With the title race seemingly over, Premier League fans have been looking to the relegation dogfight for some excitement. However, with the way the Premier League’s stragglers have been playing this season, it looked as if we may have been deprived of such a scrap. At the start of February, the consensus was that the trio of Sheffield United, West Brom and Fulham were simply waiting for their inevitable relegation and that their final act of the season would be a return to the EFL Championship.
However, three weeks is an awfully long time in football and, although things haven’t improved for the Blades or the Baggies, the same cannot be said for a newly resurgent Fulham.
The Craven Cottage outfit have gone unbeaten in their last four league outings and, although they still find themselves in the relegation zone, there is an incredible amount of belief within the Fulham camp right now.
Thier mood is in stark contrast from earlier in the campaign, when defensive woe and a lack of a cutting edge up front made the Cottagers seem a dead cert for relegation. However, slowly but surely Scott Parker has managed to salvage a shipwreck of a campaign with two wins in their last three, which followed a horrific run of 12 games without a win, during which it seems like they were sunk.
At one stage it looked as if Fulham were attempting to draw their way out of the relegation zone, with the Londoners reaching five consecutive stalemates. Credible draws against Liverpool, Southampton and Tottenham during that run can now be seen as green shoots for the better results which would come, but at the time felt like small steps when giant leaps were required.
That they didn’t win any of those five league outings between December 13th and January 13th should not be overlooked, if only because they avoided defeat throughout the same period.
Even if it did that stretch of games did not generate the most exhilarating football, it taught Fulham a priceless lesson in their fight against relegation. They learnt that they were capable of avoiding defeats and, with Scott Parker now converting draws into wins, they have started to reap the benefits later in the season.
Although Fulham wouldn’t win for another six games following that run, there was not a sense that the efforts from the previous month were wasted and if anything, Fulham’s belief that they could escape relegation was only growing further. Now, with eight points from the last 12 on offer, they are certainly making hay while the sun shines in West London.
With the side above them, Newcastle, having been dealt a body blow after Callum Wilson suffered a hamstring injury against Southampton, Fulham will be confident of overtaking Steve Bruce’s side in the table. Wilson is set to be out for up to eight weeks and it has left manager Steve Bruce looking over his shoulder with The Magpies looking as though they were safe earlier in the season.
Now though, Newcastle and Fulham are heading in opposite directions. The St James’ Park outfit find themselves only three points clear of the relegation zone and with 12 defeats from their last 14 league games, things are looking bleak.
The relegation battle looking finished a couple of months ago but with Fulham finding form with 13 games left to play, they will will have Newcastle, Brighton and even Burnley in their sights, all of whom will desperately want to avoid finishing 18th on the final day of the season.
If the Premier League scriptwriters wanted a fitting conclusion to this engrossing tale, Fulham actually host Newcastle on the final day of the season, in what could yet be a winner takes all relegation decider. With the prospect of supporters being permitted back into stadia by then, could Fulham’s great escape be completed in front of a packed stadium?