In the midst of the Premier League’s first ever winter break, Championship sides are in their busiest period of the year. I wrote an article a week or so ago about our February, and the seven games that we have that could end our promotion bid or see it go into overdrive. Two games in and things are swaying towards the latter. I’ve had a look at all of the fixtures for the current top 6 to give us an idea of the possible twists and turns ahead. It’s so tight that I could have included a couple of teams outside that as well, especially Bristol City, but to keep it simple I’ll stick with 1st to 6th.
With there being so many games in such a short period of
time, and many of the top 6 playing each other, we know that the table could
look very different by the end of the month. We are in one of the most unpredictable
leagues in the world, but over the last couple of weeks very few results have
went against Fulham. We have managed to capitalise by winning four out of the
past five leagues games, but the pressure is still very much on. We can’t count
on the teams around us having bad days over and over again so we need to keep
up the momentum.
This would probably be the worse time to have a bad run. To
come so close to the automatics and then to tail off would reveal a real weak
spot in our squad. Being part of the chasing pack is the easy bit! The question
now is whether or not the boys can take the chance that has just handed to us
on a silver platter and not let go. In
the year we beat Aston Villa in the play-offs, arguably we should have went up
automatically, but questionable results right at the end when it was in our own
hands cost us. I don’t think anyone cares as we were given one of the greatest
days in our history, but things might not end so rosily this time around.
Can we expect Leeds to continue to fall apart? Can we rely
on Brentford to start dropping more points? No. We have gotten ourselves in an
incredible position, but we have to follow through now. To be honest, I would
rather that this opportunity had came further on in the season. Obviously I want
nothing less than a win at Millwall, but if we do win tomorrow night and
go into second, then we have a heck of a long time to fend off the hunters. Yet,
if we don’t win then that is a huge opportunity missed which could eat away at
the squad. AH, the dilemma’s of football fans, eh?
This league continues to amaze me. I can’t remember it being
tighter than this ever and it’s both the best and the worst thing that could
happen. The best because of the pure drama of it, and the worst because at this
rate I doubt that I will have any colour left in my hair come May! This stress,
though, I wouldn’t swap it for anything.
What a day for Fulham Football Club. We might have made it difficult for ourselves, but our win over Huddersfield alongside defeats for Leeds and Nottingham Forest means that we jump to third in the table, just three points off second. Before Christmas, the race for automatic promotion didn’t exist. Leeds and West Brom seemed too far away for anyone to really threaten, but now we stand here with 16 games to go and just SIX points separates West Brom in first and Bristol City in sixth. We really do have an extraordinary run in ahead of us, although I’m not sure if my heart can take it!
While we can be feeling very positive right now, I’m sure
there were a few disappointed people amongst the fanbase given our unusually
quiet transfer deadline day on Friday. I was hoping for a wing back in the door
at Motspur Park, myself, but when we look at the business that we did get done,
I think we can be happy enough. Making both Cavaleiro’s and De Cordova-Reid’s
loan deals permanent is very good business while bringing in another centre
back in Terence Kongolo, alongside finally being able to use Michael Hector, the
core of our defence already looks far better. We have yet to see Kongolo and
Hector together as our centre back pairing in the league, and I think once we
do, we will start to see an improvement there. I am still concerned about our
left back and right back spots, but hopefully Joe Bryan can start to regain
some of the form that saw him become one of the best left backs in the league
when he was at Bristol City. However, both him and Cyrus gained assists today,
so going forward we have players who can contribute to the attack.
Going forward we are one of the strongest teams in the
league and we showed that again today. I was worried when I saw that Mitrovic was
in the starting line up as it doesn’t seem like that long ago that he gained
his ankle injury in the first place, but thankfully he returned with a bang,
netting his 19th league goal of the season and managing to play the
full match. It’s great to see him back.
I like to split the season into months, and if there is any
month that could push our promotion bid on, or completely derail it, it’s February.
We have seven league games this month, including our win today. We are so used
to hearing that the Christmas schedule is busy, but this is something else.
Seven league games, two taking place midweek and three of them on the road. While
we don’t face any of the teams in the top 6, we do have to take on four of the
play-off chasers in Preston, Swansea, Millwall and Blackburn, so we aren’t in
for an easy month.
Automatic promotion is still in our hands, but we absolutely
must keep our head above the water. There will be twists and turns in the coming
weeks, but we really can’t be dropping any silly points. We could easily finish
outside the play-offs, even, that’s just how tight it is.
January is probably the strangest time in the season for
football fans. The transfer rumour mill churns out names apparently linked to
clubs like there is no tomorrow, feeding on the insecurities that fans have
about the squads of the teams they support. It can be a chance for clubs to
cover holes left by injuries or to find that something special to help you
reach your goals. For Fulham, we have had some absolute stinkers in the January
transfer window, with Kostas Mitroglou in January 2014 jumping to mind
immediately. I genuinely thought that he was going to waltz his way onto the
Craven Cottage pitch and save us from our relegation woes. We broke our transfer
record at the time for him but instead of our relegation saviour, the Greece
international made three appearances for us and scored no goals. Disaster.
On the other hand, the signings of Aleksandar Mitrovic and
Matt Targett in January 2018 turned us into a side feared in the Championship. If
we hadn’t have brought them in when we did, there is absolutely no way that we
would have went up that year.
