Before Christmas it seemed absurd to ask whether Scott Parker could mastermind an immediate return to the Premier League for Fulham through the automatic promotion positions, but a combination of the Whites’ fine winter form and wobbles from both West Brom and Leeds makes the idea far less fanciful these days. Fulham still seem a long way from their fluent best – even if the first half an hour against Huddersfield last weekend was arguably as close as they have come this season – but they are beginning to breathe down the necks of the Championship’s current top two.
Parker’s side are in the perfect position to hunt down West Brom and Leeds, who have led the way for much of the season. The Baggies still top the table but have not been pulling up any trees for much of January, whilst Leeds’ woes have been well documented in recent weeks. Fulham might be back in the automatic promotion positions as soon as February 15th if results go their way. Leeds, who have lost two of their last three games, have tricky away trips to high-flying Nottingham Forest and Brentford coming up, and it could be argued that Fulham are hitting their stride at just the right time.
The first team squad has been hit heavily by injuries this season, but there is a sense that key players are returning at just the right time. Aleksandar Mitrovic came back from his ankle ligament problem quicker than anticipated – marking the occasion with a goal against Huddersfield – and there’s no doubt that Fulham are far more threatening proposition with him in the side. Parker’s defence might also be even more miserly once he can regularly pair new loan signing Terence Kongolo with Michael Hector, who has enjoyed a great start to life at Craven Cottage.
The current optimism is distinctly different to how things looked before the visit of Leeds to capital on 21 December. Fulham were twelve points behind Marcelo Bielsa’s men then and looked in danger of slipping out of the play-off picture altogether. What has changed since then? Parker has highlighted his side’s ability to grind out results – with five wins coming by just a single goal over the last couple of months – but Fulham have also mixed things up. They were far more direct against Leeds than they had been in the preceding fixtures as there was a steely edge to their play in the narrow win at Hull City recently as well.
Character comes into it too. Many supporters lamented our second half lethargy against Huddersfield where the Terriers penned Fulham back for long periods and peppered the home goal with shots. Yes, the second half felt like a completely different contest to the one where Fulham were dominating proceedings and appeared able to score at well, but the Whites reacted well to adversity. Marek Rodak, who has been crucial in the recent upturn in form, made some sensational saves and the impressive Hector put his body on the line to prevent the visitors from completing a remarkable comeback.
down to the ability to be able to grind out results, and with five wins coming by just the one goal over the past two months, its hard to disagree with the Fulham manager. the recent capability to be able to gain three points where perhaps earlier in the season we might of only have held on one has been crucial in trying to get a spot back in the premier league. The best example of this has to be our 3-2 victory over Huddersfield Town, after conceding the second it seemed written in the stars that Huddersfield would go on and get there third, but brilliant displays from Rodak Hector McDonald and the whole team made sure we left the Cottage with 3 points instead of 1 and put us in prime position to break into the top two.
It is important not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Saturday’s opponents Blackburn Rovers, managed by the wily Tony Mowbray, are unbeaten in their last four and will prove obstinate opposition at Ewood Park. They absolutely demolished Sheffield Wednesday 5-0 and showed real spirit to withstand a barrage of late Middlesbrough pressure to claim a point at the Riverside last weekend. Hot on the heels of that trip to Lancashire will be a tasty derby against upwardly mobile Millwall and nobody should need reminding that Barnsley sprung a surprise on the opening day of the season at Oakwell.
Consistency is a precious commodity in a league as unpredictable as the Championship. Fulham have shown signs of being able to battle through and pick up precious results in the past few weeks – they now need to take advantage of the momentum that strong run has generated and pile even more pressure on the top two.