René Meulensteen must immediately patch up Fulham’s battered defence to prevent himself following Martin Jol out of the exit door.
Fulham are ready to ask Alan Curbishley, the technical director, to try to save their season if Meulensteen, the head coach, cannot prove he can stop the team leaking goals.
Curbishley could even take over team affairs in time for the vital Premier League relegation match against West Bromwich Albion on Feb 22 if results get even worse.
Fulham host League One outfit Sheffield United in their FA Cup fourth-round replay at Craven Cottage on Tuesday night before facing league games against Manchester United, Liverpool and then West Bromwich.
The 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Southampton meant that Fulham plunged to the bottom of the Premier League table and there are big concerns over the fact that the club’s defensive record has got worse under Meulensteen.
Jol lost his job as manager after Fulham conceded 31 goals in the first 16 games in all competitions of the season. Under Meulensteen, Fulham have let in the same number of goals in two fewer matches.
Meulensteen has a good reputation in football for his one-on-one coaching and technical work. But there are growing fears that his defensive coaching is simply not good enough.
Fulham players are surprised that more work has not gone into improving the team’s defence and making them harder to beat, given the fact that they have conceded 53 Premier League goals this season – 12 more than second-bottom Cardiff City.
Question marks have been raised over the fact that, despite their poor record at the back, Fulham splashed out £11 million on a striker, Konstantinos Mitroglou, in January and spent nothing on the defence. Central defender John Heitinga was signed on a free transfer from Everton.
Since Meulensteen took charge of first-team affairs, Fulham have ¬conceded six goals to Hull City, four to Sunderland and were hit for three by Southampton.
Meulensteen did little to calm the fears of his Fulham chiefs after the Southampton defeat by admitting that he concentrated most of his time on forward work. “I still think that attacking and possession, and ¬turning teams is the best way to defend,” he said. “But you need to have the ¬quality and the understanding and the energy to do it.”
Having spent years working under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Meulensteen appears to be attempting to use the same principles that proved so successful with world-class players at Old Trafford.
Fulham’s players who worked under Roy Hodgson during his ¬successful time at the club remember the fact their former manager used to prepare for the fact the Londoners would have around 45 per cent ¬possession at home and just 35 per cent away from home.
Hodgson may be accused of being negative, but he made Fulham incredibly difficult to beat and Curbishley has proved similarly efficient during his management career at Charlton Athletic and West Ham United.
Curbishley has resisted trying to meddle in first-team coaching since being appointed technical director on Christmas Eve, but he has been a regular spectator at Fulham’s training ground.
Meulensteen’s contract expires at the end of May, which makes him relatively easy and cheap to replace. Fulham insiders believe that ¬Curbishley is the club’s next manager in waiting and it is just a matter of time until he takes over.
Curbishley is seen as a steady pair of hands to either try to maintain Fulham’s Premier League status or attempt to get the club promoted back to the top flight at the first attempt if they go down.
Meulensteen believes he that retains the backing of Fulham owner Shahid Khan. When asked if he is worried by the presence of Curbishley, the 49-year-old said: “No, not at all. I brought Alan into the club as part of my squad. Alan is as much responsible as myself and Ray Wilkins. We are all in this together and I wanted Alan here for these kinds of scenarios.
“He is 100 per cent supportive of myself and Ray, and we will plan together to get the best possible results for the next games and the coming months. The owner understands the situation. He has supported me in the transfer window and his success in business is built on trusting the right people.”
Telegraph Media Group Limited