At the start of the season, many people fancied Fulham to mount a push for the Premier League, but so far they have failed to live up to the hype. However, with two good away wins recently, are we now beginning to see Fulham start to set out their promotion credentials?
Having spent 13 seasons in the Premier League between 2001 and 2014, Fulham know what it feels like to be in a big time, and fans want that feeling back. Their first two seasons back in the Championship were very poor and nearly resulted in relegation to League One, although since then, things have been much better.
After finishing sixth last season, the feel-good factor has been back at the club, although it did put a tremendous amount of pressure on the club to succeed again this season and we saw Fulham drawing a lot of games they should have won. However, now that pressure has eased a little, is this the time for Fulham to flourish?
The international break has probably come at the wrong time for Fulham, who recorded two terrific away wins prior to the break. A fantastic 3-1 victory away at Nottingham Forest on September 26 kick-started their good run, and just three days later they put in another excellent performance. That game resulted in a 2-1 victory, this time over Queens Park Rangers, to take Fulham’s winning run to two and leaving them with just one loss from their last five games.
Those two games were the first sign of Fulham really coming to life and a break for two weeks is hardly ideal for them. However, when they do come back from the break, they have a crucial run of fixtures that could propel them up the table even further. Three of their four games in October come at home, and three out of four are against teams who are just above them on the table as it stands now. To say October is a month of opportunity for Fulham is an understatement.
Fulham continue their campaign on October 14, when they face Preston North End at home. Preston are currently in sixth, just three points ahead of the Cottagers, and they have only lost one game all season. They will certainly offer a tough test for Fulham, mainly because the Lancashire side have conceded just six goals in 11 games. In their first game back, this will be a tough game for Fulham and a test of how far they have come since the start of the season.
The most stringent game on paper looks to be Fulham’s second game of the month when they visit Aston Villa for their only away trip of the month. Villa have come to life recently, and just like Fulham, they will be looking to use the month of October to propel themselves up the table. This has the potential to be one of the best games of the month in the Championship, and one that should be great for the neutrals to watch.
Fulham return home on October 28 for what looks to be the easiest game of the month for them when they face Bolton Wanderers, who are currently bottom of the Championship. Bolton have struggled to adapt to life in the Championship after promotion from League One last season, and they remain winless this season.
The final game of the month is another tough one for Fulham, as they face Bristol City at home, another team who are slightly above them in the league. Like Preston, City have also lost just one game this season and sit three points ahead of Fulham right now, so this is likely to be another tough test. By the time Fulham reach this game, this could be very crucial and could help them around the month off in great style so that all eyes will be on them in this one.
The one problem Fulham have had so far, and something that could hold them back has been their ability to keep clean sheets. As successfully predicted by Oddschecker in their last game against Queens Park Rangers, both teams scored in the game, and despite the Whites playing well, they continue to concede goals.
Overall this season, the picture doesn’t look much better. If you take a look at the stats from the season so far, Fulham have managed to keep just two clean sheets from eleven Championship games. If the Cottagers are to make a real push for promotion, then this is something they need to address quickly, preferably in time for those tough games they have in October.
Clubs that are successful in the Championship tend to have excellent defensive records, and that is something Fulham will aim for. Preston are a typical example of a team they should be looking at replicating after their fantastic defensive start. PNE have conceded just six goals so far this season and kept six clean sheets; joint-best in the division.
Fulham do have a lot more attacking flair than most of the other teams in the division, but they need to get those players also playing responsible defensive play if they are to reach the next level. While scoring 14 goals so far this season is good, it is far from the best record in the league and to keep moving up the table they need more from both ends of the field.
In defence, their two central defenders Tim Ream and Tomas Kalas will be asked to perform better and hold the team together as much as possible. These two haven’t been hugely at fault for any of the goals conceded by Fulham, but they spearhead the defence and can lead by example in an attempt to bring other players up to standard. Goalkeeper David Button has plenty of experience at this level, and he too needs to get involved more to ensure everyone is on the same page defensively going forward.
In attack, Fulham have an abundance of riches, and that is shown by the fact that nine different players have already scored goals for them this season. Striker Aboubakar Kamara signed for £6 million in the summer, and he has two goals for Fulham this season. He will be looking to add more to that, and if he clicks in the Championship, he is going to be a real threat to any defence. He has a great supporting cast behind him, and Fulham can afford to keep players fresh, such is the quality of their squad.
The month of October is going to be a crucial one for Fulham and their push for promotion. Many expected them to challenge from the offset, but a combination of players settling at the club and pressure on them to perform straight away left them with a less than impressive start. After steadying the ship in September, now is a great time to push on and with so many big games coming up they have a great chance to stamp their authority on the league by picking up points.
Defensively, Fulham will have to improve, and that is going to fall on the shoulders of many different players. They have kept just two clean sheets this season, something they must improve on and that could be the missing piece of the puzzle as far as their promotion push is concerned.
Keep your eye on Fulham over the coming weeks; we could see the promotion contenders really flourish this month and come to the fore in the Championship. They have some tough games, but they also have the potential to make up ground on a lot of teams above them.