Fulham hasn't been the same since manager Roy Hodgson left for Liverpool. (Getty Images)
How did it go so pear-shaped in such a short period of time?
That's the question fans in West London are asking themselves as Fulham sits mired in the Premiership's relegation zone coming out of the Boxing Day schedule.
Fulham looked completely lacklustre and limp in losing 3-1 to West Ham - West Ham, for crying out loud! - on Sunday, a loss that combined with other results saw the Cottagers slip to 18th place in the table.
Fulham has 16 points, the same amount as the Hammers, and is only a single point ahead of last-place Wolves. Fulham has 20 games remaining, and with ninth-place Newcastle United (22 points) still in their sights, it would foolish to write them off completely at this juncture of the season.
But let's not kid ourselves, either - this is a team in crisis, one that looks to be a strong contender to go down at the end of the campaign.
How did it get to this point?
How did a team that over-achieved by finishing a respectable 12th in the Premiership last season, and reached the final of the UEFA Europa League - claiming the scalps of teams the calibre of Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg along the way - plunge to such depths where it is now looking the prospect of relegation squarely in the face?
Many explanations can be given, including injuries and loss of form to top players, but it really begins and ends with the departure of Roy Hodgson to Liverpool in the summer.
One can't overstate Hodgson's contribution to the Fulham cause during his tenure as manager of the Cottagers, which began in late 2007. After some poor early results, Fulham appeared to be destined for relegation. But Hodgson righted the ship, as his team collected 12 points from their last five games to beat the drop.
If survival was the premise of Hodgson's first campaign in charge, then competing was the theme of his second.
Under the English manager, Fulham finished seventh in the 2008-09 campaign, its best ever showing in the Premier League. Hodgson was the architect, making astute moves in the transfer market by bringing in goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and defenders Brede Hangeland and John Pantsil - all three of them regular starters to this day.
That season also saw the blossoming of forward Bobby Zamora, who previously under whelmed at Spurs and West Ham, but thrived under Hodgson - so much so that there was talk of his possible inclusion in England's World Cup squad.
Zamora wasn't the only player to find new life under Hodgson, as American forward Clint Dempsey and English midfielder Danny Murphy became vital players for Fulham, with Murphy given the captain's armband by Hodgson.
The 2009-10 season was even better, with Fulham reaching its first-ever European final and Hodgson being named the League Managers Association Manager of the Year.
Hodgson was finally getting the recognition in England that he had long craved since his failed spell as Blackburn manager in the 90s. So when Liverpool came calling, Hodgson, who earned his reputation managing abroad - including two stints at the helm of Inter Milan - made the move to take charge of one of the country's biggest clubs.
Current Fulham manager Mark Hughes may be a nice guy and a decent soul, but he's clearly no Hodgson. He came to West London with an inflated reputation built on a modicum of success he enjoyed while in charge of the Welsh national team and Blackburn.
But Fulham is in dire trouble, and its looks as though Hughes has finally been figured out as the managerial lightweight he really is.
Hodgson was a master of working miracles with a limited budget and resources, of eliciting the very best out of a limited roster while at Fulham, and of squeezing copious amounts of blood from a stone.
With essentially the same team, minus one or two exceptions (Zamora has been injured and defender Paul Konchesky joined Liverpool in the summer), Hughes has managed to undo Hodgson's incredible job of team building in less than half of a season.
A pity, really.
Follow John F. Molinaro on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/JohnMolinaro
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