It is now the middle of April and as a Fulham supporter this is usually not a good time of the year. In fact the past two seasons have been spent by many a Fulham supporter during the months of April and May biting every last nail and analyzing the table every which way trying to come up with a way for the Cottagers to be able to avoid the drop.
Fortunately, this season is a much different one and instead of worrying about relegation we can focus on a realistic shot of earning a UEFA Cup spot for the 2009-2010 season after yet another brilliant performance on Sunday at the City of Manchester Stadium as the Whites used a splendid second half to route hosts Manchester City 3-1 and move up to 8th in table, one point behind West Ham for the final European spot.
After trailing 1-0 at halftime Fulham blitzed Manchester City for three goals and probably could have scored more. The second half may very well could have been Fulham's best played half of the season as Clint Dempsey scored a brace sandwiched around a fine strike from former Manchester City trainee Dickson Etuhu to give Fulham the win and three points.
Defensively, Fulham was strong as usual. The City goal was superb by Stephen Ireland but outside of that goal, the Cottagers buckled down defensively as they have done all season long and kept the opposition in check even as the likes of Robinho, Daniel Sturridge and Ched Evans were brought on to aid the City attack in the second half.
If people want to pinpoint how and why Fulham has managed to turn things around in less than a year after struggling against relegation the obvious answer is the play of the defense. Outside of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, Fulham has conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Premier League.
I can't tell you how many times in the pre-Roy Hodgson era I wrote about needing to bolster the defense. However, Chris Coleman and Lawrie Sanchez had ideas of their own in terms of how to build the team and while at times the Cottagers could score goals under those managers, they were always giving up goals and in turn it made for a very inconsistent Fulham team.
Under Roy Hodgson the Cottagers have been very consistent. They are strong at Craven Cottage and they have recently played well on the road, winning their last two matches. Hodgson has built a team from the back to the front and spent money wisely to get this club where it is today. He has called on virtually the same eleven players for every single game this season and the team has learned how to play with one another and it shows in its performances on the pitch. Perhaps the likes of Rafa Benitez could take a page or two from Hogdson and the Spaniard might rethink his rotation policy that sees so many changes in personnel each and every match Liverpool plays. Had Benitez stayed with a core group throughout the season I feel they could and probably would win the Premier League title.
Fulham has six matches remaining in the 2008-2009 season. Three at home and three on the road including trips to Chelsea, Newcastle United and next week at the Riverside Stadium against Middlesbrough. On paper looking at matches against Boro, Newcastle and Stoke City they seem to be matches in which Fulham should win but with each of these teams fighting relegation the stakes will be much greater and the Cottagers will have to expect the opposition to do everything possible to win these matches and try to avoid the drop.
As Fulham supporters we know all too well what the thought of relegation does to a team. The Cottagers were all but relegated at this time last season before going on an amazing run to finish the season. Now Fulham is in the other shoe and will have to be on top of its game to win at Boro next weekend and against Stoke City in two weeks time at Craven Cottage.
It has been a very fun season as a Fulham supporter. We can all see the light at the end of the tunnel and that light is the UEFA Cup. With West Ham ahead of the Cottagers and Tottenham hot on Fulham's heels, the Whites are going to have to be nearly flawless over the last six matches to earn that UEFA Cup spot. However, I have learned my lesson from the past and I will never count Fulham out of any match on any given day.
The six match march to earn a UEFA Cup spot starts next Saturday at Boro. It is imperative that Roy Hodgson's side comes out on top to be able to keep those European aspirations alive. Regardless of whether the team gets into the UEFA Cup, it has been a magical season for Fulham Football Club and its supporters. We have gone from the brink of relegation to the brink of the UEFA Cup spot in less than 12 months. That is unbelievable!! Let's enjoy the last six matches of the season and let the chips fall where they may. My money is on Fulham.