They’ve spent the last three years desperately trying to prevent a slippery slope into the depths of the Football League. But forget Championship stability, Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham are well on-course for a return to the Premier League.
A 20th-placed finish last season combined with the arrival of no less than 14 new signings back in the summer meant a mid-table finish looked on the cards for the west London outfit.
But with a game in hand over their top-half rivals, the Cottagers could find themselves within two points of a play-off spot if they beat Reading tonight.
Do that, and we’ll likely see the odds on them achieving a top six finish fall even shorter than the 6/4 currently on offer.
Jokanovic’s men have been in incredible form of late, losing just three games in all competitions since October 1. To put that into perspective, promotion-favourites Newcastle United have lost more than that, as have Norwich City and Aston Villa over the same period of time.
They’re two victories away from matching their total wins from last season, and have some 13 more points than they did at this stage in 2015-16.
So what exactly is going right?
They may have only scored two more goals than they managed at this point last campaign, but it’s still the fourth highest figure in the division right now.
That means the current defensive unit have to take a lot of credit for the club’s success this year.
Only the leading two sides in the Championship boast better goal difference figures,
A staggering 12 defenders represented Fulham on five or more occasions in the league last year, while Jokanovic experimented with his options.
However, of those 12 names, only two remain at the club – Tim Ream and Michael Madl. And between them, they have just 22 starts from a possible 52 games.
Instead, the Serbian has used the likes of Scott Malone, Tomas Kalas, Denis Odoi and academy product, Ryan Sessegnon.
The arrival of David Button in between the sticks has provided stability too – featuring in every game for the Cottages so far this season. And with eight clean sheets already to his name this season, he’s already bettered the tally Fulham managed last time out (5).
A share of the burden
What makes Fulham’s success thus far even more remarkable is that they’ve done it without two of their biggest names from last campaign – Moussa Dembele and Ross McCormack.
Of their 66 league goals last campaign, the aforementioned pair netted 36 – and it’s fair to say fans feared the worst when the two strikers left the club last summer.
And aside from Dembele and McCormack, only three other Fulham players bagged three or more goals throughout last season.
Compare that to the eight names that have managed to get on the scoresheet on more than three occasions this time out, and it’s almost like we’re watching a completely different team.
In fact, we are.
Between them, Fulham players have accumulated 359 league appearances this season. Of that figure, only 113 have come from players who were at Craven Cottage last campaign.
Yet despite such a high turnover in personnel, it hasn’t taken long for this Fulham side to gel.
And this is a unit we’re only expecting to get tighter the more they play alongside each other this year.
With that in mind, we’d not only be tempted by the 6/4 on offer for the Cottagers to find themselves in a play-off spot come May, we’d also seriously consider the 7/1 on offer for them to win promotion.
A handful of plucky punters will be hoping for just that too, with two £200 bets being placed on Fulham winning promotion at 9/1, and two at 10s for £100 each.
So what do fans think? Will Fulham find themselves mixing it with the big boys next season?
Have your say in the comments section below!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing