It has often been commented over the past eight months that this season’s Championship cohort is one of the weakest in terms of quality in recent memory.
Indeed, listing runaway leaders Wolves as the only noteworthy footballing side in the division, and casually declaring that the other 23 league positions are a lottery, as ‘anyone can beat anyone in the Championship’, are cliches that have blighted coverage of England’s second tier.
Slaviša Jokanovic’s Fulham are proving this not to be the case.
Hitting form at the business end of the season and demonstrating their quality and new-found consistency in abundance, this young and hungry Fulham side are the club to keep an eye on during the final few months of this season.
After an impressive 2-0 win over title-favourites Wolves last weekend, the Cottagers are still in with an outside chance of automatic promotion, while a play-off place is looking more secure every week, following the eighth successive home win.
Last season the London outfit surprised many to reach the play-offs, losing to eventual runners-up Reading over two legs.
Following this unexpectedly impressive season, Fulham disappointed during the first half of this season, initially not living up to the promotion favourites billing many had given them.
However, after backroom changes were made prior to Christmas, and Jokanovic’s immediate future at the club was secured, the Lilywhites have seemingly picked up where they left off last season.
Aside from results, it has been the nature and style of Fulham’s recent performances that have caught the eye.
Quickly earning the unofficial title of the ‘Entertainers of the Championship’ under the Serbian manager, Fulham play a possession-based game, utilising the key strengths of the squad – a midfield that would certainly not look out of place in many Premier League sides, one of the brightest youngsters in English football, and a loanee maverick striker who is desperate to impress.
Let’s start with the midfield. Usually operating as a central three, with wing-backs either side, Fulham have an abundance of midfield options. When fit, former Hull City and Blackburn Rovers playmaker Tom Cairney is an automatic starter, with nearly all of Fulham’s attacking play usually coming through the club captain.
Cairney was joined by former Wolves midfield enforcer Kevin MacDonald last season, who has added a much needed, but often unappreciated, defensive aspect to the centre of the Cottagers’ midfield.
Finally, the third position has tended to alternate in recent months between Norwegian Stefan Johansen and on-loan Brighton midfielder Oliver Norwood.
Working as a well-oiled machine, there is no surprise there has been Premier League interest in all four midfielders in recent times, with captain Cairney, in particular, due to be in very high demand again this summer, regardless of which division Fulham find themselves in.
It would be almost impossible to talk about Fulham without mentioning their 17-year-old starlet, Ryan Sessegnon.
The left-back, who quite incredibly has already made 59 senior league appearances for the Lilly Whites, has been simply sensational this season. The under-19 England international, who has earned comparisons to Gareth Bale this season, has remarkably scored 13 goals this term, and created a further seven for his team.
It is this form that has this week seen Sessegnon linked with a potential £50 million move to the Premier League, with Spurs said to be in pole position. Indeed, while this is an astronomical price tag for a teenager, in the current inflated market of football transfers, this move is entirely plausible.
With his whole career ahead of him, the transfer could actually be viewed as decent value for money in the current market. The brightest English talent outside of the top flight has time on his side to repay any faith placed in him, and has enough first team experience to be dropped straight into the rigours of Premier League football.
One thing is for sure. Before any potential move in the summer, Sessegnon still has a vital role to play in Fulham’s promotion charge this season.
The final contributing aspect of Fulham’s recent upturn in form is the loan signing of Newcastle outcast, Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The big Serbian striker, who joined the Toon in 2015 for a fee of £14m, has a point to prove after hardly featuring in the Premier League this season under Rafa Benitez. However, the 23-year-old, who has earned a reputation for his short temper and sometimes poor decision-making, has hit the ground running in the Championship, scoring twice in just five outings for the Cottagers.
After losing the likes of Sone Aluko and Chris Martin last summer, Fulham’s striking options appeared limited in the opening months of this season.
However, the arrival of the Serbian international, who has already become a cult hero, has provided the team not only with a greater goal-scoring threat but also the option of a ‘plan B’, with Mitrovic able to play as a target man as well as a poacher alongside Aboubakar Kamara.
While Wolves have undoubtedly proved the standout team in the Championship this season, they are certainly not the only second-tier side worthy of a shot at the Premier League.
Fulham did underperform and disappoint in the opening stages of this season, but they are now showing why they too are a noteworthy footballing side.
With top-flight quality in all areas of the pitch, a hungry striker determined to prove his doubters wrong, and the hottest young property in British football, Fulham fans have a lot to smile about at the moment.
Hitting form at just the right time and finally living up to pre-season expectations, Fulham are certainty one Championship side to keep an eye on during the final few months of this season.