There’s no coming back from this: why I don’t think Fulham can achieve promotion any time soon


Based on the final analysis it looks like Fulham will end with a goal difference of about -20, which means they’re something like 5 net goals above the relegation places.

Looking at the table, the promoted clubs had goal differences of 41 and 50, which we’ll call 45, and the playoff clubs are 19, 31, 32 and 38, which we’ll call 30.

In short, next year Fulham need to be a +30 team for the playoffs and a +45 team for promotion, from a base of -19 (this season).


That’s going to be a +50 odd swing for playoffs and a +65 swing for promotion!

The other day we figured that a really good player might be worth 5 net goals to his team.

You might think of footballers on a 10 point scale, ranging from -5 to +5. At one end you have a team that, if comprised of players of this quality, would end with a goal difference of -50, e.g. Blackpool. At the other end you’d have a team romping away with the league at +50, e.g. Bournemouth.

If we think Ross McCormack really is a top quality player, a +5, then his teammates are most likely a bunch of -1 to -3 players. Nothing else adds up. I mean, we can argue that the players are better than they performed, which might be reasonable, but ultimately good players play well. Fulham’s players didn’t play well, so it’s hard to say they’re good players.

If I’m going to keep this mathematical, Fulham need to turn the -1 and -2 players into +1 and +2 players. To make the requisite jump you’re looking for a 50 goal swing remember, either not conceded or scored.

You’re either having to improve players who almost got relegated into a promotion machine (how?), or you have to find the equivalent of 10 more players who can all play at a level that’s 4/5 net goals better than the player they replaced. I don’t think that’s really possible.

In any case there are two possibilities:

1) better coaching can radically transform these players
2) we need a complete overhaul and even then need to spend massively and effectively

Does point 1 work? As best I can tell there aren’t many managers who have made a career out of turning water into wine. Most managers achieve what they should with what they have. Now, we come back to this argument that the squad significantly under-achieved, and I’m not completely against this idea, but it seems more likely to me that the players simply weren’t very good.  Our eyes might see promise there but the goals against totals suggest that something’s up.  That the team was unable to stem the flow at all suggests that either the coaching was awful or the players didn’t have it in them, probably both.  Either way, if you want a +50 swing in goal difference it’s not going to happen by magic.

Does point 2 work? No. To acquire that many good players, without misjudging any of these acquisitions, is too big an ask.  You can’t just buy 9 more Ross McCormacks.  You couldn’t afford to even if you could find them all.

As things stand I simply can’t see how this squad can become the squad it’s meant to be. To believe otherwise seems to me too great concession to wishful thinking.  It’s too much.

17 thoughts on “There’s no coming back from this: why I don’t think Fulham can achieve promotion any time soon

  1. On the above analysis, how many seasons do you believe it would take for the team to reach the 50 goal swing…?

    I like this analysis and does demonstrate that not only do we need a good squad over hall but we also need to improve the coaching. I would say a new and better coaching team would do maybe improve these players by say 25%. If we get rid of the really bad ones and replace them with ‘very good players’ and have a coaching team transform the remaining ok players into ‘good’ players would that be enough?

  2. Rich, I understand the whole numbers thing; I avidly follow the Red Sox over here, and like most other clubs, they rely heavily on the Billy Beane model. While I agree that promotion for Fulham is unlikely over the next year or so, I don’t think you can underestimate teamwork and good coaching as a factor in success, and that is where ownership can have a big influence. If the Khans commit to leadership from the top down and can transmit smart decisions down to the players I could see some success in the next few years. One can only hope though.

  3. There’s an assumption the players are close to their peak. There’s still hope the younger players can improve by +3.

  4. Hang on….one of Ipswich, Derby and Wolves looks like reaching the playoffs with a GD of c.20.

    We’d need McCormack to replicate his form of the past two seasons and Christiansen his performance prior to injury. Such repetition from the pair of them (absolutely no improvement required), gets us half way to +20. The other 9 regulars then need to total +10 between them, and their stand-ins need to be no worse than zero. While a tall order, it’s considerably less daunting than you imply, given intelligent scouting and better coaching. (In their absence, forget it.)

    Leaving the maths aside, the brief is pretty clear. Nurture our two remaining gems, while acquiring a defence of merely average Championship competence, and that takes us into the top half. Should one of the youngsters or acquisitions start to blossom, better still. Make that two and all bets would be off. A really good loan from a top Premier club could make all the difference here, as this season at Brentford and Middlesborough.

    Hardest to imagine is the Championship-average defence.

  5. I did work all this through but felt I was going too far, but yeah, even if you give LVG a 4 or somesuch (presume he could have contributed to a Bournemouth side?) there is still a long way to go, if not quite as outlined.

    Fair point. Should have taken last playoff place as cutoff. Silly.

    Clearly this is going to extremes to make a point…

  6. Ps in Mick McCarthy’s first full season Ipswich went -13 to +6. The -13 was him from November so we might set this down as a benchmark for what a new manager might achieve. I will do some more managers when I can.

    If Kit can get a 20 goal swing I will be delighted but hard to see it.

