Tottenham v Fulham: It’s another winter of discontent for Mark Hughes
THE TURN of the year is always a nervous time for managers of under-performing clubs as they wait to discover whether they will be allowed to spend their owner’s money in January.
Of course, Mark Hughes knows this better than anyone – it was in December last year that he got the boot at Manchester City, just days after a 3-0 defeat at Spurs.
Twelve months on, the 47-year-old has probably endured another difficult Christmas as he attempts to hold onto his current post on the Thames.
A 3-1 home defeat against West Ham on Boxing Day left Fulham in the relegation zone and, although they rallied to secure their first away win of the season at Stoke earlier this week, they are just four points off the bottom at the end of 2010.
This is an unexpected problem for the Cottagers, who have become a comfortable mid-table side in recent years.
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Indeed, just seven months ago the club were celebrating one of the greatest achievements in their history as they contested the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid, only losing in extra-time.
Paul Konchesky departed for Liverpool in the summer but the only other major change in personnel was Roy Hodgson’s exit, giving Hughes few excuses for a rapid decline in fortunes.
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Having held onto the likes of Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland, Danny Murphy and Bobby Zamora, Fulham were expected to be battling in the top half of the table again this campaign.
The reality has been disappointingly different and the Cottagers have won just three of their top-flight fixtures.
Fulham recently matched a Premier League record by posting 10 draws in their first 17 league games – a theme which was established in Hughes’ first game in charge, a goalless draw at Bolton.
The Cottagers have certainly not been awful and, along with Arsenal and Manchester City, they have the best defensive record in the league away from home, having shipped just nine on the road.
However, goals have been a problem, particularly since Zamora has been out of action with a broken leg since September.
Andrew Johnson returned from his own injury nightmare in October, having spent nine months in the treatment room, but he is yet to find the net in 10 appearances since his return, and his last goal came 16 months ago, in August 2009.
These are mitigating circumstances for Hughes, who is understandably anxious to bolster his striking options in January, having relied upon Clint Dempsey for goals so far this season.
The American has done his bit, scoring five in the league, but that is a meagre tally for the leading goalscorer – and when defender Chris Baird scored twice in the 2-0 win at Stoke on Tuesday, he became the joint second leading scorer in the league.
The verdict: Fulham have secured five draws from their nine away days this season and are tough to break down on the road.
Their win at the Britannia Stadium this week will give them confidence as they travel to Tottenham, but the Lilywhites should have the quality to pick up another three points at home.
Prediction: Spurs 2 Fulham 0