Fulham’s season review: There’s always next year as high hopes end in despair and an unexpected battle

Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torment of man.” And don’t Fulham fans know it.

On August 9, Fulham embarked on their Sky Bet Championship campaign full of optimism after a disparaging season playing whipping boys in the Premier League.

As the bookies’ favourites, with a squad packed full of young talent and Felix Magath, a manager with three Bundesliga titles to his name, Fulham were surely going to breeze through the Championship, right? If only.

Felix Magath youtube Fulham Football Club
POOR FORM: Felix Magath managed just one draw in the first seven games of the season

Fast-forward to September 18. Magath had been handed his P45 having taken just one point from the opening seven games, although he did manage to knock Brentford out of the Captial One Cup.

The man charged with injecting some life into the Cottagers’ early season slump and reversing fears of a second relegation in as many years was Kit Symons, a former Fulham player and academy coach.

Initially handed the role on a temporary basis, a rousing 4-0 win against Bolton warmed Craven Cottage to Symons and saw the fans calling for him to be given the job permanently.

But in typical Fulham style it took some time for a decision to be made and he only got it the day after losing 5-2 to Derby in the cup on October 29.

With stability at the club and a manager the players looked like they wanted to play for, Symons started promisingly, winning four of his first eight games in charge, including a 4-0 home win against Sheffield Wednesday.

From then it was a struggle as though as Fulham remained firmly entrenched in the relegation battle.

The 44-year-old’s tactics were unchanged for the majority of that time as he favoured a 4-4-2 diamond in an attempt to make the most of Fulham’s central midfielders.

Kit Symons Fulham fc youtube 583x342
IN CHARGE: Kit Symons was named permanent manager on October 29

The January transfer window came and went without any great hoorah. Bryan Ruiz and Alexander Kacaniklic were brought back from loan spells at Levante and FC Copenhagen, while energetic midfielder Seko Fofana arrived highly rated from Manchester City.

The changes did little to halt Fulham’s poor form, although back-to-back wins against Reading and Nottingham Forest briefly threatened to give Fulham supporters hope that the team was heading in the right direction.

An FA Cup exit at the hands of Premier League side Sunderland at the end of January sparked a run of seven games without a win before the Whites somewhat surprisingly put a dent in Derby’s promotion hopes with a comfortable 2-0 home win on February 28.

Fulham’s problem throughout the season was consistency, as they followed up the Derby win with another four games without victory, including a 5-1 hammering at the hands of eventual champions Bournemouth.

A vital win against Huddersfield was immediately followed up by humiliation at the hands of Brentford, who strolled to a 4-1 win at Craven Cottage and secured the league double against their fiercest rivals.

Throughout all this, Fulham were thankful for the faults of others, as Wigan Athletic, Millwall and the already cut adrift Blackpool kept them out of the bottom three.

Three draws and a win at Blackpool saw Fulham stagger across the finishing line before a barnstorming 4-3 win against Middlesbrough in the last home game of the season ensured the campaign ended on somewhat of a high.

In the end, it looked comfortable for Fulham as they finished 11 points clear of relegation, but 17th place was far from what supporters had expected.

A high turnover of players and lack of Championship experience meant Fulham struggled to consistently compete.

Symons, although enthusiastic and clearly passionate about the club, was often tactically naïve, and his failure to play Patrick Roberts more was baffling given the youngster’s ability to spark a game into life.

His insistence on playing a diamond exposed Fulham’s full-backs in both defence and attack, especially Kostas Stafylidis who looked out of his depth.

Kostas Stafylidis co Fulham FC, via Youtube
STRUGGLE: The diamond formation exposed Kostas Stafylidis

The loan signings of Michael Turner, James Husband and Jazz Richards were timely and added the Championship experience Fulham badly needed, it is just a shame they weren’t available from the start of the season.

Completely ignoring the words of Nietzsche, there would appear to be hope for Fulham next year.

In goal, Marcus Bettinelli established himself as number one early on in the campaign and was arguably Fulham’s player of the season, barring one or two mistakes.

The 22-year-old is still learning his trade but his performances have not gone unnoticed, with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said to be keeping a close eye on the England Under-21 international.

Ross McCormack’s return of 17 goals is impressive given he was often played in the number 10 role, and was constantly changing strike partners.

Striker Matt Smith came into the side late on following a successful loan spell at Bristol City and his power made a clear difference in attack, leaving Fulham supporters wondering why it took so long to put him in the side.

Fulham still have an exciting crop of youngsters, in particular Roberts, Cauley Woodrow, Moussa Dembele, George Williams and Lasse Vigen Christensen, who should, in theory, be better adapted to the league next season.

One question remains though at Fulham, and that is who will be taking charge of the side come the first game of the season.

No one would fault Symons for the effort he puts in but, with Mark Warbuton and potentially Sam Allardyce available in the summer, Fulham chairman Shahid Khan has a big decision to make.

For now there is little for Fulham supporters to do but enjoy their summer and start rebuilding their hopes and dreams for next season.

Feature image courtesy of Treevis with other imagery courtesy of Fulham FC, via Youtube, with thanks

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