Sky Bet Championship
We continued our great from earlier in the season for much longer than I could’ve hoped for, considering that a full eleven senior players left in January. Bobby Decordova-Reid, Harry Wilson and Rodrigo Muniz took almost all the offensive responsibility, scored twelve goals in February, and contributed hugely to winning all five games that month.
Wilson and the team continued the form into march and won comfortably 3-0 against Blackburn before losing all signs of shape, form and motivation against Barnsley. Carvalho got us a goal, but that was after Barnsley scored five… A collective failure. 1-1 against West Brom before the international break was a decent result, but we dragged our bad form into April when we barely managed to nick a point from our rivals at QPR. When we lost again against Forest, our worst run of form was a fact.
Luckily we managed to work our way out of it when Muniz won us the game and title against Coventry in the next game. After that, we won the rest of the games except the one against Bournemouth.
The end result is promotion, a new record for most points and most games won in the Championship and a new title in the Trophy Cabinet at Craven Cottage. All that with so many transfers out and so many youngsters playing for the first team. The future looks bright, but the promotion can also be premature, considering considerable transfers will still be out. Anyway, for now, it’s time to enjoy the moment!
In the FA Cup, we did far better than anyone could expect from us. Unfortunately, we needed a replay to beat Reading in the Fourth Round. The star of the two fixtures was undoubtedly Muniz with his three goals and constant attacking threat.
In the next round, we faced Everton, who wasn’t precisely the favourites to win the game. Still, we won 3-1 and played 35 minutes with the men. Only a late goal from Yerry Mina makes it less impressive.
Against Tottenham, we were again huge underdogs, probably more than we were against Everton. When Christian Romero gave them the lead after 3 minutes, it didn’t look very bright, but Decordova-Reid got us back in the game six minutes before the break.
In the second half, we took over some momentum, and Carvalho was close to being the hero when he missed from the penalty spot after 76 minutes. The game looked to go to extra time when Carvalho played Decordova-Reid through on goal to win us the game in the 91st minute. Semi-Final, here we come!
In the possibly biggest game of the season and against one of the world’s best teams, we shouldn’t stand a chance. And as expected, Liverpool bombarded us, and only a fantastic performance from Rodak held us in the game. Against all odds, we took the lead in the 72nd minute with Muniz before they scored two goals in five minutes, and everyone thought it was over. Carvalho, however, didn’t and scored the equalizer four minutes into injury time when Stansfield found him on the far post with a perfect cross. In extra-time, Tyrese Francis made an error which gave Liverpool a chance from the penalty spot. Milner converted it, and we didn’t manage to get back in the game after that.
We were so close to the final, so it’s a bit disappointing. However, we went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the world and had six academy players involved in the game. A fantastic achievement from all of them!
It’s a hugely successful campaign for us to win the league, reach the semi-final in the FA Cup, and take massive steps against having a first-team with only players from our own academy. So in my perspective, the fantastic start to the season and until January laid a solid foundation for our success, making it easier to let players go and phase in the youngsters.
Harry Wilson is so good that he deserves his own column in this blog post. I might get carried away a bit when I say this, but I do believe that I have never had a player making the kind of impact that Wilson did this season. Despite missing 15 league games, he’s topping the statistics of several vital stats, and he simply looks a level above the rest.
No player in the league is anywhere near creating the number of changes he does, and he scores even more goals than he creates. My guess is that it didn’t miss so many games is that he would’ve been both top scorers and had the most assists this season. He’s the one player I’m reluctant to let go of, and I will probably keep him as long as possible.
Should I exception my own rule and keep him at the club? To be honest, I really am considering it.
Just look at his stats. He’s so much better than anyone else of our attacking players.
Five more players made their debut for the first team in the second half of the season.
Harvey Araujo made his debut against Reading in the FA Cup as a substitute and made his league debut later in the season. Made a total of six appearances for the first team and was very impressive in possession, especially for a 17-year-old. I have high hopes for this lad and can see him as a leader in the team in the future. He may be the one with the highest potential at the academy.
Sonny Hilton made his debut against Hull in the league and assisted Stansfield’s winning goal. He is our oldest debutant this season, and at 21, he’s probably never going to be first-team material. However, still did a good job the two times he played this season and is now a proud member of this project.
Michael Olakigbe made his senior debut against Forest on the back of an impressive season with the U23s. Scoring 21 goals and giving 10 assists in just 34 games are numbers that get noticed, and I do hope this lad will continue his development next season.
