February Madness – Part Three

Have we recovered from Saturday yet? I’m not sure if I have. It was a performance that included everything bad about Fulham this season. For certain games and periods of games we have looked so good, but for the most part we have been pedestrian and devoid of ideas. Yes, we have managed to get the results that have us up in third place, but bar the Millwall home game back in August we haven’t really played out of second or third gear. I honestly believe that this squad has so much to offer, but we are playing with shackles on, and if we don’t release them soon we’ll find ourselves out of the top 6.

But let’s not get too down on ourselves. As I say, we are still in 3rd place and while the last couple of results have seen us miss a huge opportunity to move into second, we are still very much in this fight. Fulham are actually 6th in the form table when you look at the last six Championship matches. Remarkably, there is only one side from the top six above us in the form table, and that’s Preston North End. The last two results have sucked, but when we look at the bigger picture, things aren’t as bad as they could be.

While all of our games are considered as ‘must win’ at the minute, Derby on Friday night has become important for more than just the result. The team have to come and put in a performance that shows us that they are up for this. We haven’t played at Pride Park since we lost the first leg the play-offs in 2018, but earlier that season early goals from Ryan Sessegnon and Aleksander Mitrovic were enough for all three points. I was at that game, and the way we played in the first half, you’d have thought that we were going to win about 7nil. We were sublime, and Derby couldn’t contain us at all, but we let them into the second half, and nearly blew it at the end. We need the Fulham of the first half from that game in 2018 to show up for 90minutes on Friday. Derby have had a reasonably poor season, but they have been a bit better recently and Wayne Rooney has helped to boost the mood around Pride Park. They taken 10points from the last six games, which isn’t awful considering that they are down in 13th in the table.

For the promotion race, arguably West Brom and Brentford have the hardest games this weekend. Brentford host a Blackburn side who are at the top of the form table and who are closing in on a top 6 spot themselves, while West Brom face Bristol City away, who are in 7th. There’s no easy game in this league, but you’d expect Leeds, Forest and Preston all to get wins this weekend, so we need to put the pressure on by taking 3points on Friday night.

Football is a funny game. While the result on Saturday was terrible, it was the manner in which we performed that was the most disappointing. Barnsley didn’t come and nick a 1nil victory, they played us off the park. But the good thing about football is that there is always the next game to put things right. Roll on Friday night.

#COYW

February Madness – An Update

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.

Fulham have won four out of their last five games

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.

COYW

February Madness

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.

Bring it on.

#COYW

January Sales

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.

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 loan.

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.

#COYW

Keep Fighting

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 might happen.

#coyw