Apologies for the late preview – things have been a little manic at my end over the last couple of days. I hope you are all keeping well.
I’ve found myself thinking back to our last Cup meeting with Swansea a lot this week. The Swans were a whole league above us as we teteered near the bottom of the Third Division and came full of confidence to the Cottage. Nobody was expecting much. As I recall, Match of the Day didn’t send any cameras. We smashed Swansea 7-0, a young Paul Brooker was outstanding when he came off the bench and the feelgood factor seemed to return to London’s friendly club.
Nobody could have imagined how crazy our ride up the football pyramid would have been back then. If someone told me, we’d have been in the FA Cup fifth round in 2009 I’d have laughed. If I’d have turned to one of my mates on the Hammersmith End terrace and suggested that we’d have made it all the way to the Premier League by that time, they might have summoned the men in white coats. Looking back now, the whole thing still seems so surreal.
It seems strange that we’re the established Premier League side pitching up at a club, threatening to join us next season, who play beautiful football under a continental manager. I’ve seen this movie before: we were sailing high at the top of the First Division when Manchester United came calling in the third round a few years back. A deflected Fabrice Fernandes free-kick looked to have earned us a deserved replay before Teddy Sheringham stole in to score a late winner.
The Swans would certainly be welcome attentions to the top flight. It’s certainly time the Welsh had a club to represent them at English football’s top table – if that sentence doesn’t sound too incomprehensible (you know what I mean). Watching a bit of their national team playing against Poland in the week, I considered that they might not be a bad bet to do well at the Euro 2012 tournament. Look at all the young talent that will be there for them then: the likes of Collison, Bale, Evans and Ramsay. Swansea play football in the right way, have passionate fans and a great young manager. They could very well go up via the play-offs and nobody would behappier than I.
I’d rather they didn’t make fools of us on national television on Saturday though. I’m beginning to think it might be a real possibility, though. Our away form (with just the two Cup wins to sustain us all season) hardly inspires confidence and there’s all our stars coming back from international duty. Mark Schwarzer, Clint Dempsey and Aaron Hughes have just come back from crucial World Cup qualifiers and there’s a real chance that we might have to do without the latter too.
Hughes would be a massive loss. He’s struggling with a dead leg he picked up in San Marino on Wednesday – ten minutes before the end of Northern Ireland’s fine and much-needed win. He’s been outstanding this season, probably our player of the season, and looks a completely different player from the nervous figure that rather embodied our flustered defence last term. Of course, he’s helped by the presence of a big, commanding partner alongside him – and I don’t have any qualms about Chris Baird stepping in (if he’s over his own complaint that kept him away from international duty) – but I would be disappointed to see Hughesy miss out.
No regular reader of this site will be surprised if they hear me say that Dempsey would be a real miss. He’s unlikely to start after the going the whole 90 against Mexico in a massive win for the US in the week. Perhaps it’ll be a chance for Zoltan Gera to show what he can do again. The Hungarian hasn’t really hit the heights we’d all expected him to reach since signing from West Brom in the summer and looked a player utterly devoid of confidence by the time his early run in the side came to an end. He might get a go on the right side of the midfield too this time.
I can’t see Hodgson not picking a strong side though. Yes, the league has to be the priority – especially as it’s still the case that a couple of defeats can have you looking over your shoulder – but this is too much of an opportunity to pass up. We’ll have to be on our guard, compete in midfield and defend well.
Competing in midfield should be right up Olivier Dacourt’s street. He looked very impressive in the second half at Wigan but spent plenty of time when the ball was out of play bending down and blowing hard. I don’t think Roy wanted him to be pitched in straight away – but there’s no real replacement for Etuhu at the club. He had no choice. I hope a week’s hard training might have helped Dacourt recover some match sharpness, because he’s going to need it at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday. If he has a good game, we should progress.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hangeland, Baird; Dacourt, Murphy, Gera, Davies; A. Johnson, Zamora. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Pantsil, Kallio, Gray, Brown, Nevland, Kamara.