Building up to our return to the Premier League, here’s a piece dedicated to the value of goals that kept us in the top flight in 2008, leading onto the team securing our highest League finish the following season and then, of course, a Europa League final. None of which would have happened without these goals.
“Play to the whistle”, a phrase very common in our beautiful game. The kind of never say die attitude that can be the decisive factor between relegation and survival. Well that for us was exactly the case in the 2007/08 campaign, better known amongst our fans as the ‘great escape’. So many heroes were made in the second half of that season, the returns of Jimmy Bullard and Brian McBride in February, the addition of Brede Hangeland and of course the appointment of the wonderful Roy Hodgson. The way we reversed our fortunes in such dramatic circumstances still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It sends shivers down my spine and it will never fail to give me goosebumps.
However, those men and moments are spoken about all the time, so I’m here to tell the tale a little differently. In a way that explains just how undetected and low profile two of the most important goals in Fulham’s history are. Not your Kamara’s or your Murphy’s which are deservedly iconic and very special. My goals came from two strikers who between them only scored 16 goals for the club, but two of which went a very long way to changing the fortunes of Fulham Football Club. After all, without these goals, the opportunity to finish seventh and have the most amazing European journey would not have been possible.
You’ve seen the final league table, Fulham stayed up at Reading’s expense on goal difference by just 3 goals. So, although every goal, every winner, every equaliser, every point played a very big part in our survival. It would have all been for nothing if we didn’t have a goal difference better than Reading. So now we must look at where that 3-goal margin came from? Sure, there are several ways of analysing this, perhaps a big save from our keeper meaning we lost 2-0 instead of 3-0 but I tend to look at the goals that we did score. In the 38 league matches that season, Fulham only won 3 games by more than a one-goal margin, a very relevant fact because they are the only games that could have impacted on our goal difference in a positive way to give us that 3 goal advantage over Reading.
Those three games were as follows:
Fulham 3-1 Reading.
Reading 0-2 Fulham.
Fulham 2-0 Birmingham.
All won by 2 goals meaning the last goal in each is the reason we had the better goal difference over Reading by 3. We all remember who scored the latter 2, the fantastic Norwegian finisher that is Erik Nevland. Goals remembered for the drama of being in injury time to seal the points but do fans realise that they did so much more than that? The first on the list is far less memorable, an injury-time tap-in by David Healy at the Hammersmith End. We all laugh at the memories of Shefki Kuqi wearing the famous White shirt but as Reading threw everyone forward trying to equalise, it was Kuqi’s crucial header on the halfway line flicked onto Simon Davies bursting into acres of space down the right wing that allowed ‘Digger’ to square a simple ball for David Healy to seal the win. A goal very forgettable but one that would prove very important in the months that followed.
Remember that two of those goals came against Reading meaning that they weren’t worth just 1 goal to our goal difference, they were indeed worth 2 because the plus our way went the opposite for Reading’s goal difference. The Birmingham goal isn’t quite in the same bracket as the Reading ones. We would have stayed up without it anyway. But isn’t it ironic that both big goals came against the side we pipped to survival? Talk about 6-pointers! Add to it the fact that both goals were scored in stoppage time and you realise just how close Fulham came to not surviving, to not recording their highest ever league finish and NOT making it to a major European final.
Margins are so small in our beautiful game, so let’s raise a toast to two of the most important goals we’ve scored that probably went unnoticed.
What’s the moral of the story? Always play to the final whistle!