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How Fulham’s Denis Odoi went from defensive liability to play-off hero

Denis Odoi
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Fulham

How Fulham’s Denis Odoi went from defensive liability to play-off hero

The 29-year-old grabbed the Cottagers’ winner in the play-off semi-final

Carried off the pitch on the shoulders of an adoring Craven Cottage crowd, Denis Odoi enjoyed his finest footballing moment in Fulham’s 2-0 play-off semi-final win over Derby.

The Belgian defender scored a sensational headed winner to send the Whites to Wembley, but few would have predicted Odoi would play the hero on Monday night.

How did a player once derided as a defensive liability become Fulham’s play-off saviour?

Ever since making the switch from Belgian football to Fulham in the summer of 2016, Odoi had struggled to nail down a starting spot at the Cottage.

Previously best known for an audacious bit of skill he pulled off against Newcastle on his debut, the 29-year-old became infamous for defensive lapses and poor giveaways.

Perhaps his lowest point in a Fulham shirt came this December, when Odoi was senselessly sent off in a dreadful 3-1 loss to Brentford.

His two yellow cards in quick succession were easily avoidable; afterwards, it looked set that the centre-back pairing of Tomas Kalas and Tim Ream would reign supreme for the rest of the season.

But after Kalas suffered a hip injury against Wolves in late February, Odoi has seamlessly marshalled the Fulham backline alongside Ream.

Even when the Chelsea loanee returned to fitness, the Belgian has kept him out of the starting lineup with superb performances filled with excellent tackles, a strong aerial presence, and intelligent interceptions.

Since Odoi replaced Kalas, Fulham have kept a remarkable seven clean sheets in the following 14 matches, in which Odoi has played every minute.

Odoi’s play-off performances have thrust him firmly into Fulham folklore.

In the narrow first-leg defeat at Pride Park, the centre-back made a number of stunning interceptions to cut out dangerous crosses that would have resulted in certain goals.

These vital interventions meant the scoreline was kept a manageable 1-0, allowing Odoi to rise highest from a corner and send Fulham to the play-off final.

During May 26’s match at Wembley, expect Denis Odoi to continue his recent resurgence

Max Cohen

Max is a journalist studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Max specialises in English football and co-hosts a weekly podcast. He is also a politics reporter and deputy news editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

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