The title of this post says it all.
It’s straightforward for the Cottagers. Anything but a win against Sunderland tomorrow and Fulham can start packing their bags for the Coca-Cola Championship next year. Instead of lucrative home games against the likes of historic Premiership city rivals like Tottenham, Arsenal, and Chelsea, the fans at Craven Cottage will have to get used to seeing their team play Queens Park Rangers (QPR) and Crystal Palace.
Fortunately for Fulham, tomorrow’s match will be played in London and Sunderland has struggled mightily away from home all season. The Black Cats have managed just one win in 16 road games and taken only four points outside of the Stadium of Light, but, to their credit, that one win came at a pretty good Aston Villa team on March 22. Possible starter Dwight Yorke will miss the game due to a knee injury, and Dickson Etuhu won’t take any part either, also because of a knee problem. Fulham is healthy and ready to go, having been unbeaten in three of their last four contests.
Right now, Fulham is six points adrift of 17th place, where they need to be at the end of the season to avoid relegation. With the 24 points they have now, it appears like they’ll need to find a way to earn anywhere from 6-9 more to escape the drop. A victory tomorrow and that task would become far more manageable, but a loss and Fulham are doomed with the schedule they still have to navigate.
Hypothetically, let’s say that they do scratch out a win. That would probably vault the West London club into 18th place ahead of Bolton, who seem unlikely to go to Villa Park and get anything from their hosts. Birmingham, in 17th, travel to Wigan in a huge six-pointer as those two teams are separated by only one point and one place in the standings at the moment. Fulham will be rooting for either a draw in that game or a Wigan victory, because either would make climbing out of a relegation spot more realistic.
After tomorrow, Fulham will travel to Reading and take on another team in the relegation battle. The Cottagers are eight points behind Reading right now, but two consecutive victories could see that deficit slashed to two heading into the last four games of the season. Reading is alright at home, but they’ve conceded more goals at the Madejski than they’ve scored and that will give Fulham some hope.
The key game of the season in the quest to stay in England’s top flight could very well come on May 3, the second-to-last weekend of the year. Fulham will welcome none other than Birmingham to Craven Cottage and their guests are another team that are absolutely abysmal on the road. At that point, Fulham would need to be two points (or less) behind to leap into what could be safety, because their goal differential is inferior to Birmingham’s and that is the first tiebreaker if needed.
It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for Fulham, given the fact that their roster is loaded with Americans and I want to see them do well. I also picked them to finish 13th this season, which may have been a bit of a reach, but I’m rooting for them to make me look good. Guys like Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, and Kasey Keller all deserve better than the Championship and I’m hoping their team stays up.
It all starts tomorrow though, and Fulham desperately, desperately needs to beat Sunderland. Failing to do so wouldn’t result in mathematical relegation yet, but they could very well need to run the table to remain in the Premiership and that’s unrealistic. A win and Fulham would be in business.
The last six games of the season are going to be extremely enjoyable for viewers, as we have a little bit of a title race and a full-on relegation battle. Here’s to Fulham coming away with three points tomorrow.