When the fixtures were released for the 17/18 Championship season it was evident that Fulham faced a gruelling start to the campaign. This prediction has materialised itself with the likes of Cardiff and Leeds, both of whom currently reside in the top six, proving challenging opponents for the Whites.
A somewhat slow start to the season has inevitably caused the manifestation of some early season fears amongst the Fulham faithful. Defeats against Sheffield Wednesday and Burton coupled with a very Fulhamish [Sorry – Ed.] trait of conceding late equalisers have further fuelled a degree of discontent from the stands.
Nevertheless at times this season our quality has prevailed, rewarding the fans with some unbelievable moments. Ipswich away, Piazon’s goal at the Madjeski, Stef’s free kick at the City Ground, and the win against QPR all stand out so far.
Despite the lack of consistent results, two victories in our previous two outings have seen the club rise to within three points of the playoffs, which is quite remarkable considering that Fulham are playing nowhere near their full potential, and are missing the side’s figurehead in Tom Cairney.
As with any league, consistency is the key to success, and nowhere is this more true than in the Championship, where a string of wins can see any side rocket up the table. The Fulham team will hope to maintain their recent form as they head into four very winnable games in October, a month targeted by the fanbase as one in which results must be positive.
Preston North End (Home, Saturday 14th)
Fulham’s first outing of October sees them face a Preston side who have made an impressive start to the campaign, at the Cottage. Following the departures of last season’s player of the year Aiden McGeady, and manager Simon Grayson, much doubt was cast over whether Preston could build on their successes of the last campaign.
However, under the management of Alex Neil the team have achieved a number of positive results, with wins against Sheffield Wednesday, Hull and a 3-0 victory over league leaders Cardiff providing reasonable cause for concern for the Whites.
Preston have thus far attempted to employ an attractive possession-based style of football, although this is belied in the statistical average of 52% possession maintained so far over the course of the season.
If this strategy is employed on Saturday, it is likely to favour Fulham who are often frustrated by teams who ‘park the bus’; finding it difficult to penetrate such rigid defensive systems at times. I predict this encounter at the Cottage to be an entertaining affair for the neutral, with some exciting football on show, and I am going to plump for a 3-1 victory for the Whites.
Aston Villa (Away, Saturday 21st)
An away trip to Villa Park is a daunting prospect for any team in this division. Steve Bruce possesses a squad with a gargantuan amount of talent, and one which should undoubtedly be pushing for promotion. After suffering a poor start to the season, Villa’s results have steadily improved and the side sit just one point off the Playoffs at the start of the month (although this Saturday sees them take on high flying Wolves at Molineux).
Villa have managed to pick up three wins in a row, albeit against bottom half opposition, and despite a wealth of purchased talent it has been 19 year old academy prospect Keinan Davies who has been the breakout performer, striking up an effective partnership with last season’s main man Jonathan Kodija.
Despite the three victories, a worrying sign for Villa fans appears to be their lack of creativity from midfiled, shown particularly in the lack of shots on target per game, achieving only three at home to Bolton (a side who look destined to finish bottom of the pile) and only four in the home victory over Nottingham Forest.
Such stats suggest that Villa’s current winning run may be papering over the cracks in some aspects. However, Fulham fans know only too well that sides can reach the play-off final without creating a reasonable amount of chances to win a game of football.
I do expect this to be a closely fought encounter but a very winnable one at that. Our away from has continued to outrank our home form this season, mainly due to the side’s excellent ability to catch teams on the counter. What appears on paper to be the hardest fixture of the month could produce another excellent away victory for the Whites. In spite of all this a combination of our poor record at Villa Park and memories of Button’s howler in this fixture last year, mean that I’m going to go for a 1-1 draw.
Bolton Wanderers (Home, Saturday 28th)
This fixture, dare I say it, looks a relatively straight forward one for Fulham. However, there are no easy fixtures in this league and often the so called smaller teams can provide a stiff challenge, when they set up to play for a point, or attempt to nick a win from a set piece situation.
The table provides grim reading for Bolton fans who have seen their side lose nine out of their eleven league games, picking up just two points all season. Bolton’s goal difference of minus eighteen should spark excitement among the likes of Fonte and co as opportunities for goals appear to be frequent against their defence.
Three points are a must in these types of games if Slavisa’s side are to mount a serious promotion push, however a good attacking display will also be demanded by those in attendance at the Cottage. I believe Fulham will indeed pick up all three points in a comfortable 2-0 win.
Bristol City (Home, Tuesday 31st)
Fulham’s final game of the month is a midweek clash under the Cottage lights against Championship high flighers Bristol City, who have mirrored their early season form of last season, to once again find themselves in a play off place at this stage of the competition.
A well deserved victory at Portman Road extended an already commendable unbeaten run to eleven matches in all competitions, a run which has seen them score twenty league goals – making them the division’s second top scorers. Furthermore, an average of 15 shots per game compared to that of Fulham who have only achieved 13.1 looks worrying from a Fulham perspective.
It is evident that Lee Johnson’s side will therefore once again provide tough opposition in a game that once more favours the neutral with goals expected (this is a recurring trait amongst Fulham games). A repeat of last years 0-4 hammering would be disastrous for Fulham, and with another tricky fixture against Wolves looming the following weekend, Slavisa must be targetting a home a win. I am going to be optimistic and say 2-1 to the Whites.
October has the potential to be a prosperous one for Fulham and a month where the club’s climb up the table has the potential to gain huge momentum. A huge boost not yet mentioned is the potential return of club captain and midfield talisman Tom Cairney, although his exact return date remains somewhat of a mystery.
A minimum of nine points from the four games does not seem an unreasonable request, however our home form will have to improve if this is to materialise and the conceding of late goals will have to cease. That said, this Fulham side are more than capable of achieving the wins neccessary in these fixtures whilst providing the fans with some great footballing displays.