So here we are, ladies and gentleman. Something that was mostly expected will happen but it is not something that not many want coming into this past week. Fulham will once again be among the four teams hoping to be promoted to the Premier League via the playoffs.
But that was not supposed to be how the story went. Fulham were supposed to come to St. Andrew’s, dominate against a weak Birmingham City club and make it through automatically: especially after learning that Cardiff City only drew with Reading. Instead, the club capitulated to a 3-1 defeat; putting an end to a historic 23-match unbeaten run. But that’s the thing about unbeaten runs, especially in football at this level. They’re not supposed to last that long.
But what made last Sunday sting so much was that it was an opportunity. It was knocking so loud that all of Putney Bridge, Bishop’s Park and a good chunk of the River Thames felt it all week. Nobody could have cared less that Fulham only had a less than 20% chance of getting promoted automatically. So that’s why this defeat hurts. That’s why, in spite of the 23-match unbeaten run, ridicule towards the players and the coaching staff reverberated all day.
But hey, let’s all forget what happened to them between mid-September to mid-December. During that stretch, Fulham only won five times in 15 fixtures and only picked up 19 points during that span. In other words, instead of the 88 points the club ended up getting, they were playing like a 58-point club instead: good enough for 15th best in the Championship if they played like that all season.
But the club regrouped. With Craig Kline gone, Slavisa had a larger role in the transfer market and boy did he strike gold in January with Matt Targett and Aleksander Mitrovic. The two easily became the best at their positions in the league and guided the squad to bigger and brighter things. If only they were a part of Fulham much sooner!
But here we are, one match away from destiny...until destiny was taken away from us. Fulham’s defense was found wanting in the Birmingham sunshine. The attack only came with a few headers towards goal to show for it. Everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong for everyone involved. This includes one too many supporters, who did not spend a moment putting the whole season into perspective and realizing how far the players and coaches had to climb.
So what do we do now? Do us supporters continue to wallow in our own misery from an opportunity that was not taken. Or do we take advantage of another opportunity that was given to us against Derby County? Do we fear for an additional moment of agony in the club’s illustrious history of such matters? Or do we revel in the fact that we are among the favorites to still come out of this with not only an appearance at Wembley, but with a “We’re going up” banners being paraded around the pitch by this month’s end?
An opportunity is present. You can either take it or leave it. We are given these opportunities, no matter how big or small, every day in every part of our lives, let alone for our football club. But this is why the playoffs are a miserable moment.
Especially in this day and age, we’d like things to be much simpler. We can potentially find significant others online. We can say whatever we want on the internet and face much less scrutiny for it. We can even order food without having to move a muscle as long as the device to make it happen is right on our hands. We like things simple now.
But sometimes, simplicity has to be earned. This is one of those moments. We can either feel sorry for a defeat to Birmingham and wish we can bring that easy joy back, or we can all get ready to burst with pride when our club go against another for two legs, and hopefully one additional fixture against another in the home of football. But only you can decide how to best handle this last few days before Friday.