x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The on-loan striker came off the bench to score with Fulham's only clear-cut chance to cue mocking celebrations towards visiting manager Mark Hughes by the Fulham fans.

Fulham manager Martin Jol, right, celebrates after Darren Bent scores against Stoke. Andrew Yates / AFP
Fulham manager Martin Jol, right, celebrates after Darren Bent scores against Stoke. Andrew Yates / AFP


Bent 83’


Premier League correspondent

LONDON // At the final whistle, the Fulham fans were united in their derision of a manager, but happily for Martin Jol, this time it was not him they were mocking, but Mark Hughes, who walked out of Craven Cottage in 2011 claiming the club did not match his ambition.

It was a stance that understandably angered Fulham fans and, given Hughes’s career since, as he acknowledged this week, has made him look slightly foolish. Yet in a way he had a point.

These are two teams of limited resources who have found themselves without any realistic hope of pushing beyond mid-table. They have found themselves treading water, and that has bred a sense of stagnation and then disillusionment.

Stoke City fans tired of the direct approach of Tony Pulis, who has been replaced by Hughes, and Fulham supporters are now wondering if the grass might be greener without Jol, who is in his third year at the club and – remarkably – is the fourth-longest serving manager in the Premier League.

A win, Fulham’s first at home in the league since April 1, lifted them out of the bottom three and will ease the pressure for now, but there was little in the victory to suggest the problems have gone away.

Besides which, it is entirely logical for the club’s new owner, Shahid Khan, to wonder whether he might like to bring in his own man.

This was a dismal game in which Fulham scored with their only significant chance Darren Bent, on as a substitute, latched on to Pajtim Kasami’s half-blocked shot and finished calmly as Asmir Begovic closed him down.

Other than that it was a game of rejected penalty appeals – two for Stoke and one for Fulham – and Robert Huth headers.

Twice the German defender had efforts blocked on the line by Sascha Riether and once he had a header flash just over. Fulham won because they at last had some luck, but they were far from convincing.

“Relieved is probably the word you use,” said Jol. “You need results and you need to be in a position where you are without pressure because it’s hard to play with pressure.

“Of course we are, but lucky because if you look at Stoke although they didn’t create many chances, Robert Huth had two clear chances.”

It is not entirely fair to judge Jol by the standards of what has gone before. Although he spent £10.6 million (Dh62.3m) on Bryan Ruiz in his first season, since then the money supply has run dry.

In the last four transfer windows, his net spend has been just £4m as he has scoured Europe for loan signings, free transfers and bargains. Although Mousa Dembele and Clint Dempsey left last summer for £21m, a total of just £9.5m was spent this summer to land Maarten Stekelenburg, Scott Parker, Elsad Zverotic and making Riether’s loan permanent.

Fernando Amorebieta and Derek Boateng arrived on frees, Adel Taarabt and Bent on loan. To make a difficult situation worse, Stekelenburg and Parker, the two most expensive signings, are currently injured.

Jol was reluctant to talk about pressure and seemed calm enough, pointing out how many clubs now have seven points.

“Pressure is if you are vulnerable and if your life will change big time,” he said. “I won’t be here for years but I want to be here with the players.”

He acknowledged, though, that improvement is needed, not least in defending set-plays.

“We have to be better on the ball,” he said. “We worked ever so hard: nobody can fault us for our application.”

Maybe not, but that is not enough. Nor, frankly, is the squad Jol has at the moment.

It may keep Fulham up, but it needs major investment of they are to achieve more than that.