Friday night wasn’t pretty. Scott Parker’s side chose what felt like a glorious opportunity to escape the drop zone as the time to put in their worst display since November as Leeds finally ended their capital curse with a 2-1 win at Craven Cottage. The performance sparked memories of the way the Whites started life in the Premier League and, coming hot on the heels of the fifteen minutes of madness that allowed Manchester City to ease to victory last week, was particularly deflating. Parker himself called for calm afterwards and, despite the disappointment, no Fulham fan should give up hope, especially given Newcastle’s present predicament.
The Leeds defeat should serve as a sharp wake-up call to Parker’s charges. Fulham have been on an upward trajectory since the difficult start to life in the top flight but improved performances alone won’t guarantee survival, especially if they don’t translate into wins. Drawing has been particularly painful – Fulham share the prize for the highest number of stalemates in the division with Brighton on eleven – and Friday’s defeat at the hands of Leeds, wasting an opportunity to apply pressure to both the Seagulls and Newcastle, was undoubtedly a missed opportunity.
But the nature of the Premier League means that there are surely plenty of twists and turns ahead. Steve Bruce’s Magpies looked utterly bereft of ideas on the south coast and, the strong suggestion that Mike Ashley is not about to pull the trigger on his beleaguered manager, might just give Fulham another bite at the cherry. After an international break that might allow Parker to consider his best plan of action, there are winnable games against Wolves and Aston Villa offering a second chance to leapfrog the Geordies or at least close the gap.
Both sides have a fairly similar run in, both facing three ‘big-six’ sides in their remaining fixtures, as well as a side that has exceeded expectations thus far and that poses a major threat on their day – Aston Villa for the Cottagers and West Ham United for the Geordies. However, Newcastle also face Leicester, who embarrassed Manchester United in the FA Cup yesterday and are determined to finish the season strongly, and the mood music coming out of the north east is far from encouraging at the moment.
Fulham have largely been consistent since early autumn, looking much more competitive and picking up points but struggling to find the finishing touch. I felt the reaction to a defeat by Manchester City was a little overblown – there’s no shame in being beaten by arguably the best side in Europe, who are still on for a remarkable quadruple. The Leeds defeat was disappointing, but Parker has proven adept at putting poor displays aside and concentrating on the job at hand. He was tactically out-thought by Marcelo Bielsa – and there are plenty of more season managers who can relate to that.
Parker has pointed to parallels with Fulham’s famous great escape in 2008. Thirteen years ago today, Fulham were comfortably beaten by Newcastle United at St. James’ Park – leaving them four points from safety with eight games to go. Birmingham, just above the relegation at zone at that point, and Reading – in fifteenth with an eight point cushion – both went down with Roy Hodgson’s heroes surviving on the final day courtesy of Danny Murphy’s memorable header in the Fratton Park sunshine. All is not lost.
Belief and determination has got Fulham this far. Both Joachim Andersen and Tom Cairney have spoken in recent weeks about tuning out the noise from outside and controlling the controllables, which are our own performances. Parker has imbued this side with serious resilience and has already proven himself capable of tactical tweaks to bolster a leaky defence. One more, at the other end of the pitch, could prove decisive. Eight cup finals remain and Parker will ensure Fulham are up for the fight.
We can do this! Come on you Whites!