One year ago, Fulham was arguably the worst team in the Premier League not named Derby. The club showed little holiday spirit, sacking Lawrie Sanchez just four days before Christmas. New manager Roy Hodgson needed a great escape, scraping to 36 points and safety on the season’s final day.
This season, however, Hodgson has revolutionized Fulham, currently sitting comfortably mid-table on 26 points with a game in hand. Here are five facts to explain Fulham’s resurgence this season.
Ferocity at the Back: Americans have a saying, “Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.” Fulham are nowhere near title contention, but a vastly improved defense has proved pivotal. Halfway through the current season, Fulham have allowed just 14 goals in the 19 matches. That’s fourth best in the Premier League, behind only Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United. If Fulham maintain that pace, they would allow 28 goals. They shipped 60 the previous year. Fulham are far more competitive and have their backline to thank.
Fortress Craven Cottage: Fulham’s 2008-09 model has the requisite fragility away from home. They’ve failed to win in nine attempts, although they have drawn five. However, Fulham have been spectacular at home this season, winning six and drawing three of their ten matches. Only Manchester United and Liverpool have fared better at home this season than Fulham.
Overcoming Squandered Investments: Fulham spent serious moolah over the summer, nearly £20m, to revamp their striking with Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora. Despite their success, the duo have been largely ineffective, combining for only five goals in 33 combined appearances. American forward Clint Dempsey has four times as many goals as Bobby Zamora, with barely more than half as many pitch minutes. Fulham’s success has been despite not because of this substantial investment.
A Steely Run: Fulham, though only winning three, are undefeated in their past nine matches, last losing to 1-0 to Everton on Nov. 1. This run of matches saw Fulham play top tier sides, such as Liverpool, Chelsea and Aston Villa. They also played more talented teams, such as Manchester City, Newcastle and Tottenham twice. Fulham may fade a bit, but those fifteen difficult points could stave off relegation.
Backbone Against the Big Five: These fixtures are often overrated. For a team out of the title race six-pointers, they matter not more than any other match. However, Fulham, with a victory against Arsenal and draws with Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa, are undefeated in these matches. They conceded just two goals in the four matches, both against Chelsea. Tangibly, Fulham gain six points, but the value of the confidence earned is considerable.