit Symons, Andy Melville and Rufus Brevett (a First Division-winning quartet). But points mean prizes – and we weren’t winning enough of either.
While our frailty at the back is our biggest concern today – it was the other end of the pitch that was causing Jean Tigana sleepless nights in 2001. We’d scored just five goals – nearly half the nine we’ve put away this season – with Louis Saha’s 86th-minute missed penalty against Villa summing up our woes. And don’t even get me started on Steve Marlet.
Why am I comparing these two periods? I’m just saying experience tells us to stay calm. We’ve traversed the landscape of a new league – the best in the country – before and found that it’s bloody difficult.
And we’ve come through. We bagged a point at home against Ipswich a week after the Villa defeat, before picking up our second win of the season against Southampton a week after that. The Saints victory was the first of three wins on the bounce, which formed part of an eight-game unbeaten run. That left us ninth by mid-December – and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
The Premier League is hard. It was tough to get here and it’s going to be even tougher to stay. But we have the quality on the pitch and in the dugout. And we’ve got time. I for one and looking forward to our unbeaten run once we click. As Dame Shirley Bassey sang: “we’ve seen it all before – and we’ll see it again…”