Martin Jol played the final seven minutes with Brede Hangeland up front. It smelt like a desperate move and that is precisely what it was.
Fulham threw everything they had at Swansea but could not snatch a draw. It said everything of Fulham’s position that Jol would go against his refined principles. He had started with Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, two delightful, subtle players, in partnership. Coming into this match, though, Fulham had won just one of their last 11 league games. And with Swansea 2-1 up with 84 minutes gone, Jol brought Philippe Senderos on for Kerim Frei. The captain was unleashed to lumber forward.
It did not work. Hangeland managed one flick-on to no-one and one scuffed cross. Berbatov, uncharacteristically imperfect all afternoon, headed the best late chance over the bar from Ruiz’s free-kick. Fulham could not find an equaliser, and are just three points ahead of Wigan and Aston Villa.
They had pushed throughout the second half to make up for the two defensive errors which Swansea had exploited to go 2-0 ahead. But the hosts lacked confidence and fluency in attack. The goal they did score, through an inadvertent Sascha Riether, was itself rather ugly.
Jol insisted his team played well. “I don’t think if you play in the way we played today that you will have these sorts of disappointing results,” he said. “We made it difficult for them, tactically it was probably our best game over the last couple of months.”
None of the football was of high quality. Fulham made six changes and Swansea seven, as they coped with the third leg of the four-game festive blow-out. Those 13 changes, as well as the disruptive wind and rain coming from the Thames, prevented the game some had hoped for. Neither team found their preferred passing rhythm. The first half had a slow tempo, too many errors and Danny Graham’s volley, which put Swansea ahead, was the only moment of note.
Fulham’s defence never looked settled and Graham soon stole in and forced a save from David Stockdale, making his first Premier League start of the season. Minutes later, Graham scored his first Premier League goal since August. Nathan Dyer shot from the edge of the box, Stockdale saved, no Fulham defender attacked the rebound and Graham acrobatically volleyed the ball in.
Graham has been a marginal figure under Michael Laudrup. This was his second League goal of the season and Laudrup admitted last season’s star might leave next month. “Obviously Michu is our top scorer, everybody accepts that. Soon the market opens, there is time to talk to everybody. Let’s see what the players think.”
Fulham made some half chances at the end of the first half and start of the second, particularly through Ruiz, but were punished seven minutes after the restart when Stockdale hammered a clearance into Hangeland. The ball flew out to Pablo Hernandez, who calmly passed to Jonathan De Guzman, who finished into the far bottom corner. Jol said it was “almost a Christmas gift”.
Fulham were in a mess of their own making and swiftly tried to do something about it. Gerhard Tremmel saved from Ruiz’s volley before the hosts pulled one back. Frei crossed from the right, Berbatov headed onto the bar, went for the follow-up volley which found its way in via first Ruiz and then Reither, stood on the line.
There were still 34 minutes left. Tremmel and Stockdale both had a few saves to make but Fulham did not look like scoring, even before Jol’s failed experiment.
Variety is not the problem, it just has to be plausible. “You can’t always win playing good football,” said Laudrup. “Sometimes you have to accept to do it other ways. Sometimes you have to use Plan B or Plan C if it is not working. Or you might as well go home.”
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Briggs; Karagounis, Sidwell; Dejagah (Rodallega, 76), Ruiz, Frei (Senderos, 84); Berbatov.
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Tremmel; Rangel, Monk, Williams, Tiendalli; De Guzman, Aguestien (Britton, 82); Dyer, Routledge (Ki, 45), Hernandez (Davies, 66); Graham.
Referee: Andre Marriner.
Man of the match: Williams (Swansea).
Match rating: 5/10