LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Mark Schwarzer of Fulham takes a goal kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Wigan Athletic at Craven Cottage on April 21, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
As fine as our end of season form invariably has been over the past few years, there's always a somewhat sobering thought that there's a particularly minimal chance of it spilling over into the fortunes of the next campaign. It's a worrying phenomenon that, ultimately, stems back to the genetically inconsistent ways of this Fulham team that can defeat Queens Park Rangers 6-0 on one weekend and then get bewilderingly humbled the next at Stoke City.
And it's, unfortunately, a problem that has never been sought to be corrected - there's almost an acceptance now at Craven Cottage that however good the football at the end of the year, the story will be different come a fresh start. Mark Hughes, when taking charge of the club, named himself an "end of season manager", and, it seems his methodologies rubbed off rather quickly on the whole team.
That's all well and good, you say, because, eventually, form will take a sharp and welcome turn in the right direction and, in the end, we'll finish in a respectably high-to-mid-table position and everything will be just dandy. But why should we accept that as a given and just let it lie? Why can't we start a season in the same blistering way we can seemingly exit one?
Because, as this campaign has shown, we're not a difficult side to face in the August and September months. Under Martin Jol, in those two periods, we picked up four points and failed to record a victory - that only happened in October. And under Hughes, the story is no better to recall. We only, truly, witnessed a progressive and potent Fulham side by the time Christmas had gone. The turning point was, arguably, a 2-0 victory away at Stoke.
The most obvious reason to cite for this early season instability is the quick-fire change in management but it may well go deeper than that. Yes, the team having to adapt to two new styles - though Hughes basically adopted the mantra of Roy Hodgson anyway - would have had a detrimental effect but Jol had six competitive games to impose his mark on Fulham and still nothing authentically worked.
Perhaps there's still an underlying belief, lamentably imposed in the pre-Hodgson days, that we are a club that needs to consider Premier League safety above all else, putting any kind of flourish into the background. When that is achieved, we lose the pressure and we lose a mental attitude that seemingly drags us back for around half a season. You get the feeling, however, that it will be a hard mentality to break.
It can be done, though. There needs to be a realisation around SW6 that, yes, while we are not the most superior club in England and while relegation should, inevitably, always be a concern, we have a club and a manager and a chairman that are capable of really quite extraordinary things. Jol needs to relay that to the players and instil a sense of - not arrogance - but confidence before the season starts so that euphoria and expectation carried forward each season by the fans can be reciprocated on the pitch.
Undoubtedly, Jol's hand will be forced this summer, whether that be over Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembele or both, but we will still have a team at Fulham that can compete in England's highest echelons from the very first day and relegation should be but a distant concern.
There's a sense, here, that Martin Jol has big ambitions for this side and I think there is one distinctive way to prove it next season: start well and take it forward. That way, we can all have a peaceful Christmas.
Do you think Fulham can finish higher in the 2012/13 season than they will do this year?
Yes (25 votes)
No (10 votes)
35 total votes