FOOTBALL managers are paid to put a positive spin on events but even so, it was a surprise quite how upbeat Mark Hughes and David Moyes were after a draw that did neither side any favours.
Indeed, all it demonstrated was that both Fulham and Everton will struggle while they deal with the catalogue of injuries that have deprived both sides of their first-choice strikers. In Everton’s case, injuries to Louis Saha and Victor Anichebe are hardly a surprise, given their respective histories, but Fulham have been left short of options without Bobby Zamora and Mousa Dembele.
And despite himself, Hughes revealed his frustrations.
“Am I happy with my squad? I can’t add to it,” he muttered. “I’ve got a good group of players who are champing at the bit and want to make an impact. These guys (Eddie Johnson and Diomansy Kamara) have got to step up and give us options. We’ve lost key personnel and they have to get the job done.”
Whether they can is open to question. With one of the meanest defences in the top flight, Fulham are likely to be involved in more goalless draws until Dembele returns in three weeks, with Zamora some five months off a return as he recovers from a broken leg.
Hughes would undoubtedly point to the fact that his side are unbeaten after six games, but the flip side is that they have only won once. For the Welshman, it’s time to stress the positives as he slowly attempts to build on the winning formula left for him by Roy Hodgson.
As for Moyes, his team slipped to bottom of the table after taking just their third point of the season. In isolation, a draw at Craven Cottage is a decent enough result, but the lack of confidence among Everton’s forwards was plain to see. Yakubu is a shadow of the player he was before he snapped his achilles tendon 22 months ago, while neither Tim Cahill nor Marouane Fellaini could make an impact. The Scot – who was stating the obvious when he said ‘the only way is up’ – has proven himself during his tenure at Goodison Park, meaning the spotlight falls on his players. And it was left to Phil Neville, Everton’s captain, to issue a call to arms, to his team-mates.
“Our quality needs to shine through now,” admitted Neville, whose side’s start to the season went from concerning to calamitous after Tuesday’s Carling Cup defeat to League One Brentford.
“We have players who have played in World Cups and World Cup Finals (in Johnny Heitinga). Now is the time to stand up and be tough. That doesn’t mean going out there and kicking people, it means doing the right things all the time and winning football matches.”
Yet that habit of winning football matches is alien to both of these sides at present. Everton looked marginally the more likely here, with Yakubu twice being denied by Mark Schwarzer, who has been offered a new contract by the club after his move to Arsenal fell through.
And a lot now rests on Yakubu’s shoulders. He is last striker standing and, as ever stressing the positive, Neville is confident the Nigerian will rise to the challenge.
“We need to persevere with the Yak now,” said the Everton man.
“At the moment we don’t seem to be able to score, but hopefully there’s a team that’s going to pay for that soon.”
That team was never going to be Fulham and in truth this was a game neither side deserved to win. Chances were at a premium, as were impressive performances. If there was one player who caught the eye it was Irish youngster Seamus Coleman, playing in an unfamiliar position on the right wing, with his darting runs a constant threat.
“He did well,” said Moyes. “He’s a right-back but we tried him out at right wing, where he hasn’t played before. He’s a promising player.”
And when it came to adding up the positives for either side, that was about it – unless you are a football manager.
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