Premiership Upton Park Saturday 13 January 2007, 3pm
Saturday’s short trip to Upton Park should see Fulham come face-to-face with former cult hero Luis Boa Morte only days after the loveable winger left the Cottage. It is remarkable that with the Portuguese international’s £5m departure, the Whites have now sold every member of the starting eleven that recorded their only previous Premiership win at West Ham in 2001. Whether he still holds a place in our collective hearts is up for debate, but of greater concern to Chris Coleman will be reviving the Whites faltering away form.
The most gleaming memory from the festive fixtures has to be that point but at Chelsea but, having watched replay after replay of Carlos Bocanegra’s tap-in at Stamford Bridge, I’m still subdued by our holiday points haul. Our previous meeting with the Hammers failed to trouble the scorers and grateful though we were to draw with Charlton, the all-too usual defensive cock-up had put Fulham in danger of giving Alan Pardew the perfect welcome back to the Premiership. A point against Watford followed by a Cup draw at Leicester (however good the atmosphere created by the travelling supporters) means maximum points are a must if the Whites harbour realistic ambitions of breaking into the top half of the table.
Coleman’s transfer window dealings have been modest so far, although according to those in the know this may have more to do with pushy agents than any lack of ambition. Vicenzo Montella made a brief debut at Leicester and has since asked the fans to give him time to adjust to the helter-skelter world of English football and with the departure of Collins John seemingly imminent there is a need for our very own ‘Little Aeroplane’ to start firing soon. The joy of Clint Dempsey’s arrival via a Home Office tribunal means we might see some flair back in the midfield after the departure of Steed Malbranque and Luis Boa Morte plus the untimely absence of Jimmy Bullard. The industry of Michael Brown and Moritz Volz, whose goals at Chelsea and Leicester make it seem odd that Arsene Wenger turned this promising midfield prospect into a right back, can’t be overlooked but Dempsey could offer the kind of quality to strike fear into the hearts of top flight defenders.
Antti Niemi is expected to return in goal to face a West Ham side who had hinted a resurgence under Alan Curbishley before their horror show at the Madjeski Stadium. Curbishley’s standing as a former West Ham player, respected manager and his activity in the transfer market still mean that there is no cause for despondency amongst the Boleyn Ground faithful and with the talent he can pick from, there’s no reason why the Hammers shouldn’t be clear of the drop zone by May. Fulham will need Niemi plus the back four to be alert if they are to come away with anything. There is still a slight doubt over the fitness of Philippe Christanval so Ian Pearce remains on stand by to snuff out the threat posed by his former employers.
Fulham have been full of goals of late with Brian McBride and Heidar Helguson belying their advancing years up front. McBride has fine memories of Upton Park, having scored a blinding opener from fully 25 yards when the Whites won an FA Cup replay there two years ago, and Helguson, despite being left on the bench until this time last year, has made such a compelling case for his inclusion that neither John nor Bjorn Runstrom have been able to secure a regular spot in the side. You get the feeling that the Whites will need another couple of goals if they are to record their first away win since victory at Newcastle way back in September.
Text by: Daniel Crawford