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How Fulham can still topple Cardiff for automatic promotion

Hopes of automatic promotion remain alive for the Cottagers.

Max Cohen

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Fulham
Photo: Getty Images

It speaks volumes about Fulham’s tremendous revival that the conversation around Craven Cottage has shifted entirely from a top-six finish to the automatic promotion places.

At this stage last season, the Whites were a point outside of the top-six, while they entered 2018’s international break in third position, a massive eight points clear of sixth spot.

The change comes on the back of a tremendous unbeaten run that began all the way in late December and shows no signs of stopping.

Last weekend’s draw against Queens Park Rangers marked Fulham’s 16th unbeaten match in a row, breaking the previous club record of 15 matches without a loss.

Although the Fulham players should justly be delighted with the accolades, the records will mean little to the club unless promotion is secured.

It seems certain that the Whites will at minimum make the play-offs, but is it too fanciful to dream of automatic promotion in SW6?

For Fulham’s part, they simply must keep their unbeaten run alive to stand any chance of grabbing second spot.

Their impressive spell has been admirably equalled by Cardiff City, who have engineered an 11-match unbeaten run while winning their last seven.

As a result, despite Fulham’s scorching-hot form, the gap to second has been relatively constant at around seven points.

The Whites’ run-in is comparatively favourable to that of the Bluebirds, and may offer a glimmer of hope for their second-place ambitions.

Fulham play Norwich City, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading, Brentford, Millwall, Sunderland, and Birmingham City in their last eight. Out of these eight clubs, three are in the bottom five, and none are occupy the top nine.

Cardiff, on the other hand, face a far tougher run of things in their last nine matches (Cardiff crucially has a game in hand over Fulham).

Winnable matches against Burton, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Reading, and Hull are offset by grueling games versus the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, and Derby.

If Fulham can pull off the improbable and finish the season without another loss, then it would not only mark a stunning 2018 turn-around, but could provide ammunition for automatic promotion.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Seven points is a large gap to make up with only eight matches remaining, but Cardiff’s substantially harder schedule could allow Fulham to tighten the gap.

Second-place could be a long-shot for the Whites, but Fulham are right to dream of automatic promotion; last season’s play-off heartbreak is still fresh in the memory.

A late, frantic push for the top-two will provide the closing months of the season with fresh drama – nothing less than Premier League status is at stake.

Max is an 18-year-old football journalist studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Max specialises in English football, is an avid follower of Fulham, and co-hosts a weekly Fulham podcast. He is also a politics reporter and deputy news editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Cardiff City

McKay twins have landed on their feet since being released by Leeds United in December

The former Leeds pair are now pushing for a career at Premier League newcomers Cardiff City.

Mathew Coull

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December last year saw Leeds United release two players prematurely from their contracts at Elland Road. Paul and Jack McKay were both told they could find new clubs by Leeds, six months before their contracts at Elland Road were due to expire.

It came as little surprise to Leeds fans. The pair had failed to make much of an impact at the club. The twins made a combined total of just the one first-team appearance, defender Paul playing in the FA Cup loss v non-league Sutton United.

He also spent time on loan at Gainsborough Trinity whilst Jack had a half-season with Scottish club Airdrie.

Leeds fans were fairly unanimous that the pair would not be missed. The sons of football agent Willie McKay had failed to make a lasting impression after their arrival at Leeds from Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers in 2016.

But as soon as they were told they could depart the duo embarked on trial periods at Cardiff City. The Championship rivals, managed by former Leeds boss Neil Warnock, wanted to see if the twins could help in the Bluebirds under-23s set-up.

Clearly, the decision was that they could, as Cardiff soon offered the McKay’s two-and-a-half year deals in South Wales.

Now the Welsh capital side will be playing in the Premier League next season. Cardiff finished second in the Championship this season, with former Leeds captain Sol Bamba a pivotal figure in their rise.

Next season the McKay twins will be trying their best to push on in the under-23s and will be hoping for a shot at Premier League football.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Whilst that would seem an unlikely scenario, a few injuries and some good form with the youngsters could certainly see it happen. Leeds fans won’t be too concerned, as in the long-run the pair are surely not good enough to play Premier League football.

But it certainly appears that they have managed to fall on their feet after being given a premature boot by Leeds United just before Christmas.

