Fulham - The Enigma of the Draw!
UNDEFEATED. it sounds great, doesn't it?
But, is it really? In Fulham's case, I'm not so sure. Yes, we've lost no matches, but we have only one win in six. Draws provide a false sense of security, and paired with an unexpected string of losses, can quickly turn into an anchor around the neck that can see you dragged down the table. Wins are what matter.
I'm not suggesting that draws don't have value; obviously they do. If you're a struggling club, draws sometimes make all the difference. They are often the difference between top-flight status and relegation to the Championship.
In 2007-08, eight-win Fulham owed our survival to twelve draws that allowed us finish even on points with ten-win Reading, where goal differential kept us out of relegation.
In 2004-05, a six-win West Bromwich Albion squad with an inferior goal differential finished a point above seven-win Crystal Palace on the strength of sixteen draws.
Draws also have an impact at the top of the table. Chelsea claimed the title last season by a single point - one more draw in place of a loss than Man United. In fairness, Chelsea's superior goal differential would have seen them claim the title even if the point totals would have been equal.
The exact same scenario occurred in 1998-99 season when Man United claimed the title by a single point over Arsenal. The additional draw in place of a loss in that case was even more significant as United had a one-goal advantage in goal differential that would have been nullified had Arsenal shared the same record.
Again in fairness, Man United would have still won the title on goals scored.
In the preceding season (1997-98), Man United lost the title to Arsenal by a single point, but in that case, could've won the title on goal differential had points been equal. In that season, a single draw crowned the champion. So draws are good, right?
Uummm. maybe not.
If you're not concerned with relegation, and aspire to championships or European qualification draws can be killers. In recent times, just ask Liverpool and Manchester City.
In 2008-09, Liverpool suffered only two defeats and had a superior goal differential, but eleven draws saw them finish four points behind a four-loss Manchester United squad for the title.
Last season, Man City had three fewer defeats and a superior goal differential, but thirteen draws saw them finish three points behind Spurs for the final Champions League place.
Beyond the mathematical significance of a draw, there's the mental aspect. Draws can bring out differing emotional responses for players, coaches and fans based on the circumstances. Draws at home tend to be disappointing; while draws on the road tend to be acceptable.
But, that doesn't always hold true. Draws against the big clubs, even at home, tend to be satisfying; while draws against lower opposition (or perceived lower opposition), even away, tend to be frustrating. Additionally, regardless of where the draw occurred or who it occurred against, the manner in which it happened can enhance whatever the initial reaction might be. Fighting back to earn a draw tends to elevate satisfaction or allay frustration. Conceding late to give up a win tends to have the opposite effect.
So, what are we to make of Fulham's five draws in six matches - good, bad, neither? Of course, it's too early to say. The next two matches will reveal their significance. Pick up two wins (or a win and a draw) and the early draws are looking pretty good. Lose one or both and the early draws begin to loom large. Draw both. c'mon. Could we really have seven draws in our first eight matches? Could you imagine - undefeated, but sitting in the bottom half of the table? I don't even want to think about it.
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