  7. Let’s get statistical….Matches per goal-or-assist from the front six in the recently voted Championship Team of the Season… Troy Deeney 1.2, Matt Ritchie 1.3, Daryl Murphy 1.4, Patrick Bamford 1.7, Bakary Sako 1.9, Grant Leadbitter 2.0, Alex Pritchard 2.2. All have been members of strong teams.

    Playing for a weak one, McCormack (1.6), and Christiansen (1.9) were right up there offensively. Christiansen made 6.5 defensive contributions per match in addition. (Leadbitter 4.4, Prichard 2.8, Ritchie 2.8) …all as measured by

    To place LVC in further context, the much-praised Harry Arter of Bournemouth registered 3.7 matches per goal/assist and 4.6 defensive contributions per match. LVC is not a +4.0, he’s a +5.0. The challenge, once he’s fit, will be retaining him.

    Bamford and Pritchard are loans from Chelsea and Spurs respectively. Acquire an equivalent loannee to one of those while retaining Ross and LVC, and the rest of the team need average only 0.6 by your measure ! That would be a non-optimum way of scraping into the playoffs, and other variants exist, but still…

    A thin layer of good ‘uns, luck with injuries, decent coaching and a residue of merely adequates and a club — any club — is thereabouts. We possess two at least in the first category and share a city with three of the strongest Premier clubs. The manager of the strongest even has a son at our Academy.

  8. Look forget about goal difference that will improve dramatically when confidence and tactics improve. I have said from the start of the managers installation it is the wrong appointment at this time. We need a board and owner that will invest in a top class manager (who has experiance if getting teams up to the premiership) and players. we have not had this for the last 3 years or so. Until this happens Fulham will languish mid table at best and the movement will be down and not up. I have supported Fulham since the days of Johnny Haynes, George Cohen Tony Macedo etc (sorry about the spelling) I have never seen such a depleted team. We need change sooner rather than later.

  9. I really think everyone needs to get off Kit’s back. Sure, we have had an absolutely woeful season – but let’s not forget that the fiasco of last season with Martin Jol getting rid of the likes of Kerim Frei and others, Meulensteen splurging pointless millions on idiots like Mitroglou and Larnell Cole – then we get to Magath who allowed Hangelaand, Hughes and others go and brought in dross like Kay Voser, Adil Chihi, Mark Fotheringham and a few other wasters. In all fairness – we couldnt have expected any better than just avoiding relegation. I also think Kit needs to remain in charge for at least another two seasons so he can bring back the stability that age-old Fulham fans can remember. If Kit has a good summer in the market we can expect a much improved campaign next season. My suggested team would be along these lines;
    Bettinelli – Jazz Richards (lets make his loan permanent) – Dan Burn – A.N Other Centre Back(I dont rate Hutchinson or Bodurov) – Kavanagh or Jordan Evans from the U21s – Lasse Christensen & Tunnicliffe in the centre – George Williams on the left – Patrick Roberts on the right and McCormack & Smith up top. Add in the likes of Chris David who was excellent when he played, Tom Eisfeld, Scotty Parker for experience and Woodrow/Dembele then we could have an exciting and promising team. Give Kit a chance. He’s worked with our youngsters before. It’s only a matter of time!

  10. For me, there are two 800 pound gorillas in the room.

    Gorilla #1: Since Martin Jol took over Fulham have been giving up late goals that have cost us many, many table points. During the last season in the PL my unscientific count was that FFC gave up well over 20 pts from winning or tying positions in the final 10 minutes of relevant matches. Even though the initial prognosis under Kit seemed good, we started leaking goals again during January. This, more than anything has to be addressed. How it is addressed is another matter: bring in a specialist coach, replace Kit, etc. Shoring up the back with a more cohesive integrated plan/style of play would go a long way to changing around our woeful GD.

    Gorilla #2: Our current owner knows nothing about football and acts/spends accordingly. In the 1.5 years of his stewardship the club has seen 6 managerial-level appointments. Let that sink in for a moment. This isn’t Italy folks. The rot is from within.

    Until these two issues are address, Fulham will continue to be circus with some large and out of control animal attractions. For me, the most realistic (but also very unlikely) change to start addressing these two issues is for Khan to appoint a Director of Football that actually lives in London to run the club and make decisions for him.

    1. On #1: granted, defending is a huge problem – but do we really concede more late goals than anyone else? Or putting it another way, more than our record earlier in games would suggest? I mean, good teams don’t concede many late goals, but then they don’t concede many at other times either.

  11. Not sure that Parker should be part of the future. Much as I like him and his whole-hearted attitude, I can’t help thinking that his arrival coincided quite neatly with our transformation from a team that was (relatively) hard to score against into one that concedes goals by the barrowload.

  12. Or maybe we have plenty of +1 and +2 players, but also some positions where we have some actual -10s. In which case fixing the team merely requires a few decent journeymen in the right places.

  13. Curious argument (and it’s always nice to read your writing), but I think you’re understating how easy it is to shift goal difference in the Championship. Bournemouth is +49 from last season, Watford is a +30 from last year, and there are a few teams in the +10 to +20 range. Do I expect Fulham to bounce right back up? No… But it wouldn’t be shocking.

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