This season, Oliver Sanderson has been the star man at the academy, playing for both the U18s and U23s. In April, he got his debut against Derby after scoring 47 goals and giving 12 assists for u18 and u23s. He’s got all the ability to be a great striker, except for his 7 shooting. We need to do something about it quickly or find a different role for him. He’s destined to be a first-team player with great potential.
Luca Ashby-Hammond made the step up as backup goalie when Fabricio and Gazzaniga left. Ashby-Hammond is a proud keeper family with Taye, the older brother, also on the books at Fulham. It takes some effort and time to beat the Bettinellis, but the future is still bright for the youngest of the brothers. He’s been a great talent for years and finally made the first team and got his debut at 21. He also had a good start and something to build on with a clean sheet. I doubt he’ll ever be better than Rodak, but he can play a role. Especially in cup games, he can be helpful – he’s a capable penalty taker and a keeper. That can give us an extra edge if needed.
There were other successes than first-team debuts for the academy this season, with the U23s winning the Premier League 2 Divison 2and securing promotion back to Division 1. The academy must play at the highest level possible to give the players the best possible platform for development.
The U18s struggled in the league this season, and it’s no wonder with so many players being moved up to the U23s. They still managed a decent season after all, but the 3rd round defeat in the FA Youth Cup is a bit disappointing. After all, that is the tournament that all academies want to win, and it is no exception here.
The club has played in one final in the past, in the 2013/14 season, which they lost to Chelsea. Marek Rodak was actually the keeper in that game.
We got new scholars at the academy, and it seems like a few of them have real potential. According to Huw Jenning, we have a golden generation on our hands, and with his 19 in judging player potential, I trust him that there are some exceptional players this year. Time will tell, and you will probably get to know some of these better in the future.
The ones that got away
As formerly mentioned, the club and academy have a proud tradition of producing good players in recent times, and like all smaller clubs, know the big guns come in for the best players. Unfortunately for both the club and me, some highly talented players have left the club, some without ever playing for the first team, and some have left for greater things and failed.
Ryan Sessegnon was the golden boy at Fulham for three seasons after making his debut shortly after his 16th birthday. He’s the youngest goalscorer for the first team in history at 16 years and 94 days. In the 2017/18, he played all 46 games and scored 15 goals. He did play the following season in the Premier League before he was sold to Tottenham. A vulnerable position for us at the moment with no star graduates, I would’ve loved to reunite Ryan with his twin brother and strengthen the squad with him.
Djed Spence left the academy without playing for the first team. There were several talented right-backs with Marlon Fossey and Steven Sessegnon in the same team. However, Spence made his debut for Middlesbrough 1,5 months after leaving Fulham. He has since established himself as one of the best right-backs in the Championship and is predicted to be a future international for England.
Harvey Elliott is a special player and made his debut for the first team aged 16 and 30 days, the youngest ever before leaving for Liverpool. After a good season for Blackburn in the Championship, he is now starting to establish himself at Liverpool with 14 games and three goals this season. Of course, it will be expensive to get him back to the club, but I have to monitor his situation at Liverpool.
Patrick Roberts was the star man of the academy and another one that played in that FA Youth Cup Final against Chelsea. It was a huge expectation for him when he first came through. After 19 league games, he left for Manchester City, where he never found his feet. Loaned out to six different clubs with only success at Celtic, he left for Sunderland this season. He hasn’t played much for them due to injuries, and his contract runs out after the season. It would be a little romantic to bring him back to the club if he’s available on a free transfer, wouldn’t it? At 25, he can still have a fine career, although he probably never reaches the heights he was predicted to.
Moussa Dembele came to the academy from PSG and did a fine job for the first team with 15 goals in the 2015/16 season. At that time Premier League seemed far away for the club, and the pacey striker decided to leave for Celtic. Now at Lyon, he’s a striker of European class and probably the best academy product in terms of CA at the time of writing. It looks nearly impossible to bring him back now, but I have to keep an eye on him like Elliott.
Dembele played alongside Roberts and Rodak in the Youth Cup Final as well and still has an excellent standing at the club.
There are, of course, other players with great ability and potential that have left the club that I also keep an eye on. Some honourable mentions are Mika Biereth, Matt O’Riley, Taylor Richards and Cody Drameh.
Thanks for reading this blog.