Martin Jol may be under pressure, but he remains typically relaxed. When asked whether he has yet met with Shahid Khan, the new Fulham owner widely understood to be assessing his position, the manager could not help a humourous flourish. “Of course. I met him last time he was here with the girls, with his beautiful girls.”
Jol was talking about the Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders, who were at Craven Cottage when Fulham finally claimed a first win since the opening day by fortuitously beating Stoke 1-0. They will be back in London on Sunday, when Khan’s NFL franchise play the San Francisco 49ers at Wembley. Jol has been invited to watch but the wonder is whether the cordiality will last much longer. Some around Fulham believe Khan has been delaying any decision until this visit, because he wants to give Jol the chance to steady the team.
The intrigue of tonight’s match at Selhurst Park is that Crystal Palace are apparently viewing it in a similar way. Although Ian Holloway’s poor record of just one win and six defeats has hardly been helped by a difficult opening set of fixtures – Tottenham Hotspur at home, Manchester United and Liverpool away – the questions will become tougher if he cannot claim points at home against Fulham. Defeat tonight could begin to determine either manager’s future.
At least Khan has a clear idea what he wants to do with Fulham, which has been complicated by the manner their form has dropped off from this point last season, as well as the rumours of some squad discontentment. Jol abrasively denied such speculation on Thursday.
With Palace, it’s more complex. Essentially, their perceived troubles have become exaggerated because the regime achieved success ahead of schedule. Having seen his club promoted giddily quickly, chairman Steve Parrish had to re-adjust his steadier three-year plan for the Premier League. Most conspicuously, that necessitated rethinking their summer transfer policy three times – balancing an attempt to stay in the division with their existing approach to buying young and securing the future. It was something Jol alluded to as he discussed Holloway’s pursuit of eventual Fulham signing Darren Bent.
“Maybe they haven’t got the resources like Liverpool, [Manchester] United, whatever, but I think they did well. If you look at the quality they’ve got up front and the players they bought, they wanted for example Darren Bent. They were in for Scott Parker.”
In the end, Palace got a somewhat curious mix of signings which has affected the balance of the squad and not necessarily lifted the standard. As it is, only Joel Ward and Mile Jedinak have really excelled. This is also not to absolve Holloway. Although he spent the summer insisting lessons had been learned from his 2010-11 relegation at Blackpool, Holloway continues to play the naïvely expansive football that does not quite work.
It is the sort of space that players such as Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz could finally revel in, like they did for the first half of last season. At the same time, it might just be the approach to unnerve an anxious Fulham backline.
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