Why Fulham should be considered favourites to stay up over Newcastle
By Ben Mathias
At the start of the season, Fulham, along with West Brom were almost unanimously written off to return to the Championship next season. Whilst West Brom and Sheffield United’s fate looks pretty much sealed, Fulham still have a fighter’s chance to escape an immediate return to the Championship, not to mention the small matter of playing relegation rivals Newcastle United on the final day of the season.
This season started pretty bleakly for Fulham with them conceding 10 goals in their first 3 games. The ones who hadn’t written them off prior to the start of the season, more than likely would’ve jumped on that bandwagon after Fulham lost comprehensively to Brentford 3-0 in the league cup. The dismal start to the season led to Scott Parker going back to the drawing board to change things up.
Parker changed Fulham’s system and also used deadline day to bring in players that have proved to be integral to their survival push. Ademola Lookman who is on loan from Leipzig has impressed, particularly at home against Liverpool and Manchester United. Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo had also been brought in on deadline day and have both improved Fulham’s defence, both becoming regular starters at centre-back. Andersen, despite on loan, has had the captain’s armband for most of the season with Mitrovic and Cairney not featuring heavily.
Parker also made a bold decision to drop Mitrovic as an out and out starter for Fulham, something that would’ve raised eyebrows at the time. Last season, Mitrovic was the talisman for Fulham last season scoring 26 league goals, and perhaps the largest reason why they were eventually promoted. Parker did this in favour of a new style of play, he wanted a more mobile forward who could link play and get in behind and we saw Ivan Cavaleiro and Ademola Lookman fill that role, until Parker brought in Josh Maja in the January transfer window.
The Leicester away game that Fulham won 2-1 proved to be the turning point in the Cottagers’ season. In the 21 Premier League games since then, including the win against Leicester, Fulham have only lost 7. Their most recent loss against Leeds was the only one of those defeats coming against an opponent outside the top 4 or traditional top 6. This doesn’t represent a team who is and has been in the bottom 3 for the entire season, this represents a team who may be starting to turn their form around. Fulham have picked up 14 draws this season, and most have them have come since things started to improve for them, and again this shows they’re heading in the right direction as they are proving more difficult to beat now than they were at the start of the season.
Contrarily, Newcastle have won just 3 of their last 23 games, doing the double over Everton and beating fellow strugglers West Brom. Things are looking bleak for the Tynewear club due to their dismal form and with them suffering injuries to key players like Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson. Wilson could return in a few weeks time but there is no question that one team is ahead of themselves and one team is looking over their shoulder. The final day of the season could be completely decisive for both clubs in terms of staying in the division. If I was a betting man I’d be hedging on Fulham.