Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fulham's Win Over the Weekend Bigger Than I Once Thought

Having spent some time thinking about the Cottager's 1-0 win over Everton this weekend, there is a fair way of looking at the match as pivotal in the hopes of Fulham to avoid relegation. Certainly they are not out of the danger zone yet, but they are just four points (and a bunch of goals) or five points shy of the safety of 17th place on the League Table.

As Manager Roy Hodgson noted: "For us the difference between one and three points in the match was everything." It could not be truer. With Fulham at 19th on the table and 18th place Bolton traveling to Old Trafford tomorrow to meet league leaders Manchester United, it is possible for Fulham to climb to the next rung by this month. Bolton, who have not won at Old Trafford in something like 40 years, sit just two points above Fulham. Had Fulham merely gotten a tie with Everton or worse, a loss, Fulham would be looking at four or five points back, even with a Bolton loss tomorrow. Five points is not insurmountable, particularly given that Fulham have a number of matches with the bottom half of the table remaining, but it is a much, much tougher road to hoe and would not bode well for Fulham's.

But the win over Everton means that Fulham have gotten three results and seven points in the last six matches, a pretty solid performance. While the points per game is just over 1, Fulham's eight remaining matches include four "six point matches" where a win over Newcastle, Sunderland, Reading and Birmingham City would not only get Fulham nine points for the wins, they would freeze those three teams at their current point totals, allowing Fulham to make up valuable ground. Additionally, Fulham play Derby County as well.

However, Derby is going down, everyone knows it and they have nothing to lose by going out, playing all out and perhaps being the spoiler. Indeed, it took a goal in the 70th minute for league leaders Manchester United to beat the cellar dwellers. In short, just because you are playing Derby doesn't mean you get a result.

Fulhams other three remaining matches include Liverpool, which is playing like a team that really wants to make the Champions' League cut or better, Portsmouth, which is playing like they want continental tournament play (and is anchored by Keeper David James, who is probably the best keeper in the league this year) and Manchester City, who have been having a tough go of things lately.

So a loss or a draw to Everton would not have been a total disaster, but would have made the six point matches and the Derby fixture practically must wins. Even now, I think Fulham needs to win at least two of the four six point fixtures and get at least three other results to escape relegation. But to do so will require a great deal of luck. Four wins in the final eight matches and a draw or two and Fulham would be masters of their own desiny. But Fulham have not even been able to put more than three results together, let alone three wins. So there is a challenge.

But were it not for the win over Everton, the challenge might have been insurmoutable.

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