Unwavering and encompassing all of what Fulham fans embody, the tapestry with the phrase of "Still Believe" has hung at the base of Craven Cottage throughout an abundance of matches. It has seen riveting Premier League action, as well as disappointing cup performances. But it is invariably present, conveying a simple and specific message. A message that is now more important to the club than almost ever before since joining England's top flight thirteen years ago.
After suffering a league leading eighteenth loss Wednesday night at the death to high flying Liverpool, from the surface one would see a side that is sure to go down. For many of Fulham's faithful, the evening proved to show that of a different tune.
After one of the worst losses in club history—a fourth round FA Cup extra time debacle to lowly Sheffield United of League One—to the supporters delight the Cottagers have roared back with honorable showings against both Manchester United and Liverpool. They haven't been dominating by any means, but they have been clever tactically and have placed our boys in a position late in both matches to grab all three points.
A naysayer would immediately point to the match stats, where Fulham has been outnumbered in almost every statistical category. Between the two clashes we have been out shot almost 3:1 and barely sniff 30% of the possession time. Would you call me crazy if that didn’t necessarily matter?
Fulham has taken advantage of the counter attack in the last two matches. Without a true class striker and a usually suspect back four, the Whites have opted to compact themselves in defense and force their opponents to try and break them down. Through this method, and an unusual amount of luck, we have seen considerable increase in threatening offensive chances than in recent matches. Kieran Richardson has found new form in the left of midfield and Darren Bent has decided that maybe it's time he started playing. On the other hand, what looked like a defense that couldn't keep a clean sheet in a pub league match, have found new form with the addition of Johnny Heitinga from Everton and the impressive play of towering youngster Dan Burn. Lewis Holtby, added on loan from Spurs, has breathed new life and creativity into the side, something that was desperately lacking before the January window. William Kvist has overtaken our beloved Scotty Parker in the central midfield, pairing much better with the likes of the Ginger Iniesta, Steve Sidwell, and even young Ryan Tunnicliffe has put in several respectable shifts since joining from Manchester United.
That being said, the facts are in front of us, and becoming more glaring by the day. The Whites sit at the bottom of the table, amassing a mere twenty points after twenty-six matches. Also sporting the league's worst goal differential of negative thirty-two, it has been a long season in SW6. But, there is optimism that can bee seen through the rubble of Fulham's lackluster campaign thus far.
Record signing Kostas Mitroglou, recovering from a recent injury, seems fit to start in the next fixture at The Hawthorns against West Brom. If he can maintain even half of the form he had while in the Greek league this season, he will be a vast improvement to the current strike force. Linking up with the crafty Holtby, Fulham fans should be excited about the impact they can potentially make in front of goal.
The road will be challenging from here on out. Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton, and Tottenham will be tough matches. But isn’t that what we thought of Manchester United and Liverpool, and look at the results. Meanwhile, seven of the final twelve opponents remain within eight points or fewer. In other words, these are winnable matches.
With that in mind, I see it to be possible to reach the safety that is forty points by the end of the season. For you number crunchers out there, over the past ten seasons thirty-seven points on average has been the necessary total in order to avoid relegation. Additionally, going back to the Great Escape of 2008, the Whites were sitting at twenty points after twenty-six matches, identical to today’s situation. The only difference is we are one point further into the drop zone. But that is beside the point, which is the fact that it’s happened before, so why not now?
As we wait for our next match two weekends away, think about what’s at stake. Think about Craven Cottage on match day and the excitement that comes with being a part of the best league in the world. No Fulham fan wants to lose that feeling. Our team needs us now more than ever and we as supporters have an obligation to step up and fill that role to the fullest. If what we have seen over the last two games is of any indication, I believe that our team has what it takes to remain afloat, and you should too.