Fulham’s slim chances of survival

by Paul Little

Magath FulhamShould Fulham fall through the Premier League trapdoor, Saturday’s draw with fellow strugglers Hull City may be the game Felix Magath and his players come to regret most. Two up with 15 minutes left, the Cottagers appeared to freeze and run out of gas almost simultaneously – allowing their visitors to nick an ultimately deserved point.

Had Fulham hung on, they’d have climbed out of the relegation zone for the first time since January and just as importantly dragged those above them deeper into the relegation equation. Victory would have seen Fulham leapfrog Norwich and would have left them just two points behind the sliding Aston Villa and three behind West Brom and the visiting Humbersiders.

Instead, Magath’s men remain in the drop zone with a drastically decreased margin for error.

Any crumbs of comfort for Fulham lay away from Craven Cottage with the defeats of Norwich and Villa. The Canaries fell to their fifth defeat in a row at Old Trafford – a run that looks likely to stretch to seven given their last two games are against Chelsea and Arsenal.

Fulham, with an away trip to Stoke next week before a final fixture at home to Crystal Palace, appear to have the wherewithal to catch Neil Adams’ men – but the main threat to their survival hopes (outside of their own inconsistencies) comes from Sunderland and Cardiff.

Should one of them ultimately escape the relegation zone, then Fulham will need to win their last two fixtures, putting them on 37 points, and hope the Villa and/or West Brom lose their remaining fixtures, or at least fail to match that total (both sides have far superior goal difference, so 37 points will probably be enough for survival).

A glance at the remaining fixtures would suggest it’s not exactly a forlorn hope. West Brom on 36 points look the safer – trips to Arsenal and Sunderland could prove fruitless, but they should be able to secure the point they need from a last day meeting with already safe Stoke at the Hawthorns.

Villa on the other hand could find themselves in the same boat as Norwich – grimly watching everyone else’s results, seemingly powerless to secure the points needed for survival off their own bat. Paul Lambert’s men have picked up a paltry point from their last six league games. Crucially, however, like their Brummie neighbours, they too have a game in hand over Fulham. But with away trips Manchester City and Spurs rounding off their season, next week’s home tie with Hull looks like a must win.

Magath will be aware that letting two points slip through their fingers on Saturday eased the pressure on the likes of Villa. But he’ll also know that while hope hasn’t entirely evaporated, he must push his players right to the finish and pick up maximum points in their last two fixtures to have any hope of holding those below his side at bay and dragging at least one of those above into the mire.

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