In what did not come as much of a surprise to me, Fulham drew 1-1 with Swansea in the 5th round of the FA Cup on Saturday which sets up a replay in one week's time to be played at Craven Cottage. What did surprise me was the way in which Swansea dominated the proceedings for much if not all of the match in Wales.
While Fulham did get on the scoreboard first, it was Swansea that seemed to create the better scoring chances and in addition they were the ones controlling possession and taking charge of the match. It should be noted that Swansea are flying high at the present time having gone now sixteen matches unbeaten in all competitions. Fulham will need to put together a solid performance in the replay if they want to advance to the final eight of the world's oldest knockout competition.
Unfortunately, if the Cottagers do advance, reigning Premier League champions Manchester United await. It would mean the Cottagers see the champions of Europe all too often over the course of the next month as Fulham travel to Old Trafford this Wednesday for a match that is being played now because of fixture congestion surrounding Manchester United's involvement in the World Club Cup competition in December.
Not only would Fulham see them on Wednesday at Old Trafford, but they would see them on March 5th at Craven Cottage in the 6th round of the FA Cup and also on March 21st at Craven Cottage in what would be the third and final match of the season against Sir Alex's high flying defending champions. While the Cottagers do need to beat Swansea to advance, I do not have much faith that Fulham can knock out the champions in the 6th round of the FA Cup. Therefore, my focus for the remainder of the season will fall with the Premier League and what Fulham needs to do to finish inside the top ten.
This coming weekend Fulham will entertain cellar dwellers West Bromwich Albion. Quite simply, this is a must win. Fulham has some tough matches down the stretch including two against the aforementioned Manchester United, one against Liverpool, one at Chelsea, one at Arsenal, one against Aston Villa and one at Everton. That accounts for seven of Fulham's final fourteen matches. It is going to be tough to get results in any of those matches and because of that it makes it even more important to get points against teams like West Brom if the Cottagers have any hope of finishing inside the top ten. Is it possible to finish in the upper half? Yes. However, it will be a tall order.
I have always been a believer in good teams being strong at the back and for Fulham to end the season the way we all want them to, the defense is going to have to be rock solid. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in league play in forever. Records are being broken every match by former Cottager Edwin Van Der Sar and his Red Devil teammates for minutes played without conceding a goal. Fulham may not be able to keep the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney from scoring on Wednesday, but against West Brom at home I would think the Fulham defense has what it takes to keep the Baggies off the scoreboard.
If the Fulham defense and midfield can perform at high levels in controlling the opposition and in turn having more possession of the ball than their opponents in the last three months of the season the Cottagers have a chance to do some special things. I have my doubts though that a top ten finish is in order for Roy Hodgson's side.
Outside of the Portsmouth match, Fulham has looked a bit shaky in both defense and in midfield. As mentioned before Championship contenders Swansea outplayed the Cottagers all over the pitch. After West Brom on Sunday, Arsenal awaits at the Emirates and that is never an easy chore playing the Gunners and their smooth passing game, particularly with the arrivals of Andrei Arshavin and Eduardo in the fold.
Fulham has had a solid season thus far and Roy Hodgson has proven he is a quality manager. It is important that this season be remembered for not just how things went positively in the first two-thirds of the season, but also how the team finished strong down the stretch.
Relegation is out of the question this season which is always goal #1 heading into each Premier League season, but this Fulham team should hope and expect for more than just avoiding the drop. The Cottagers have talented players up and down the pitch and with the right mix of luck and skill, this team could make it a season to remember if they remain strong and focused the rest of the way.