The briefest of previews today, I’m afraid, as I’m snowed under with work.
The visitors to Craven Cottage are Stoke, who can mathematically ensure survival with a win. Odds are that Fulham will give it to them because we’re pretty generous like that.
Flippancy aside, Stoke have had a terrific season. Few gave them a prayer of lasting the course in the Premier League, but Tony Pulis has worked wonders on a limited budget and with a squad that doesn’t seem to be crammed full of quality when it is put down on paper. Don’t believe all the hype about the long throws and the long ball, either. In between Delap’s missile launchers, they can get the ball down and play as well as the rest of the mid-table sides and Pulis has instilled the kind of strong work ethic that you need as a newly-promoted club.
They travel to London in the grip of something of an injury crisis though. You can’t be sure who will play on either side of the defence tomorrow as fitness tests await and even Delap is pledging the battle through the pain to play. The big blow is the absence of James Beattie up front, whose goals have helped take Stoke away from the relegation zone. Pulis, who is busy running the Marathon on Sunday, could hand a start to Richard Creswell as a replacement.
A succession of strong away performances has dulled the pain of that late defeat to Liverpool in early April. You felt that Benayoun’s late strike could have been the blow that saw us fall away from European contention over the closing weeks of the season, but we have since turned in excellent performances at Manchester City and Middlesbrough to keep ourselves in the hunt. It goes without saying that a victory over Stoke, who have yet to win away in the league, is essential to keep up the momentum.
You can’t see Roy Hodgson changing too much ahead of this game. We’ve got where we are with a strong sense of continuing and players being familiar with their role. The midfield will once again be a key area and you sense we’ll need the improving Dickson Etuhu to stamp his authority on the game early on. None of our quartet in the middle of the park have proven to be shirkers of the hard work and I fancy that the legs of our ‘wide players’ – probably Dempsey and Davies – will be tested again tomorrow.
It looks like we’ll have another close-to-capacity crowd in once more and hopefully they can cheer the Whites on to another home win.