While I believe that we have a squad filled with wonderful
players, I think that we need a couple of Mitrovic and Targett-esque signings
before the transfer window closes at the end of the month. Defensively we are
so poor. We’ve conceded 30 goals so far this season. That’s nine more than
Leeds at the top of the table. Michael Hector obviously feels like a January
signing despite the fact that he has been training with the club since the
start of the season. He was solid enough during his debut against Aston Villa
on Saturday, but he did make an error for their goal. It would be great if we
could ease him in, but really we need him to play out of his skin for the
reminder of the season! There is a lot of pressure on him, hopefully he is up to
It’s interesting that we have turned Ivan Cavaleiro’s loan
deal into a permanent one this week. I’ve really enjoyed watching him in a
Fulham shirt so far this season and he has chipped in with a few goals and assists.
If the rumours of a £15million fee are true, then it’s a lot of money, but it
does open up a loan spot in the squad so I could see us bringing in another
If we go through the whole of January and all we do is get
Hector fully registered and make Cav’s move permanent, then I don’t think fans
will be satisfied. While going forward this team could be lethal, defensively we
just aren’t strong enough for promotion. One thing we can be sure of, though, is
that we are likely to leave things to the last minute as usual. Hopefully we
just don’t leave it too late.
My mid-season report is coming two games late this year. Christmas
has gotten the better of me, obviously. The good news is that while the first
half of our season was an inconsistent one, we are already one point up from the
second round of matches based on the matches we have played so far. While our
3-3 draw with Luton on Boxing Day was a disappointing result overall, we can be
happy at least with the fight the team showed to come from behind on three
occasions while the win over Stoke certainly beats our embarrassing defeat away
from home in the reverse fixture.
Going into 2020 we find ourselves in the healthy position of
third in the Sky Bet Championship, but a full nine points behind both Leeds and
West Brom in first and second. With Leeds travelling to West Brom on New Years Day
we have a chance to pull at least two points closer to one of them, depending
on the result, if we pick up a win at home to Reading. We’ve had some super
results throughout the first half of the season, with the victories over
Millwall, Leeds and Reading all showing what we can do, but too many defeats
against clubs around the lower end of the table has kept us away from a real
automatic promotion battle.
We should have enough to stay within the play-off picture,
but we certainly can’t take our position for granted. There’s only six points
between us and Blackburn in 13th, so we need to keep picking up wins.
If I was Scott Parker, I’d be telling the team to make sure that they better
their points total from the first half of the season. When you think of the
amount of silly points that we have dropped, I’d be fully expecting that we
have it in our capabilities to put things right. The form of Leeds and West
Brom over the first half of the season was superb, but can they sustain this?
We have already seen Leeds drop a few points recently, while it was
Middlesbrough who ended West Brom’s 100% home record on Saturday. Points will
be dropped in the coming months, that’s certain, but it’s by who and how many
that matters. If we manage to close the gap to six on Wednesday with a win over
Reading and either a Leeds or West Brom loss, then this automatic promotion
race is far from over.
In my first season covering football outside Fulham, I was
at a match between Crusaders and Dungannon Swifts in the Irish Premiership. Crusaders
won giving them a 12 point lead at the top of the league, and afterwards I
asked manager Stephen Baxter if the title was won. He gave me the usual, very
diplomatic answer of “It’s not over until we have our hands on the trophy….” but
to be honest nobody really believed him. If they blew it at that stage, it
would take a combination of a serious fight from another team and a huge dip in
form from themselves. I was also there on the final day of the season when arch
rivals Linfield lifted the trophy after an extraordinary run-in saw them
somehow pip Crusaders to the title. Crazy things can happen in football. All we
can do is control our own results, and if we do that then you never know what
It’s been a turbulent 8 days at Fulham Football Club. We
went from winning four games in a row, to losing three in a week. It’s hard to
take as we have dropped to sixth in the table, but really that’s the least of
our problems. The gap between us and Leeds and West Brom is most likely too big
to claw back, meaning that the goal of automatic promotion could have already
ended. We have a talented squad, but we also have a massively under achieving
squad and it’s hard to figure out what direction we are going in. We aren’t a
happy club right now.
But I really don’t think it justifies the absolutely toxic
atmosphere that we have created for ourselves.
What has happened to us? Some fans are on the backs of the
players before they have even touched the ball. Our boys are out of form, but I
don’t for a second believe that the likes of Mawson and Bryan are bad players.
You don’t become a bad player overnight, and we have seen enough of them to
know that they have a lot of quality. They aren’t showing it at the minute, and
that’s hugely frustrating for us all.
This is second time this season that I’ve written a piece
about the treatment of our players, and it’s not even Christmas yet. This isn’t
about not venting your frustrations. We absolutely have that right, but quite
often the sort of things that are shouted at football players throughout a
match are just vile. It’s not helpful to anyone and there will come a time when
it impacts the players. It might have already started to.
Let’s get some perspective. We have a very inexperienced
manager who is trying to find his feet, yet we are still very much in the play-off
scene. We are in one of the craziest leagues in the world, were results are
neither predictable or consistent, and we aren’t even half way through yet. While
we would need a near miracle for us to achieve automatic promotion at this
rate, it’s not impossible. What we need to do as a fanbase is get behind the
team rather than tear them apart at every opportunity.
On to Leeds for hopefully a much better performance than