Fulham’s three and half years in the Championship are a funny thing. The halcyon days of the Premier League seem only yesterday, yet it also feels like Fulham have languishing down a division for ever. Will Stokes breaks the story of the Championship struggle down in his Fulhamish debut.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Fulham were in the Premier League, with the likes of Clint Dempsey and Dimitar Berbatov smashing in goals for The Cottagers, but since their relegation in 2014, it has hardly been the straightforward bounce back to the big time that clubs such as Burnley and Newcastle (to name a few), have enjoyed in recent years…
During their 13-year top flight stay, the Whites had always floated comfortably in mid-table, having the occasional stumble like in 2008, finishing 17th only on goal difference.
But the downs were always balanced with ups, such as the incredible 2009/10 Europa League run, where Fulham reached the final with players like Chris Baird and Simon Davies in the team; but they narrowly missed out on silverware due to a 116th minute Atletico Madrid goal.
Fulham’s venture in England’s top flight ended in 2014 after a calamitous season that involved 3 managers, new ownership and a £13m record signing that played less than 5 games.
Over the summer, Fulham fans did not know what to expect of the forthcoming season. However, with the signing of players like Mark Fotheringham and Gábor Király, Fulham fans had a taste of what was to come…
The Whites had a dreadful start to the 2014/15 season, taking only one point from eight league games, and in the wake of this record, Fulham’s tyrannic manager, Felix Magath, got the boot.
He was replaced with former Fulham player Kit Symons, who managed to drag the club out and away from the relegation zone but only could inspire a measly 17th place finish at the end of the season. Fulham had fully felt the brutality of the Championship, so at least they were in the position to improve for next season, right ?
Fulham’s 15/16 season got off to a decent start, they were 10th at the start of November. Strikers Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele had been a breath of fresh air at the club, and the duo would go on to score 36 goals between them by the season’s end.
However losses to Burnley and Birmingham meant that Symons was ultimately sacked, with the board not feeling that the Welshman was steering the Whites in the direction that they wanted to go – up.
Fulham went well over a month without a manager, as their form dipped and they slid down the table. In late December of 2015, the Serbian Slaviša Jokanović was appointed the head coach after guiding Watford to promotion (then leaving for Maccabi Tel-Aviv) that same year.
Jokanović tried to employ a better style of football into the side, but the quality of players were simply not good enough, meaning that Fulham were left hovering one point over the relegation zone in April 2016, and staring a second relegation in three years right in the face.
Fulham eventually steered clear of the drop-zone thanks to a good run of form, but ended up finishing 20th. The days of European glory and Premier League solidarity were now a distant memory.
The summer of 2016 was a mixed one for the Whites signing a plethora of players: Stefan Johansen, Kevin McDonald, Tomas Kalas, Chris Martin, Sone Aluko, Lucas Piazon, Scott Malone and Floyd Ayite, whilst also seeing the breakthrough of 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon.
This injection of new players came at a price, as Fulham both the saw the back of their star strikers Dembele and McCormack, who were the shining light of the previous season, as they joined Celtic and Aston Villa, respectively.
The London club got of to the dream start beating newly relegated giants Newcastle 1-0, on the opening day. They were unbeaten in August as Slaviša Jokanović finally got Fulham playing good football once again. They were sat just outside the play-off places for the majority of the season, but an extraordinary second half of the season, accompanied by Leeds slipping down the table, saw Fulham finish in the last play-off spot.
Fulham faced Reading in the semi-finals but heartbreakingly lost 2-1 on aggregate. Although the season ended in sadness and sorrow, the feel good factor was back in South-West London.
Not much changed over pre-season. Fulham acquired Both Tomas Kalas and Lucas Piazon from Chelsea on loan for another season and signed a collection of players: Jordan Graham, Rafa Soares, Oliver Norwood and Sheyi Ojo joining on loan, with Yohan Mollo and Rui Fonte and a few others joining The Cottagers on a permanent basis.
The Whites also sold a handful of players, including Scott Malone and Sone Aluko, whilst Chris Martin returned to Derby. Most importantly, the club tied down star-man and captain Tom Cairney to a new deal.
Fulham’s start to the season was far from glamorous as they sat in 17th in mid November,with Jokanovic’s system simply getting found out by other Championship teams. The manager, and the club as a whole, managed to turn this right around with a run of form (which is still ongoing) which has seen Fulham lose only twice in 15 games, remainig unbeaten in 9 and winning 5 of their last 6 league games.
This has come about thanks to a renewed team spirit and in no small part due to the efforts of 17-year-old left winger, Ryan Sessegnon. He is the Whites’ top scorer with 11 goals, setting the Championship alight and showing no signs of slowing down.
Fulham now sit comfortably in the play-off positions, and are chasing the teams above them. They recently signed left-back Matt Targett on loan and got the signatures of both Cyrus Christie and Aleksandar Mitrović on Deadline Day to bolster the squad.
Things are certainly looking up for Fulham, is a Premier League return finally on the cards?