On 28 December Roy Hodgson accepted the managers post at Premier League side Fulham. The Cottagers’ immediate future was looking bleak – in the bottom three, with just 14 points on the table. The revival was hardly immediate either, taking just two points from his first five league games in charge. Further to this Fulham only managed two wins in the first three months of Hodgson’s tenure.
Relegation looked like a mere formality by the time April had arrived. But, following a 3-1 home loss to Sunderland something incredible happened. Fulham for the first time since 9 September 2006 won an away game in the Premier League – prevailing over relegation rivals Reading by a 2-0 scoreline. Fulham went on to win four of their last five games including that superb encounter at Manchester City and sealed their survival on the final day away at Portsmouth.
Hodgson’s spending in summer shows that chairman Mohammed Al Fayed must have been impressed. Andy Johnson arrived for a fee reported to be between 10 and 13 million, a Bobby Zamora and Johnathan Paintsil also arrived from West Ham for a combined fee of £6.3 million. Those signings aside Hodgson appears to have been fairly shrewd, landing Zoltan Gera and Mark Schwarzer on a free.
Fast forward a year later and the same club is now not only leading the ‘race for seventh’ but playing decent football on the way. The defensive partnership of Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland has also been instrumental, Fulham have conceded just 32 goals in 36 games – only 14 of which at home. Although Fulhams record away from their beloved Craven Cottage is still questionable, I firmly believe we will see improvement in this department next season. Despite only winning two away games so far this season, only Liverpool and Manchester United have taken more points at home than the Cottager’s (although Manchester City can also claim this).
A superb second half performance helped to overcome fifth-placed Aston Villa to win 3-1 shows just how far the club have come. I still remember Franck Queudreue publicly criticising then manager Lawrie Sanchez, he was quoted as saying “Sanchez told us to hit long balls and pick up the rebounds” and “He wanted us to play like Neanderthals. But I am not a Neanderthal man and I told him I could not continue.”
I for one certainly don’t see these tactics present with Roy Hodgson in charge and cannot help but admire the counter-attacking brand of football that I witnessed when I have had the opportunity to watch.
Granted there are some justified calls for Tony Pulis after guiding Stoke City to safety. Alex Ferguson is always likely to be in with a shout – especially if he completes a four trophy haul. Martin O’ Neill, David Moyes and Gianfranco Zola will also not have gone unnoticed. However I believe Hodgson is the one that deserves to be recognised. After escaping relegation on the final day of last season, the club is not only within two games of the highest finish in its 130 year history but are also on the verge of a European adventure to boot.