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View From The Town End: Fulham

So we're down but there's still a bit to fight for, with finishing 19th worth about £500,000 more than 20th and in the Championship that's actually a pretty important bit of cash. On top of that, Nigel Adkins can now fully prepare for next season, so perhaps we'll see one or two youngsters involved. Anyway, ahead of our trip to Craven Cottage, we spoke to Kristian Balkin from fellow SB Nation site, Cottagers Confidential.

Christopher Lee

How have you viewed Fulham's season? Are you where you thought you'd be?

There are two ways of looking at our season really, one being positive and one being negative. The optimists would say that, considering the talent that we lost over the summer, anything that doesn't involve relegation is a good thing. We lost Moussa Dembele, quite possibly the best midfielder we have had in years, and Clint Dempsey also left. With such a shock the system, finishing safely in mid-table again is actually quite an accomplishment but, naturally, not all see it that way.

Any good footballing model is built on the basis that you always take steps in the right direction and this season has been anything but. If you compare our results, our points tally, our performances, we've moved backwards from where we've been over the last few years which, inevitably, upsets a few. What we're all hoping, though, is that this season is but a consolidations season. We should be able to kick on from here.

How do you view Martin Jol, is he the right man to keep you in the Premier League long term?

I would say so but, again, not everyone agrees. All we can do as fans is compare him to previous Fulham managers and in some ways he's better, in other ways he lets us down. I think if you take into account where the club is at - i.e. losing players left, right and centre, somewhat stringent financially - he's doing a remarkable job in keeping us competitive. He encourages some gorgeous football, too, and at sporadic stages in the season we have benefited from that. Our away form has improved dramatically and Jol can take all the credit for that.

But, then, that all comes at a price. We used to be the unbeatables or, to be more politically correct, the very-difficult-to-break-downables, but we just don't have that in us any more. We leak goals all the time despite possessing the same personnel. It's worrying when you're so used to clean sheets and tight defences but, I guess it's a price to pay.

What needs to be done over the summer?

A lot! Most accept that the squad we've got now is there on a merely temporary basis, somewhere between the Roy Hodgson era and what Jol truly wants from his Fulham team. Although there's no reason to think it, as Mohammed Al Fayed has been very concious of our spending in light of our proposed stadium improvements, many feel this summer will be one of upheaval. Jol has made a lot of noise - well, for him anyway - about getting a new goalkeeper, so you have to fear for the future of Mark Schwarzer. We need a new centre back, two or three very dependable central midfielders, a winger and perhaps a striker. The Sascha Riether deal has to be made permanent, as he has been one of our best players this season. Aside from that, it would be nice to see some of our younger players make the first team cut as they are certainly good enough.

The two sides drew 3-3- in an entertaining game at the Madejski early on this season. What did you make of that game and of Reading?

It was hugely frustrating on our part; I don't know about you. We'd had a very good start to the season and we had already won once away at Wigan by the time we visited you, so confidence was high. But just like we had done against Southampton a few weeks previous, we scored in the last few minutes and then conceded almost straight away. You guys pushed us all the way and probably earned your point but we were a defensive shambles. But, it was nonetheless entertaining.

Who should Reading fans be worried about on Saturday?

Well, normally I'd throw Dimitar Berbatov out there but, although it's not confirmed, he'll probably miss out through injury. Aside from that, Urby Emanuelson has been superb since joining on loan from AC Milan. He's a skilful player who can take anybody on, and he possesses a lot of pace but, saying that, he can have off days. Eyong Enoh is another loanee on top form but he won't cause you problems at the back, as he's very much an enforcer. Alex Kacaniklic is back for us now, after a loan at Burnley, and looks that little bit more refined so, bearing in mind both he and Emanuelson are wingers, prepare your full backs. Especially Kelly!

Anyone Fulham fans might be worried about?

I'm sure if Pavel Pogrebnyak woke up on the right side of the bed, he could cause us problems. I really like Jimmy Kebe, although I believe he's injured, while Adam Le Fondre is your most notable danger man, statistically at least. If he comes on, or starts, I wouldn't be surprised to see him bag a goal because, as I've alluded to, our defence is hardly the premium brand.

Can you tell us what the Pog's strengths are? He's not really found any rhythm at Reading...

Ermm, I could give it a go. He's big, if you haven't noticed, and he's strong. If you put him a few yards in front of goal and give him the ball, he can actually score. And he is very good in the air. But beyond that, I fear that he's hugely over-rated - if only by your owner. The Pog lacks a bit of pace, essential as a striker, and is missing something of a cutting edge. I'm sure he has a role to play like, for us, he was excellent at holding the ball up, just like Bobby Zamora (I think that comparison says it all). But he'll never be your top goalscorer. You'd have more luck with Stephen Kelly

Score prediction?

3-0 Fulham. Sorry.

Will you miss Reading?... Be honest!

On a personal level, yes. I'm not actually from London, I'm a south coast lad, so aside from St Mary's, the Madejski is conveniently placed for me and, on that note, you have yourselves a lovely ground. I've visited a few times for football and a few times for rugby, and enjoyed every visit. But anyway, I'm rambling. As a footballing side, it was honestly refreshing to see a promoted side give it a go without over-spending (ahem, QPR) but I guess the lack of investment was part of the problem. It would be nice to see you back one day, hopefully with a little more quality in the ranks.

Thanks again to Kristian and you can follow the guys on Twitter @CottagersC