The good fortunes continued in the summer with the signings of Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Mark Schwarzer and John Pantsil. All four have played key roles for the Cottagers in the 2008-2009 season thus far.
When the season finally got under way, it was hard to tell how this Fulham team would fare. While there were some new faces, there were a lot of questions about the team. Additionally, most Fulham supporters were still on cloud nine from escaping relegation the previous May to really focus and concentrate on the prospects on the current team.
Fortunately, the current team and its manager, Roy Hodgson, have made last season's near relegation miss a thing of the past. While many predicted Fulham to be near the bottom end of the table this season, that could not be further from the truth as Hodgson has his team in 9th place with two games in hand over halfway through the campaign.
It is easy to see where the team has improved from years past and that is in the back. The defense has been rock solid. Between Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes forming a solid partnership at the back and Mark Schwarzer being in top form, the ghosts of Fulham's woeful defenses in the past can be long forgotten.
What is interesting is that it took so long for Fulham to finally address the defensive issues after conceding so many goals under the Chris Coleman and Lawrie Sanchez regimes. I have always said no matter how many goals you score, if you give up goals easily you will not win many matches and that was the case for the Cottagers until this season.
Building from the back up is what Roy Hodgson has done since he took over in December 2007 and it has paid off in a major way this season as Fulham has a +4 goal difference. That my friends is a shocking statistic considering Fulham teams over the past five years have consistently been in the negative by double digits.
Currently the team is on an eleven match unbeaten run in all competitions and is playing fantastic. While the club has not yet won a match on the road, the Cottagers can boast of draws on the road at Liverpool, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Chelsea over the course of this eleven match run.
With a winnable fourth round FA Cup tie at Kettering Town on January 24th, Fulham is looking at the prospect of making a strong FA Cup run in addition to its strong work in league play.
Rumours have surfaced over the course of the first few weeks of January about the possible departures of Brede Hangeland and Jimmy Bullard. Both players would be sorely missed and I find it hard to believe either will leave Fulham during this season.
From the perspective of Fulham upper management it does not make a lot of sense to offload these players. Roy Hodgson has built a strong team around these players and others and for the first time in a few years, this club looks like it can finally be a mid-table team year in and year out as long as the current crop of players stay at the club. While some players will come and go, the core of this team needs to remain in tact for the Cottagers to continue the success it has enjoyed in the 2008-2009 season.
2009 will be an interesting year for Fulham. Before talking about the 2009-2010 season, I prefer to look ahead the remaining 18 league matches to see what might happen to our beloved Cottagers. Of the final eighteen matches, ten are on the road and eight are at Craven Cottage. Unfortunately, Fulham has to play Manchester United twice, Arsenal once, Liverpool once and Chelsea on the road in the penultimate match of the season in early May. While Fulham may have what it takes to get something from a few of those matches, it is not something I can realistically count on at this point.
For Fulham to stay in the top half and continue things in a positive direction they must beat teams like Sunderland, West Brom, Stoke City, West Ham, Bolton, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and other clubs that are in or near the relegation zone. In the past, Fulham has had trouble doing just this and it has cost them come the end of the season.
Fulham has shown it can compete with any club in the league this season. The Cottagers have shown a consistency in their play which is why they are where they are in the table right now.
Fulham's all-time highest finish in the Premier League is 9th place achieved in the 2003-2004 season under Chris Coleman. This team might be able to trump that with a strong finish to the season. That would mean little to no injury problems, no players being sold and the team competing on the pitch the way it has over the first twenty league matches.
I am excited about what the rest of the 2008-2009 season has in store for Fulham. Under the leadership of Roy Hodgson, who is one of the more underrated managers in the league, I do not expect any kind of free fall this season. While the team may have its struggles in some matches with the big boys, overall I think Fulham will continue to play at a high level and make things tough for their opponents week in and week out.
As for the FA Cup, anything is possible. Getting drawn at Kettering Town was a gift from the FA and Fulham has to make the most of it. Making a run in the FA Cup, has more to with the luck of the draw than it does anything else. Let's get by Kettering Town on the 24th and take our chances from there. A Cup run would be fantastic for all Fulham supporters everywhere.