THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Good youth prospects and strong finances

icon freefall5 April ~ Ever since losing at Cardiff on March 8, most Fulham fans have accepted relegation as inevitable. Fulham go to Villa Park today at the bottom of the table, five points short of safety and with a horrific goal difference. Mark Lawrenson says we're already down, so it must be true. And yet in 2008 Roy Hodgson presided over a similarly hopeless situation. Then as now, we had 24 points with six games remaining. Four wins in the last five games saw us survive, the decisive goal coming just 14 minutes before the season's final whistle. A similar sequence this year could repeat Hodgson's Great Escape.

The fixture list has been kind. Five of the six remaining opponents are mid-table or lower, with Hull, Norwich and Crystal Palace still at risk themselves. Our recent performances have been better than results suggest, and incurable optimists have plenty of material from which to construct survival scenarios.

That said, most Fulham fans are already looking ahead to the Championship. Relegation, while never welcome, may not be a bad thing. There's no danger of financial meltdown, and our highly rated youngsters could flourish with more first-team opportunities. Pat Roberts, Moussa Dembele and Cauley Woodrow have impressed in recent weeks and several others are ready and waiting for their chance.

How did we get here, just four years after contesting a European final? Tom Huddlestone's excellent season for Hull is a stark reminder of our reluctance to pay for players in their prime. Instead, we've signed too many players whose fees reflect that their best days are behind them. When we have splashed out – Bryan Ruiz and Kostas Mitroglou, for example – form or injuries have inevitably led to disappointment.

Then, of course, there's our managerial muddle. In retrospect, appointing Rene Meulensteen in November was possibly a mistake, as was sacking him in February. Meulensteen's lack of managerial (as opposed to coaching) experience told against him, but his team was finally building some momentum when he was cast aside for Felix Magath. Long term, Magath seems like a better appointment, but he was available back in November. Don't even start me on Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley.

So, to Villa we go. They have only won twice in the last eight and lost their last two games 4-1. They will miss the injured Christian Benteke, but even that doesn't make us favourites. Then again, we haven't entirely given up either. Steve Couch

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