At the beginning of February, Fulham looked dead and buried.
Now we’re not even a week into March, but Scott Parker’s team are alive and kicking.
They have evolved from a side that is hard to beat into a fully functioning team capable of mixing it with English football’s best, and in doing so they have dissolved an eight-point gap to move level on points with the teams above them.
Their win at Liverpool saw them keep their fifth clean sheet in seven games, and only Manchester City have a better defensive record since the beginning of December. That’s no small sample size of games: they’ve played almost every team in the division since losing to City at the Etihad.
Ironically, at the heart of it all has been a City alumnus. After slamming the door in Liverpool’s face in their back garden, Tosin Adarabioyo is only just now getting the credit he deserves for his revelational performances at the heart of the Fulham back line.
He wasn’t viewed as a particularly exciting signing when he arrived at Craven Cottage off the back of a loan spell with Blackburn. The general consensus from the outside looking in was that he was brought in to tick a box and make up the numbers, but he is beginning to make us all look very silly indeed.
He is the perfect defender for a team at the back end of the Premier League. It doesn’t seem to matter that he is a little cumbersome and not the quickest across the ground, because nothing gets past him. Ever.
The 23-year-old has played every minute for the Cottagers since his summer move, and in that time he has averaged more clearances per 90 minutes than any other Premier League player (5.9). Against Liverpool, he cleared the ball 17 times: second place was Joachim Andersen, who made six.
He ranks in the top ten for aerial duels won among defenders, and in the 23 league games Fulham have played with him at the heart of their back line, they’ve conceded just 20 times. That is the sort of form that keeps you in the top flight, and we are now starting to see that reflected in the table.
If Fulham’s resurrection continues at its current pace, we’re likely to see Adarabioyo’s name (just ‘Tosin’ on his shirt) in the headlines a fair deal more often. His new-found recognition is well deserved, and could well see him come into Gareth Southgate’s thinking come the Euros. Hell, if Tyrone Mings and Michael Keane have seats on the bus, why not?
One thing at a time, though. For now, Adarabioyo will be thinking of nothing other than dragging Fulham further out of the mire and keeping the heat on Newcastle and Brighton – who must now be cursing his very existence and the effect it is having on Parker’s team.
Fulham are alive, and as long as their defensive colossus is there to kick the ball into touch every time an opposing striker thinks about having a shot, they’re not giving up the fight any time soon.