Fulham - 'Magic' 40 Won't Do
During most seasons, sitting on 35 points with 8 matches to go brings a sigh of relief from most Fulham fans - the 'magic' 40-point total in sight, and with it, virtual safety from relegation.
Thoughts turn to securing a top-half finish, which for our modest little club qualifies as an unmitigated success. Well, perhaps not this season. While we do occupy the lower mid-table position of 12th and a top-half finish is well within reach, we're only separated from the relegation places by 3 points.
An unexpected loss paired with wins for the teams below us could draw us into a nasty relegation scrap. This season parity reigns and there's a real possibility that a team with 40 points could find itself relegated.
This hasn't happened since the 2002-03 season when West Ham was relegated with 42 points. That prospect should be unsettling enough for any team in the lower half of the table, but for the Cottagers, it is even more so.
Our continuing poor away form paired with some difficult home fixtures could make for a nervous couple of months. Until this past weekend's loss at Everton, I felt out away form was improving and a couple of wins to close the season was certainly a possibility.
Now, I'm not so sure I should expect anything more than draws in our remaining away matches (Man United, Wolverhampton, Sunderland, Birmingham). Matches at Wolverhampton and Birmingham both have the potential for full points. Both teams are struggling and we could certainly help our own cause by taking advantage.
Though Sunderland have been awful, of late, I can't see us taking more than a point from our visit. Do I even need to discuss the dreaded visit to Old Trafford? I didn't think so.
The home fixtures (Blackpool, Bolton, Liverpool, Arsenal) don't leave me over confident, either. One would think we'd be clear favorites to take full points from Blackpool, but the Tangerines have recorded five road victories this season and can't be taken lightly.
The Bolton match is being rescheduled, but whenever it occurs, a draw is almost a foregone conclusion. Though, let's not forget that they knocked us out of the FA Cup at Craven Cottage just last month.
Liverpool have a new lease on life under Kenny Dalglish and will be fighting for a European place. I don't think we match up well against them and I don't expect any points from their visit.
I have absolutely no reason to think we can defeat Arsenal, unless they have absolutely nothing to gain in the last match of the season - a draw, at best, but likely a loss.
My personal belief is that we will record 2 wins (Blackpool and Wolverhampton) and 3 draws (Bolton, Sunderland and Birmingham) in our remaining 8 fixtures, thus finishing the season on 44 points and remaining in a lower mid-table position on goal differential.
However, poor results in April could see us struggling to maintain our status with a difficult May looming. Regardless, I don't think 40 points will do this season. When the season picks up again after the international break, we can do ourselves a world of good by taking 3 points from Blackpool, as I believe that the rest of the teams below us will drop points that weekend, thereby allowing Fulham to open up a 5 or 6 point gap between us and the relegations places.
Lose or draw, and we're right back in the scrap with a trip to Old Trafford to follow.
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