As Fulham approached their final league fixture, a home tie against faltering Arsenal, they were safe in the knowledge that they were certain of a higher league finish and points tally than last season. In 8th place at the start of the day with 48 points, the lowest they could finish was 11th, depending on the results of Stoke, Bolton and West Brom, all tied on 46 points. A spirited 2-2 draw was enough to hold on to their position, with Stoke and Bolton losing at home plus West Brom drawing at Newcastle.
Under Roy Hodgson, Fulham finished last season in 12th with 46 points, having won 12, drawn 10 and lost 16, where juggling a marathon Europa League campaign and a respectable league showing earned Roy Hodgson a LMA Manager of the Year award and the Liverpool job. Mark Hughes has enjoyed a solid first season in charge having replaced Hodgson in the summer, falling just shy of Fulham’s record Premiership points total of 53 points, recording 11 wins, 16 draws and 11 losses. Had they been able to call on the services of Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora on a more regular basis, it’s not inconceivable that they could have given Tottenham and Liverpool a run for their money in pursuit of 5th place. An excess of draws could also be attributed to these absences, with 10 draws in the first 16 games of the season.
Zamora broke his leg against Wolves in September and was out of action for five months, returning against Blackburn in March, coming off the bench to score a decisive penalty in a 3-2 win. Johnson returned from nine months out with a serious knee injury in October, but first team appearances have been intermittent with further knocks limiting him to just 14 starts, scoring three goals. Zamora has only made 8 starts but still managed to chalk up 7 goals and a further 7 assists, adequate cover is required with Hughes likely to move for free agent Jay Bothroyd.
There are plenty of positives to draw from the season, Damien Duff has been rejuvenated under Hughes stewardship, Clint Dempsey has been a revelation, contributing 13 goals from midfield, Moussa Dembele has enjoyed a solid first season in the Premiership and Brede Hangeland continues to enhance his ‘lofty’ reputation. A 4-0 demolition of Tottenham in the FA Cup was a highlight and another tilt at the Europa League could be on the cards via the Respect Fair Play rankings, the club are awaiting confirmation, but Zoltan Gera’s dismissal against Arsenal could cost them.
A question mark remains over Mark Hughes current two year contract, which has a release clause which can be activated at the end of June. Chelsea are believed to be interested, with Carlo Ancelotti’s departure confirmed on Sunday. Hughes has given no indication that a change of clubs is in the pipelines, having recently claimed to be enjoying his time at the club. “I’ve still got another year left on my contract,” said Hughes, “I’m very happy with the job I have and the group of players I have and we can be successful here.” His signature on a new long term deal would be the perfect conclusion to a very satisfying season for Fulham fans.