Fulham 3, Tottenham Hotspur 3: Keane's departure hastens blustering Jol towards the exit
Published 03/09/2007 | 13:43
With its Archibald Leitch stand, Craven Cottage always evokes thoughts of an earlier age, but it was not just the setting which did so on Saturday. The game itself was a throwback to a time before the coaches took over, organised defences, and sent the goals-a-game ratio tumbling.
It was exhilarating to watch, unless you were a coach, specifically the one stood by the Tottenham dugout, wearing a blue tracksuit and a grim expression.
Martin Jol struggled to raise a smile even when Tottenham were slicing open Fulham's hapless defence at will. By the time his team had surrendered another two-goal lead he was ashen-faced. In the modern game the defences of teams with pretensions to glory do not concede soft goals at set plays in three games out of the opening five.
Jol blamed individual errors but the Tottenham board's patience has already been exhausted. Its doubts stem, in part, from Spurs' failure to protect two-goal leads against Arsenal and Chelsea in the cups last season. There are also reservations about his use of substitutes – this collapse followed the withdrawal of Robbie Keane. The captain left with great reluctance, having orchestrated the game and created two goals. The visitors' wit and composure seemed to depart with him.
Jol's departure thus remains delayed only by the board's ham-fisted search for a successor. The next match, at home to Arsenal on 15 September, offers a shot at redemption, unless he is sacked in advance for fear of a victory that would make him unsackable. A conspiracy theory too far? The same board did it to George Graham in 2001. Graham, unlike his four successors, did beat Arsenal.
Do you feel vulnerable? Jol was asked. "No. I'm a strong fucker," he replied. It was bluster, as unconvincing as it was understandable. Lawrie Sanchez, his Fulham counterpart, gave a vivid insight into the torment Jol is undergoing. "Unless you've been a manager you cannot appreciate what it puts you through, physically, mentally, in your home life and away from it," he said. "I've been in a situation with people calling for my head but they don't realise how it affects you, your family, your children, other people. You don't see people putting the postman through this.
"Martin looked crestfallen at the end. I fully understand that. That is football management, we go through that 50 times a year. That's why it is a difficult job to do. But all managers are there to be shot at. We put ourselves up there. At times I do ask myself, 'Why do it?' But you do enjoy it."
Was Jol enjoying it? "I enjoy my work, of course," he said. "Sometimes you get games when you are not happy at all, but we've had so many good times."
There was every reason for Jol to enjoy the first hour. With the honourable exception of Steven Davis, Fulham were awful. Spurs' midfield four controlled the game, enabling Keane and Dimitar Berbatov to carve the home side apart.
Younes Kaboul capitalised on a fumble by Antti Niemi to put Spurs ahead, Keane released Berbatov behind Dejan Stefanovic to double the lead. Though Pascal Chimbonda allowed Clint Dempsey a free header to pull one back, Keane then sent the impressive Gareth Bale clear to restore the cushion. It should have been over. Steed Malbranque hit the post, Jermaine Jenas and Keane missed fine chances, Chris Baird made an acrobatic clearance from Berbatov.
None of this seemed to matter; then Keane departed. Berbatov dropped into the hole, but did not bother pressing the ball. Fulham advanced and Alexei Smertin's deflected shot looped over Paul Robinson. Spurs retreated in numbers but, after Kaboul failed to deal with a long throw, Diomansy Kamara, unchallenged, converted a stunning overhead kick. "We noted before the game they weren't the strongest at set pieces," said Simon Davies.
Both clubs now have four points out of 15. "We ended up in top five last season and we had four [from 18]," said Jol. "The situation has not changed."
Fifth, the board has made clear, is not good enough, however entertainingly it is achieved. That Tottenham have not won the league since 1961, nor finished in the top four since 1990, seems to have slipped the club's minds.
"The top four? You'll have to wait and see," Jol stated. "If [Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal] play well, it will be difficult."