The Craven Corner: Play-Offs It Is

11th May 2018
(Photo: Rex Features)

After the start we had this season, if you told a fan that they would have had the chance to finish 2nd on the last day of the season, they wouldn’t have believed you. Ad Brons-Smith breaks it down.

Despite the heroic performances of 2018, I think it’s safe to say that Sunday’s result hurt.

As strange as that sounds, that’s not just because we lost 3-1 at Birmingham, it was more due to the point that Cardiff only drew, and if we had played the way we have done over the course of 2018, we could be a Premier League club by now. But, it simply wasn’t meant to be.

The performance at Birmingham has actually taken me a fair few days to get over as I expected so much more from such a talented and promising side. Then again, as a fan, maybe I’ve been spoiled in 2018 by Fulham, and that I shouldn’t have such high expectations.

It is hard to digest though as too many passes went astray and on a day where we needed Captain Cairney, even he looked dejected and our side looked like a team relegated, rather than one still fighting for an automatic promotion spot.

But, if Lucas Piazon had taken his chance early in the first half, would we have seen different outcome? Would Fulham have bottled a 1-0 lead or would have Cardiff turned it up a gear to make sure that they got all three points against Reading, rendering any Fulham victory pointless. There’s many ‘What if?’ scenarios we could play out in our minds, but I completely understand the disappointment and negativity at the final whistle.

Even though the season ended on a dull performance, when you look back at what we’ve achieved this year it truly is remarkable. It proved that Slavisa Jokanovic has a side capable of promotion, and probably even winning the league but to be champions you’ve got be the best team over 46 games and not 24.

Fulham were always going to steal the headlines when their inevitable change in form begun, and while I’m not a fan of Neil Warnock, you’ve got to applaud what he has done at Cardiff this season.

As I’ve said before, the Championship is a strange league as anyone can beat anyone, and there’s always one team that gets promotion which no one expects, and this year it was Cardiff. Over the course of the season, they were a team, it wasn’t glamourous and they didn’t have any superstars, but they were consistent and worked hard as a team throughout it, and that’s the difference between 2nd and 3rd this season.

Fulham left it far too late, we had a mountain to climb, and while we worked damn hard to get to the top, there were too many games where we blew a lead against poor opposition. QPR and Burton spring to mind – and we should have never lost to the leagues poorest side, Sunderland. Which now leaves us in the play-offs for the second season in a row.

If I’m honest, I really want to be optimistic and ambitious about Fulham’s chances in the play-offs, but it’s probably the hardest play-offs the league has seen in years. Middlesbrough, Derby, Aston Villa & us. All teams that have Premier League ready stars in and each team has their own game winner. Middlesbrough will cause Villa problems no doubt, with the likes of Adama Traore and Bamford against John Terry and James Chester.

Villa still have a Premier League budget, have a leader who can handle the pressure in Terry, but also possess the creative minds of Jack Grealish & Conor Hourihane, who at this level are top quality midfielders. Then we have our opponents, Derby County who have Tom Lawrence & Matej Vydra, two players that I’d love to see in a Fulham shirt.

Not only that, but our engine room will have an incredibly tough duel with the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Bradley Johnson and Joe Ledley, all of who still possess the talent needed to play at the highest level.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re a great side on our day, and I genuinely think we could beat most of the teams in the Premier League when we are at our best. But our record in the play-offs isn’t the best, and I think the loss at Birmingham could really affect us, especially as it kills the momentum that we had built over the previous 23 games.

I know, this isn’t the most optimistic article you’ve read this week, but these play-offs have such a big impact on the club. If we make it a success and return back to the Premier League, we should be able to keep this squad together as we’ll be able to offer the likes of McDonald, Cairney, Fredericks & Sessegnon Premier League football, rather than having to sell them to PL admirers.

But, if it doesn’t happen, we’ve got the toughest season the club has faced ahead of us next year. Not only would we lose 4 or more top quality players, but we would have to rebuild a side from scratch again. Yes, we’d raise funds through player sales, but we’d be limited by Financial Fair Play, and replacing that talent within such tight boundaries would be a mammoth task. But, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

I’ve listened to the player interviews this week, and McDonald especially seems confident going into this game, but we’ve got to make sure we repeat our last trip to Pride Park.

Dominate the ball from the first whistle, and really stretch that Derby back line and midfield with willing runs from the likes of Sessegnon and hopefully Kamara. The reason I mentioned Kamara is because while he’s not the most technically gifted player we’ve seen in a Fulham shirt, he is one of the fastest we’ve seen and while he is incredibly unpredictable, it’s that rawness that causes problems in the final third.

Plus, he provides a bit of fiery passion and strength when playing off Mitrovic. Kamara’s return to the side is the only change I’d expect in the starting eleven, as I feel that if we started Piazon he could get played out of the game quite easily. With Piazon’s tendencies to drift inside, it won’t be the game for him I feel as the centre of the park will already be very busy with all the pressure on Derby’s midfield to close the space around Cairney and co.

Finally, I do believe we’ve got to go and get a win at Derby on Friday, despite being the away team. We can’t go out and play safe, and come back with a draw. We’ve got to really put the pressure on and dictate the tempo to best suit our players. Derby have more than enough quality to cause us trouble, but a possession heavy performance and an early goal would calm any Fulham nerves on and off the pitch!

I also want to say a massive thank you to the team at Fulhamish & Fulham Focus for their organisation and hard work behind the scenes in arranging the Football game in April which helped boost the #Fulham2BirminghamWalk campaign, raising money for The Calm Zone. It was a true pleasure to be a part of and it was great to meet a lot of fellow fans too.

While Fulhamish’s Jack Collins stole the show with four goals, it’s great to see the Fulham fan-base using their exposure to raise money for such a worthy cause. We live in a world where there is a lot of pressure on people, and it’s okay to talk. Reach out, talk to a friend, a relative or seek support if you are feeling low.

Discovering that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 is frightening, and if there’s anything we can do together as a fanbase, then let’s keep raising money for the likes of CALM who help people through the dark times.

Thank you ever so much for your support again this season. The Craven Corner has been going for over six years now, and I can’t thank you enough for all your support.

Please do keep share your feedback, thoughts and feelings with me on Twitter by tweeting to @ABronsSmith.

Any retweets, and help with sharing the Craven Corner with fellow fans is really appreciated. Let’s hope that next month’s article can label Fulham as a Premier League club once again.

If you have missed any of the Craven Corner articles, you can catch up here

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