It’s December 7th, and Fulham FC are 9th in the Premiership table with 20 points and a positive goal difference after 15 matches played. Yes, that’s not a series of typos. Fulham are a top 10 side, with more than half the points they’ll need to stay up, and not even half the season gone. Last year, the Cottagers didn’t hit 20 points until March. They only won 8 out of 38 matches all last season, compared to 5 out of 15 this year.
The difference thas been their defending. They’ve only allowed 12 goals in 15 matches, the fourth best in the league. Only the perennial powerhouses Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have allowed fewer goals than Fulham. They have not lost a match yet by more than a single goal. Their tougher defending has allowed them to take a few points on the road (3 in 7 matches), and win 5 matches at home that they may have drawn or even lost last season.
The other revelation has been their performance against top 10 teams. Last year Fulham just rolled over for most of the season when they met up with a quality side — except for a 0-0 draw with Chelsea early in the season, a couple of draws against Blackburn, a win against Everton and Aston Villa, and their late-season “great escape” heroics, they were totally hapless. This year, so far, they’ve beaten Arsenal, Bolton, Wigan, Newcastle and Tottenham at the Cottage, and grabbed away draws against #1 Liverpool and #5 Villa. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were actually good.
With upcoming away matches at Stoke and Spurs, and a home match against an under-achieving Middlesbrough before Chelsea arrives at Craven Cottage on December 28th, they could even take a few more points into the new year at the mid-point of the season. Given that 40 points has usually ensured safety in the top flight, if we finish the year at 23+ points and a positive goal difference, I may even allow myself to be mildly optimistic about the spring. :-)