The 17th of September 2014 was a dark day in SW6. Fulham had just lost to Nottingham Forest 5-3 and Magath's failures meant Fulham sat bottom of the Championship table, having only gained a single point from seven matches. Our goal difference was an atrocious negative 12 and we were already equally as many points off a playoff position. There seemingly was no light at the end of the tunnel... but how times can change.
Just ask Nottingham Forest, who on that same day were flying high at the top of the table with a promotion season in mind. Flash forward to Wednesday night; Fulham faced that same Forest side but with a reversal of fortune, managing to gain three points and pull even in the table with the East Midlands club. No, we currently don't find ourselves in the first position as Forest did several months ago. In fact, we don't even find ourselves in the top half. But, we do find a different manager at the helm; someone who has brought new life and verve to our club, giving us all a bit of hope as to what lies ahead.
The day following that early season loss to Nottingham Forest saw the sacking of Felix Magath and the hiring of Kit Symons as caretaker manager, a role that would eventually transition to a permanent basis as manager of the first team. Initially, with the help of a Shaun Hutchinson red card, Kit stumbled out of the blocks losing his first match to Blackburn. What then happened next was something that Fulham fans had been desperate to see for quite some time: 18 points over the next nine league matches boosted Fulham up the table and out of the relegation zone. We had found a combination that actually worked. And although it has been far from perfect, Symons' time so far at the club has been just what we had hoped for.
Some supporters may be quick to raise a hand to those remarks just written. Still you can find some overzealous fans tweeting "Symons Out" after a loss. I admit that Kit is not the best when it comes to in-game tactics and some of his decisions have been met with question. But did you really think his first few months in charge would be flawless? Looking at the numbers can shed more light on the matter.
If you take into account every Fulham manager and league match played in the last two seasons to date, here is how it breaks down:
|--- League Match Results ---||Games||W||D||L||Pts||Pts/Gm|
Firstly, before I dive into the numbers, I am aware that the Premiership is a completely different animal. I understand that the likes of Jol and Meulensteen could potentially find success in the Championship. That being said, you also have to take into account the players they had at their disposal. They weren't fielding an army of youngsters every week, one season removed from the youth squad.
If we want to revisit our worst of times from this season, here's how Symons and Magath compare strictly from both of their time in the Championship:
|--- Championship League Match Results ---||Games||W||D||L||Pts||Pts/Gm|
As is evident, the difference is staggering. One cannot expect that Felix would continue on that exact same rate. It would have only yielded the club roughly seven points on the entire season. At the same time, one also can't say that we'd be anywhere near where we are now under Kit. If you take the 1.65 points-per-game rate that Symons currently has and stretch it across a full 46 match season, Fulham finish the with 75.9 points. Over the past 10 years on average, the sixth place playoff position has accumulated 72.9 points. Although it looks as though that position will exceed the average this year, with Kit managing from the beginning of the season, one could predict that Fulham would be in the thick of the playoff battle as we speak. We would even be within striking distance of an automatic promotion spot.
What's interesting about all this praise is I feel like Fulham have been just average under our new manager. Certainly it has been a stark contrast to Magath and the debacle that was the entirety of last season, but at the same time I feel as though we haven't even approached our ceiling. Our defense has been mostly lackluster, partially thanks to some key injuries, but still conceding the eighth most (29) in the league since Kit's takeover. On the other hand, even with a recent stretch of three league matches without a goal, since Symons has been in charge Fulham have scored the fifth most (34) goals in the league. It is easy to see that our defense needs to be shored up by potentially adding a late signing or having Amorebieta or Hoogland come back from injury, but offensively I also expect more even given the high rate we have set thus far. Hugo has fallen out of form as of late (although he added two assists Wednesday) and it may be time to give Woodrow the chance to start in his place. To no surprise, Ross McCormack showed supporters what he is capable of in the striker role as well, bagging a hat-trick in the opening half against Forest. As great as he is in an attacking mid role, I think he is best deployed in his natural position up top. He did lead the league in scoring last season after all.
Critiques aside, according to Squawka's ratings matrix, since the dismissal of Felix Fulham have been the eighth best team in the Championship, a rating that I will certainly take. While many teams have faltered, such as Nottingham Forest, Fulham under the leadership of Kit Symons have slowly climbed the table and regained some of the respect that was certainly lost during the Magath reign. A top ten finish is a definite possibility if this string of form is sustained, once considered a longshot after one point from our first seven matches. Fulham should be favored in four of the next five league matches, and if we take advantage of this fortunate schedule, who knows where we could be once we emerge on the other side. One thing I do know is that I am much happier than I was several months ago on the 17th of September, and the majority of that can be attributed to the workings of Kit Symons.