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Cardiff City

Neil Warnock deserves Premier League chance after Cardiff City promotion

Cardiff became the eighth side Neil Warnock has guided to promotion.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Cardiff City failed to win on the final day of the Championship season, but due to Fulham’s loss to Birmingham City, the Bluebirds were promoted to the Premier League.

They had been the frontrunners to clinch the second automatic promotion spot for the final few months of the season, but the form of the Cottagers meant that it wasn’t as comfortable as they would have liked.

Neil Warnock deserves a lot of credit for the achievement as he took over 19 months ago with the club in the relegation zone.

It looked like a battle against the drop was inevitable, but the wily veteran manager led them to a comfortable mid-table finish and established a playing style that was difficult to come up against.

Every Championship supporter will attest to the challenge posed by a team managed by Warnock and the Cardiff squad were quick to buy into his principles.

At the beginning of 2017, they went on a run of seven wins in ten Championship matches and proved that they could compete with the best in the division.

Kenneth Zohore emerged as an effective striker to lead the line, while the famous discipline of a Warnock team was on show with four clean sheets in their last seven matches.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

The foundations were in place for a top-six push and it was important that they were built on.

Although they made several signings during the season and made further reinforcements in January, it was the core of the squad that was already at the club that was mainly responsible for promotion.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was the standout signing, adding attacking threat from the wider positions.

Meanwhile, Callum Paterson, Neil Etheridge and Marko Grujic all had a part to play.

There were failures in the market that need to be looked back on, with Lee Tomlin and Gary Madine unable to live up to their big fees.

The latter cost over £6 million and he didn’t score a single Championship goal for the club, despite proving his quality with Bolton Wanderers during the first-half of the season.

A quick look at the stats show why the majority of neutrals were willing Fulham to get promoted on the final day.

Cardiff averaged 45.4% possession and completed only 59.4% of their passes during the campaign. They relied on disciplined defending and a direct approach to get results.

It may have been primitive, but Warnock has a great record at winning promotion with this being his eighth as a manager.

He knows what is required and it shouldn’t be a surprise that he has managed to get his team over the line.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The next few weeks will be for celebrations, but Warnock will turn his focus to next season very quickly.

Throughout his time as a manager, he has failed to make an impact in the Premier League.

He was relegated at the first attempt with Sheffield United and was sacked mid-season by both QPR and Crystal Palace.

At the age of 69, he wouldn’t have been expecting another opportunity to prove himself at the highest level, but it has now arrived.

Despite his previous shortcomings, he is the main reason why Cardiff City were promoted and he deserves a chance to continue the good work at the next level.

It won’t be easy, but it would be foolish to back against him having more success this time around.

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Neil Warnock should target Matt Derbyshire reunion at Cardiff City

The striker has been in fine form with Omonia Nicosia in Cyprus.

Mathew Coull

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Since leaving England for the second time in his career Matt Derbyshire has found himself in electric form.

The former Blackburn Rovers, Olympiakos, and Nottingham Forest striker headed to Cyprus in the summer of 2016.

Since then, he has become a vital member of the Omonia Nicosia first-team.

The forward has been scoring goals for fun in the Cypriot capital, netting 50 times in 73 games. He has become a star for the club, where he is now vice-captain.

Such form would certainly warrant a return to England for the 32-year-old. One team that should be looking at his signature is Cardiff City.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The Bluebirds are looking like they may be on their way back to the Premier League. Neil Warnock has worked wonders with the Welsh side, who are currently second in the Championship.

If Cardiff are to get promoted to the Premier League they will be looking to add more goals to the team and a player with experience of playing at that level would also be welcomed.

On top of that, Cardiff boss Warnock knows Derbyshire well. The experienced striker was a member of the Rotherham United side who Warnock miraculously saved from Championship relegation in 2015-16.

Derbyshire was the top-scorer for the Millers that season but he left that summer. This was not the doing of Warnock, who had already stepped down as Rotherham boss.

(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

Cardiff need a goal-scoring striker, with their top scorer in the league this season midfielder Callum Paterson.

Derbyshire is known to Warnock, a hard worker and currently enjoying an Indian summer in his career.

Whilst he would not be a high-profile signature for Cardiff if promoted he would be a solid option for Warnock.

If he could then continue his goalscoring form, it would be a brilliant signing for the Bluebirds.

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