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Everton vs. Fulham: Q&A with Cottagers Confidential

It is always a pleasure to speak with Kris, the editor at SB Nation's Fulham blog Cottagers Confidential - we caught up with him ahead of Saturday's game between Everton and Fulham.

Scott Heavey

Once again Kris, the excellent editor over at our fellow SB Nation blog 'Cottagers Confidential' spoke with us ahead of Saturday's game at Goodison Park between Everton and Fulham, and he filled us in on the goings-on at the Cottagers this season.

RBM - Fulham have hit the magical 40-pt mark and will remain in the Premier League. Is there any motivation to play the remainder of the games?

CC - You'd like to think so, but it doesn't look that way. As a club that is quite regularly safe in mid-table, we've grown accustomed to reaching 40 points somewhat prematurely and most years it actually spurs us on. I remember under Roy Hodgson, some of our infamous away draws turned into wins. Newcastle United was a highlight, in particular. The same applied under Hughes and also last season but this year, the motivation has just slipped away. It could be various things - the underlying feeling that this squad is very much a stop-gap side that will be intensively treated next season, a rapidly ageing squad or just a very difficult fixture list. I think it's mostly the latter - I've seen a lot of our fans getting angry over 'lack of form' but we're playing the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and you guys in a matter of weeks. It was never going to be easy.

RBM - How would you rate Martin Jol as a manager after his performance this season? Is your opinion widely-shared among the fanbase?

CC - I think, given the circumstances, Martin Jol has done an admirable job this season but I know a lot of people - including some vociferous family members - who would disagree. A lot of people either forget that we lost our two best players - Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey - to Tottenham Hotspur or they blame that fact on Jol himself, in spite of the fact Dempsey was always going to leave and Dembele had a release clause. In response, Jol had a matter of days to bring players in and we pulled off a major coup with Dimitar Berbatov, even if he's not a midfielder.
Giorgos Karagounis came in as the man to replace Dembele - hardly like-for-like - and it's leaves an impression, as I said before, that this squad has been strung together purely for the short term. With that in mind, some of the results we've gained have been fantastic - Spurs 1-0, away, and for entertainment value alone, 3-3 with Arsenal - and to be on 40 points already is an achievement. It's just a pity some fans, eyes misted over by our success in recent years, think we should be wriggling into the top eight season-upon-season. That kind of thing just isn't sustainable for a club like ours, unfortunately.

RBM - What have been the weaknesses in the side? Will Jol have the financial support to address these in the offseason?

CC - The weaknesses have fluctuated through different departments throughout this season which is kinda weird, I guess. At first, our defence was abysmal. While we were scoring for fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed that, we were inept at the back. Before long that caught up with us and there was a good two-to-three month period where we were shipping goals like they were going out of fashion and yet not firing them in up front. That was a bleak time for us, without doubt. Currently, we're looking a lot more solid defensively but we're not as sharp as we have been, and there's a lot of work to be done.
In terms of personnel, I would say we are weakest in midfield and I think it is inevitable that this will be addressed. Steve Sidwell is the only central midfielder who has a long term contract with the club and he is too accustomed to red cards to truly rely on. We'll bring in replacements there, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Eyong Enoh or Emmanuel Frimpong, our current loanees, as one of those we bring in permanently. I think Al Fayed will be generous this summer with regards to funding. My gut feeling is that this coming transfer window will be one of quite some upheaval at Fulham.

RBM - Who were the young players that caught your eye this season, and will be worth looking out for next season?

CC - Alex Kacaniklic has been brilliant, though this is a continuation from last season more than anything. He has hit the international stage with Sweden and a recent loan spell at Burnley has refined him and just, generally, made him a better player. He's one of few in our squad who could be considered an out-and-out winger, who likes to get crosses in and is technically proficient. I think he'll finally claim a permanent first team spot next season.
Someone who has gone under the proverbial radar is a chap called Buomesca Tue Na Banga - or Mesca, whatever you prefer. He excelled last summer in pre-season and Jol has openly said he is a player he particularly likes. He's pacey more than anything, which is menacing in itself, but he's also got an edge to him that makes him difficult to play against. As for why no-one's heard of him - he's been injured practically this whole campaign. It must have been so frustrating for him, as he was right on the fringes of the first eleven, but he'll pick himself up.

RBM - Who is your Fulham player of the season? Who else would be in contention for that title?

CC - I don't think there's much debate - well, not with me at least. Berby. Lots of our fans like to bemoan his laziness which, I admit, is prevalent. He's a very languid player who plays at his own pace but if we do what a lot of people think we should do and drop him (as some sort of punishment for being so good that he can play at a slower pace than other people) then we would miss him. A lot. He's just a touch of class that we were not expecting at the club; someone who can change a game in an instant. By far our most talented player. Aside from that, Mark Schwarzer has been his superb, reliable self and while Brede Hangeland has been up and down, he's still a hugely important player for us.

RBM - Finally, a match prediction for Saturday's game? Who are you expecting to shine at Goodison Park?

CC - If our form is anything to go buy, you should win at a canter. If we were at home, I think it would be an entirely different game (I guess that's kind of obvious but hey, I'm no worse than some football pundits) but at your place I doubt we'll get much of a foothold in the game. I would expect Kevin Mirallas and NIkica Jelavic to do well for you guys, while Enoh will be a stand-out player for us, if only for his ability to break down your attacks. Guess that shows how much confidence I have. I'd say, 2-1 you guys. Enjoy it!