Just like last year, our first festive fixture is at White Hart Lane. Then, Spurs were buoyant after replacing a highly regarded who wasn’t doing the job. Sound familiar by any chance? We were the first to prick the Redknapp bubble with a determined performance at the Cottage but, for all our recent improvement, our away form is a whole different ball game if you’ll pardon the pun.
We certainly won’t want a repeat of last year. A thumping 5-1 defeat by an inspired Spurs effectively killed off any chance of caretaker manager Ray Lewington getting the job on a full-time basis after the sacking of Lawrie Sanchez. Moritz Volz was sent off and there was very little Christmas cheer on the way home. I’d never a wish a defeat on my own side but the only positive was that such an unacceptable capitulation forced the board to act quickly and appoint an experienced manager who we are so lucky to have.
Something tells me our defence won’t be as porous as last year at the Lane. Since Frazier Campbell scored a late goal at the Cottage in November, we’ve conceded only one goal (to Benjani in the 1-1 draw against Manchester City). Whether Redknapp decides to go with either one or two forwards (either Pavlyuchenko or Bent will be dangerous), Hughes and Hangeland will need to be as impressive as they have been all season.
We’ll have to shut down Spurs in midfield much as Newcastle managed to do on Sunday. Little Luka Modric has now scored his first goal since joining from Dinamo Zagreb and the Croatian is most definitely Tottenham’s creative hub. He’ll buzz around all afternoon testing the discipline of Murphy and Bullard to stick to their task. That’s not to say that Modric will be the home side’s only threat from midfield. Tom Huddlestone can unlock defences with a precise pass or blast home a thunderous shot. Jermaine Jenas will want to remind Fabio Capello of his quality whilst David Bentley looks to be returning to the sort of form that was making David Beckham sweat.
It seems a strange thing to say after three successive goalless draws away from the Cottage but our best chance might be to go at Spurs aggressively, especially in light of Tottenham’s defensive strife. Woodgate and King didn’t look too clever in November so AJ and Zamora should be able to have some fun at the expense of Dawson, who has had a dreadful season so far, and Zokora, who isn’t a natural centre back.
I don’t neccessarily buy into the continued media chatter about Gomes, who was an exceptional goalkeeper with PSV Eindhoven and deserves a chance to acclimatise to the English game. He made a horrible error against us a month ago but he made some blinding saves to keep his side in the game. The fact that we play a narrow quartet in midfield means that we probably won’t be able to severely test the theory that the goalkeeper is vulnerable to crosses but we should – in the hectic atmosphere of a London derby – to create more chances than we did at Stoke or Aston Villa, for example.
Let’s hope we can all be toasting another polished performance by 3pm on Friday afternoon. Between now and then, I hope all of our readers have a wonderfully Merry Christmas.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Murphy, Bullard, Davies, Dempsey; A. Johnson, Zamora. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Baird, Etuhu, Nevland, Gray, Kallio.