Barely 52 hours after we saw off West Brom, Fulham take on Swansea for a second time in the FA Cup tonight with the prize of a home tie against ITV’s Manchester United in the quarter finals for the victor. We are pretty lucky to be getting a second bite at the cherry after our abject display and Swansea’s dominance of the first game at the Liberty Stadium and it’s imperative that we produce the sort of performance that saw us all over the Baggies on Sunday.
To make that more likely, I feel Roy has to refrain from making the kind of wholesale changes that have dogged our Cup campaigns in recent years. We have already had our strongest run in the FA Cup since we were knocked out at this stage by Manchester United in the 2003-04 competition and I’m sure plenty of the fans would enjoy a sixth round ‘glamour tie’ against the league champions, who look set to retain their title without too much bother after all. Yes, we’ve got a big game at Arsenal on Saturday but, using Roy’s Old Trafford logic, can we realistically expect to get something there? Usually, I would say no – especially given our terrible record at the Gunners (regardless of where they play their home matches) – but their recent results either give us a bit of hope or make us candidates for a sound thrashing.
Neverthless, Hodgson has been tipped by the papers to make a few changes tonight. There has been talk about home resting both Zamora and Johnson, who scored the goals on Sunday, and have been our regular first-choice forward partnership. I don’t necessarily think that they need a rest: in Zamora’s case it might pay to put him up front again after his goal against the Baggies. If you were the rest those two, who would play up front? I think it might be too soon to risk Kamara from the start and, even taking into account the pitiful lack of service to him, Erik Nevland didn’t set the world on fire in the first game.
The defence could be a place for changes, although I’d be wary of doing it given how strong Swansea going forward. Schwarzer should play and I’d be tempted to leave the back four as is. There’s no need for Hodgson to rest John Pantsil as he’ll be suspended for the Arsenal game after picking up a booking at Old Trafford. Besides, Fredrik Stoor’s inclusion was part of the reason why Mark Gower looked so impressive at the Liberty Stadium – the Swede didn’t exactly look like an international defender. Kallio could come in for Konchesky, but I suppose it’s all about how much recovery time players will need.
If Danny Murphy’s legs need a break, then a midfield of Etuhu – on Sunday’s form – and Dacourt wouldn’t give Swansea as much room or time on the ball as they had in the first tie. Someone at the back of the Hammersmith End on Sunday described as ‘the French Phil Mitchell’. Made me laugh anyway. Midfield is probably going to be where this game is won and lost. Roberto Martinez should stick to his favoured 4-5-1 formation, giving them an extra man in the centre and an onus to spread the ball wide to the wingers. That means we’ll need to keep both the ball and our shape defensively.
The prospect of Zoltan Gera coming back into the team doesn’t exactly fill me with glee. He was anonymous (and that’s being charitable) in the draw a week and a half ago and didn’t do much better at Old Trafford. Both Simon Davies and Clint Dempsey are in good form and both should be manage a busy week of fixtures. Dempsey’s young enough to recover quickly, whilst I should imagine Davies would be desperate to play against the side who are probably close to being his local club. Losing either of them from the starting line-up might give Julian Gray another opportunity to impress – his introduction as a late substitute livened us up in Wales – but my sense has been that, Sheffield Wednesday aside, Roy’s happiest calling on our now permanent arrival from Coventry from the bench.
The other factor worth mentioning tonight will be the crowd. Reading the interview with Roy in the latest copy of Fultime, he emphasises how important the support from the fans has been since he has been at the club. We certainly seem to have been filling out the Cottage to a greater degree in the league than ever before, but, as we know from bitter experience, it’s often down to the hardcore in our midweek Cup fixtures. Swansea are bringing around 3,500 fans apparently – and their players could feed off the carnival atmosphere they may create at the Putney End. The fact that it is now pay-on-the-gate tonight (except for under-21s) suggests that the club haven’t had as much success with the online-only booking as either they or the police, who could have suggested it, had hoped (if my experience is anything to go by, you can’t even change your address on there) and we’ll need those who are going to get right behind the boys. The good thing about paying on the night is that I’ll be able to be get in for sure – even if my attempts at website booking prove unsuccessful.
Some Swansea fans have suggested that Hodgson’s complaints about the date of this replay are tantamount to getting the excuses in early. I’m not sure that’s the case. From reading the quotes, I don’t see Hodgson saying that we won’t be able to compete – just remarking that he would have preferred to play the game on the Wednesday night. The need to police it probably put paid to that and I honestly don’t think we need to say much more about it. If we get beaten tonight, we’ll have been beaten by the better side, who could count themselves unlucky not to have gone through at the first time of asking.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Dacourt, Davies, Dempsey; A. Johnson, Zamora. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Baird, Stoor, Gera, Murphy, Nevland, Kamara.