This isn’t a tribute to that Bon Jovi anthem but a reminder that we are exactly halfway to where we want to be. Roy Hodgson’s first objective at the start of the season would have been to keep us up and without the drama of last season, thank you very much. Following that useful point against City, we have picked up our 20th point from 15 games.
A quick scan of our previous Premier League seasons show that this Fulham side has made sharper progress towards that magic forty point mark than their predecessors. Getting half way to forty took a ridiculous 28 games last season – our twentieth point in 2007/08 was won by a very late Jimmy Bullard free-kick at Blackburn. We took 16 points from our last ten games to stay up.
Only in three previous seasons have we stood on 20 points or more after 15 games. As you can see from the table below, we were in exactly the same position in Chris Coleman’s last season in charge before falling away horrendously in the second half of the campaign. Coleman’s first season in charge – when we finished ninth – saw us rack up 22 points from our first fifteen games and we were in the same position as 2002-03 in our debut season in the top flight.
2007-08 – After 15 games: 13 points Reached 20 points: 28 games
2006-07 – After 15 games: 20 points Reached 20 points: 15 games
2005-06 – After 15 games: 13 points Reached 20 points: 20 games
2004-05 – After 15 games: 14 points Reached 20 points: 21 games
2003-04 – After 15 games: 22 points Reached 20 points: 14 games
2002-03 – After 15 games: 19 points Reached 20 points: 16 games
2001-02 – After 15 games: 22 points Reached 20 points: 15 games
This doesn’t neccessarily tell us a great deal other than underlining what a good start Hodgson and co have made. But all bar two of those seasons saw fail to keep up the strong pace we had started. The question is with the passing of Christmas and the onset of a tough spring campaign (our fixtures in January and February look particularly challenging) will we wilt into the bottom half or continue to big up points.
I’m fairly confident that with the way we are playing Craven Cottage we can keep amassing points at home. As Roy said himself on Saturday, teams are coming to the Cottage and recognising that we will really give them a game. Our recent performances at Anfield and Villa Park point to a more determined travelling side, too, and that holds the key to how our season will eventually turn out.
We face a tricky trip to Stoke and I’m sure much of this week will be taken up with theories on how to stop Rory Delap’s long throw. We’ve got a back four that’s pretty good at dealing with high balls – Hangeland has looked imperious in the air, Paintsil wins an extraodinary amount of headers for a short guy and Konchesky’s no slouch in getting up either. There’s no doubt Delap’s throw is a weapon but we ignore the rest of Stoke’s game at our peril. They carved Newcastle apart in open play thanks to the pace and power of Ricardo Fuller, who has already embarassed plenty of Premier League defenders this season, so we’ll have to be wary of their approach play.
You can be equally guilty of overstating how physical Stoke are. I’ve already seen one fan on TIFF advocate leaving out Konchesky, our captain and Simon Davies (possibly the only one I’d agree with). He’d bring in the bonecrusher, a guy who has hardly played a game in six months and stick Leon Andreasen on the left wing. To me, such drastic change would be a recipe for disaster. I don’t actually think too many changes in personnel would be needed (maybe accomodating Gera and Dempsey in the same midfield by dropping Davies and allowing Zoltan to play on the right), but just an awarness of the type of game we’ll face. Prepare for flying tackles and less time on the ball.