Anyone who regularly watches Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz knows that the difference between poise under pressure and costly inertia can be hard to tell.
It is no surprise, then, that there are divisions among Fulham fans as to whether the club's owner, Shahid Kahn, is right to have stood by Martin Jol. The manager is impressed that his employers have not yet been swayed by the section of the Craven Cottage crowd who loudly insist his time should be up.
But he accepts there is a limit to how long he can be given to resolve his side’s problems. Something has to give soon. Jol met Kahn when the owner was in London last week and was slightly surprised by the firmness of the backing he received. “He just told me positive things,” the Dutchman said. “I’m always waiting for a few critical remarks and comments but he’s not doing that. And the other fellow who is working with me, my chief executive [Alistair Mackintosh], is probably the best man in England.”
The club's steadfast support for Jol is the one constant in a season of frustrating inconsistency from Fulham. The team have won three of their 10 Premier League games this season but have yet to deliver a convincing 90-minute performance.
At times, such as in the second half against Manchester United, they look worthy of their current place two points above the relegation zone; and at many other times, such as in last week's defeat at Southampton or the first half here, they look like the most docile opponents in the division.
The defensive negligence that allowed Antonio Valencia, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney to help themselves to wrap up United's victory triggered familiar boos from the home fans. Fulham's improvement in the second half brought a smattering of applause from those same fans, and even a goal for the home side when Alexander Kacaniklic's shot deflected off Rooney and into the net, but it was clear that the home support remained angry.
In the second half their focus shifted from Jol to Ruiz, the player perceived by many fans to personify the impracticality of the manager’s plans and who was jeered when he was replaced in the 75th minute.
The Costa Rican is outrageously talented but prone to infuriating lapses. Critics say his inclusion in the side comes at the cost of shape and rigour. Jol says that most Fulham fans understand that his flair outweighs his flaws. "Sometimes Bryan is my best player and sometimes he gets caught on the ball," said Jol.
"Maybe they don't need me but they need Bryan Ruiz, believe me." And David Moyes needs Rooney. The striker's relationship with Alex Ferguson may have been strained but Moyes is placing ever more trust in the player. It was noticeable against Fulham how often the pair consulted during the match, Rooney seemingly becoming the manager's representative on the pitch.
"He's a big leader in the team now," says Moyes. "Even against Fulham, we felt young Adnan [Januzaj] was getting drawn in so we had to pull [Rooney] out wide for the last 15 minutes just to make sure we didn't do anything stupid. Wayne understands that. He's at an age now where he can see that."