Fulham may only be four points from safety with 14 games to play, but they’ll be lucky to still be a Premier League club on April Fool’s Day.
Made to look foolish a few weeks early against Sheffield United on Tuesday night. Crashing out of the FA Cup, 1-0 at home to the League One outfit, looked like a scary preview of what’s to come over the next seven weeks.
So just when three points would serve as a light relief to Rene Meulensteen, his boy’s next outing is at Manchester United. Old Trafford has hardly been a fortress this season, but Fulham will not be as fortunate as others.
United are coming off the back of an ‘unlucky’ defeat to Stoke, in David Moyes words, and cannot afford any more slip ups if they want to finish in the top four. Though he may rest one or two for the trip to Arsenal three days later, Moyes could send any pair from Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata or Adnan Januzaj onto the pitch Sunday to spark a routine win.
In truth, no one goes to Old Trafford expecting to gain points, so Meulensteen may have written this one off and looked towards next week instead. The visit of Liverpool. Oh.
Their following six games don’t really get any easier either. An away day at West Brom presents a hopeful chance of a much-needed victory, before a London derby against in-form Chelsea at Craven Cottage. Away at Cardiff and home to Newcastle may be their chance to pick up some more points, before heading to the Etihad to face Manchester City, then finally hosting high-flying Everton in their last game in March.
It’s not impossible for Fulham to spring a few upsets, after all, clubs fighting relegation often step up their game. That’s why it may be worrying that their two games against teams from the bottom half and also staving off relegation, are both away from home.
And, while Fulham may feel the fixture list is conspiring against them, they need to look closer to home. They’ve lost their most classy player, in Dimitar Berbatov, to Monaco, and while some may say he’s not the sort of player you want in a relegation scrap, neither Cardiff, West Ham or Crystal Palace would have turned him away in this moment.
Their most promising and proven goalscorer, Darren Bent, has made most of his Premier League bows from the sub’s bench, although he’s only managed two goals all season. His attitude has been questioned, however his goalscoring ability cannot be. He just needs a start. Though Fulham fans will hope new signing, Konstantinos Mitroglou, may be able to shoulder some of the scoring burden.
At the other end of the pitch, the Cottagers have leaked 53 goals this season, 12 more than the next worse team, Cardiff. Yet Fulham chose to mostly strengthen their team in offensive positions in the transfer window. Bringing in Lewis Holtby and Clint Dempsey, as well as Mitroglou.
They did however bring in Johnny Heitinga, after losing long-serving defender, Aaron Hughes. His experience may do something for the cause, however his World Cup Finalist friend, Maarten Stekelenburg, must be wondering why he swapped Rome for West London.
Only six points separate the Lilywhites from Stoke in 11th, their performances are going to need to improve, against considerably better opposition than Sheffield United, or risk being too far adrift by time they travel to Aston Villa on the 5th of April.
Fulham are going to have to pull together to get out of this hole and avoid their first relegation from the Premier League. Their saving grace may be that due to things being so tight down the bottom, they may need a smaller total than 40 points to survive.
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