Unlike the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s General Election, Fulham’s Player of the Season can barely be any more clear cut.
Amidst a season of near universal mediocrity, where his supporting cast that has faltered at virtually every step, with one manager who lambasted his fitness and another who played him out of position and his ideal strike partner bought specially to play with him only to be loaned to a lower division, Ross McCormack has amassed a statistically outstanding season and is the overwhelming choice for Player of the Season.
To put Ross’ season into context, take the following example:
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Player A is Middlesbrough’s Patrick Bamford, the Chelsea loanee who won the Official Championship Player of the Season award. Striker B, McCormack, has better headline numbers, and yet was nowhere to be seen at the Football League Awards Gala.
Of course, statistics, especially headline ones like goals and assists don’t always tell the full story, but delve a little deeper, and McCormack’s season remains wholly impressive. In total, he scored 19 goals with 11 assists. Seven of his goals were from outside the box, whilst he went a lethal five from five from the penalty spot. His shot accuracy of 56% was 7% better than the next most accurate player, Hugo Rodallega, and 15% higher than third placed Cauley Woodrow.
Ross also proved the most durable Fulham player, completing 407 more minutes on the pitch than any other Fulham player. The 79 chances he created were also a team high.
Disregarding numbers, McCormack has been a consistent bright light for the Whites this season as a technically superior player who’s presence always seemed to give us a chance. His attacking style, though more bustle than languid, occasionally resembled a certain Bulgarian striker in quality. OK he’s not quite the Glaswegian Berbatov, but Ross’ first touch, vision and technical skill has at times seemed out of place in the rough ‘em tough ‘em style of the Championship, yet he has had a remarkable impact and is the one player who has genuinely made a regular positive difference to this Fulham side.
I don’t want to sound too gushing with my praise. The phrase a rose between two thorns comes to mind. It is easy to praise McCormack in contrast to his supporting cast, who have not exactly set the world on fire. However given a full season where he’s played up front with a strike partner, I have no doubt we’ll see his Leeds numbers replicated in Fulham white.
McCormack’s form this season earned him a recall to the Scotland national team, which was unfortunately curtailed by injury. He also provided arguably the best moment of the season with his 94th minute winner against Middlesbrough a fortnight ago. He also scored the winner at Brentford.
If you were looking for any criticisms of McCormack’s game that you would like to see ironed out next season you could point to his streakiness in front of goal. Of his 19 goals, seven came in a six game spell at the end of the season and another five came in a five game period over the winter. However, the barren spells in between were often due to him being played out of position or with an endless parade of strike partners plus he’s not exactly been blessed for chances laid on by teammates either.
That’s the thing with Ross, he is both tremendously unselfish in wanting to set up others, but at the same time ruthless and confident enough to make his own chances. This does manifest itself in the occasional act of ridiculousness, but virtuosos don’t get it right every time. If he did, Ross would play at a higher level than he does.
Simply put, without Ross there is a very good chance we would have been relegated. It might not be the justification we were originally after when we signed him, but McCormack has been worth every penny of the rumoured £100 billion we paid Leeds for him.
Lasse Vigen Christensen
The Dane was the one younger player to make an impact where you didn’t have to qualify it by saying “for a youngster” afterwards. Though his season came to an abrupt end in February, the midfielder made 25 appearances, scoring 5 goals. He looks a genuine box to box talent and will likely play a central role next season. That is if he remains at the club, with any luck the injury will actually work in our favour and keep the vultures at bay for another year.
Persistently inconsistent form means I can’t consider Bettinelli a genuine rival for McCormack’s title. However the young keeper has shown real potential this season to go alongside some outstanding individual performances and looks to have a long term future between the sticks for Fulham. In only his first full professional season, Bettinelli has had to endure a defence as porous as a Brita water filter and has still walked away with 8 clean sheets in 39 games. Yes, he has made some fairly catastrophic mistakes, but tell me a young keeper who hasn’t? As a goalkeeper, mistakes are part of the game, and are as much a learning experience as anything else. Having seen a young Joe Hart in his maiden season at Man City and Kasper Schmeichal on loan at Bury, I can say with some certainty Bettinelli not behind the curve and will only get better.
Whilst most of his good performances were for another side, Matt Smith has been one of the few Fulham players to actually play consistently well this season. His goals whilst on loan at Ashton Gate helped Bristol City romp to the League 1 title and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Once he returned to Fulham, several crucial goals, including the winner at Blackpool, helped us cross the finish line and stay up. No, his inclusion in the side doesn’t foster champagne football, but he’s effective and is as good a ball winner up front as we’ve had in some time. In a division where route one is an inescapable necessity at times, that is a quality that should not be overlooked.