After relegation from the Premier League in the summer of 2014, Fulham Football Club were in shambles. Fulham's core players from our top flight days had abandoned ship. Steve Sidwell, Dimitar Berbatov, Brede Hangeland, David Stockdale, Ashkan Dejagah, and many more were no longer with the team. It was crucial that we spent over the summer to ready our thin squad for the grueling Championship season ahead.
However, this integral process had one major obstacle: the manager. Despite getting us relegated and earning a measly 3 wins out of 12, Felix Magath was given the job of taking us back to the Premier League. Magath made some questionable transfer decisions over the summer, buying the likes of Adil Chihi, Kay Voser, Mark Fotheringham, and Dino Fazlic. The fact that none of these complete unknowns had any impact whatsoever truly exemplified how deluded Magath was.
But Magath, to his credit, also bought Ross McCormack from Leeds, last season's Championship top scorer. But the deal was vilified by the media as it was reported to have cost 12 million pounds. Although Fulham paid a hefty price, it was one of Magath's few positive decisions at Craven Cottage. McCormack went on to score 19 goals and tally 11 assists, certainly our most valuable player.
As a newly relegated club, most pundits thought Fulham had a good chance at promotion, and predicted the Cottagers to grab a playoff spot at least. But, to everyone's surprise, a collapse of the finest order was in store. First we lost to Ipswich on the opening day of the season. Then Millwall and Wolves at home. Then a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Derby. A win over Brentford in the League Cup couldn't produce a league win, as we drew versus Cardiff but then lost to Reading 3-0.
The final nail in the coffin came away at Forest on September 17, when we led 3-2 but fell 5-3. Magath was sacked after that match, ending a period of torture. The league table told a depressing story. 1 point from our first 7 matches. Rock bottom of the Championship. Already a gargantuan 12 points off the playoff spots.
Kit Symons, the U21 coach, was appointed caretaker manager. He had the unenviable task of turning around a team that had looked devoid of all confidence and desire under Felix Magath. Although Symons lost his first match in charge, at home to Blackburn, what followed was remarkable. 5 victories out of the ensuing 7 matches saw Fulham preside outside of the bottom three for the first time all season.
Following a jubilant 3-0 win over Charlton in late October, Kit Symons was given the job on a full time basis. After nailing down a consistent squad without the gambles and risks that Magath took, Symons had engineered an impressive turnaround. As Fulham entered the festive period of fixtures fresh off a 4-0 demolishment of Sheffield Wednesday, optimism was growing. We sat 13th, 10 points off the playoff places. If the Whites could string a couple of wins together, promotion would not be completely out of the question.
Consecutive 2-0 defeats to Bournemouth and Brighton knocked the joy out of Christmas. The Cottagers recorded three straight wins in mid January, most notable being the 3-3 FA Cup match we won on penalties in a blizzard against Wolves. But after that point, the Cottagers' form went downhill. Fulham endured a brutal run of 8 winless matches, along with being knocked out of the FA Cup. By the time we were crushed 3-0 away to Wolves in late February, we sat just 5 points above the relegation zone. Kit Symons' job was in danger.
Fulham picked up a massive 3 points in the following match at home to leaders Derby, thanks to a classic display from captain Scott Parker. But we could not build on the result, and failed to win our next four matches. Two home losses of 5-1 and 3-0 placed us precipitously one place above the drop. The Whites produced a smash and grab away win against Huddersfield the next weekend, capped off by Seko Fofana's last minute strike and celebration with the traveling support. However, in a recurring trend, we could not string together back to back wins, and we were humiliated by local rivals Brentford 4-1 at the Cottage. Games against fellow strugglers Wigan, Rotherham, and Blackpool would decide our season.
Fulham failed to impress in all three matches. They twice threw away the lead at home to the Latics, drawing 2-2. We also drew to Rotherham at home, lucky to get a 1-1 draw. And the performance away at already relegated Blackpool was far from convincing, grinding out a nervy 1-0 victory. But with that result, and Matt Smith's crucial headed goal, we were guaranteed safety.
We won a classic 4-3 thriller over high flyers Middlesbrough, courtesy of a Ross McCormack hat trick, to close out our home finale with aplomb. A loss on the last day to playoffs bound Norwich was meaningless, another defeat in a disappointing campaign filled with setbacks. In the end, we finished the season 17th on 52 points. Fulham was 11 points clear of safety and 23 points off the last playoff place. There is no doubt that the 2014/15 season fell well below expectations.
But let us take a step back for a moment and consider our position in September. Dead last and without a win in our first seven, we looked set for back to back relegations. The team was utterly hopeless and directionless, a squad comprised of naive youngsters and uninterested misfits. Despite all of his shortcomings, Kit Symons completely revitalized that team. Symons kept us up, by coaxing the best out of McCormack and finding a blend between our academy products and experienced players. Also, take into account that he was not given any money to spend in January, so he basically inherited Magath's team and made the most out of it.
Many Fulham fans have been disgusted with his management and expect him to be sacked soon. It is true that his substitutions have been questionable, the defense is still unbelievably porous, we give up far too many goals from set pieces, and Fulham have been infuriatingly inconsistent. But despite all this, Symons has kept us up in his first management position ever. To save the club from relegation after our abysmal start was an impressive feat.
However, there is a need for a fresh face to manage the club. Symons has looked out of depth for most of the second half of the season. The club needs a man who knows the Championship, is experienced and will do whatever it takes to get us promoted. Mark Warburton is a name that has been tossed around, the current manager of Brentford who will leave at the end of their season. He has excelled at Griffin Park this season, and could steer the Bees to two successive promotions. However, Warburton has only managed since 2013, still relatively inexperienced. A name that few have been floating is Paul Lambert, recently out of a job after being fired from Aston Villa. He enjoyed great success at Norwich and achieved promotion at the first time of asking. He is also an experienced manager who knows his way around English football. Although he is not known for his free flowing football, sometimes a club has to make sacrifices in the quality of play in order to achieve results.
The season has not been without its bright spots, however. Fulham fans found a new, young goalkeeper to love in the form of Marcus Bettinelli. In his debut season for the club the 22 year old has impressed with his superb reaction saves, and although he has much to improve on, the future looks promising. Ross McCormack also produced some magnificent performances, and was our leading goal scorer and assist maker. Lasse Vigen Christensen held down the central midfield well when he was fit, and is also one for the future. Fulham also produced some memorable victories, beating Derby and Middlesbrough at home, and defeating Wolves away in a FA Cup penalty shootout.
In all, the 2014/15 season has been a rollercoaster of emotions. From beginning of the season optimism to the low point of Magath's last match, and from initial hope under Kit Symons to fears of relegation, nothing has been certain all year. The fact that the supporters were celebrating our confirmed safety tells a lot about the season, and is frankly embarrassing. Fulham should never have to be squeezing out results against the likes of Rotherham, Blackpool, and Huddersfield Town. Fulham should never have to sit in the bottom half of the Championship. But times have changed. Next year we have to right these wrongs, with the help of a new manager and a solid backline, in order to achieve promotion to the promised land of the Premier League.