A somewhat briefer preview than normal ahead of Sunday’s game against Everton as things are pretty hectic around here.
It seems a little paranoid to be building this game up as a must-win for Fulham this early in the season. Yes, we’ve lost two on the bounce, but they were to a team who present the strongest challenge to Manchester United’s attempt to defend their title (however much we dislike it) and against a Villa time who were one of the sides of the season until their campaign hit the buffers a little early last term. Add to that the fact that we are still in a false position in the table as a result of having played a game less than most of the sides in the league due to our European commitments, and it doesn’t seem quite so desperate.
All that being said, a win would be welcome. Fulham started the season well at Portsmouth, grinding out a result away from home, but have been poor in their next fixtures. The trip to Perm wouldn’t have helped with our preparations for Aston Villa and already the signs are that we won’t be enjoying as much luck with injuries as we had last season. We badly missed Danny Murphy at Villa Park – although I don’t agree with all the criticism directed at Jonathan Greening in the aftermath of that defeat – and it looks like we might have to do without our captain again this weekend.
If Murphy has to admit defeat in his race to be fit, we could at least manage to get things the right round in midfield this time. Too often Greening was dropping deep and receiving the ball from the defence, leaving Etuhu to try and supply the probing passes furether up the pitch. While Etuhu is more than just the crude stopper of yesteryear, he’s not going to unlock well-marshalled top flight defences. If anything, that’s Greening’s job and it would be nice to see him demonstrate some of the guile that prompted Hodgson’s concerted efforts to bring him in from West Brom this summer on Sunday.
Everton are certainly lying far too low in the table at this early stage. Their start to the season has been disrupted by the drawn out Joleon Lescott transfer saga and, although it’s becoming a bit of cliche to insist that Everton got the better of that deal, it doesn’t make it any less true. Distin is an excellent replacement for Lescott and the ridiculous fee that Manchester City paid has also helped David Moyes to strengthen his squad. The Toffees broke their Craven Cottage hodoo in the final game of last season and we’ll have to get to grips with their busy midfield early on if we want to take anything from the game.
It seems as though the always-angerous Tim Cahill and the potent Yakubu, who seems to enjoy scoring against Fulham, might make their returns from injury on Sunday. Cahill is a player that I’ve watched closely since his days at Millwall and his intelligent reading of the game and ability to pick the perfect movement to make that late burst in the box are just two of the reasons I rue the fact that Fulham apparently didn’t act on their rumoured interest in the Australian when he was at Millwall. Moyes took a chance on Cahill – and boy has his faith but repaid.
But to simply ask our midfield to track Cahill would neglect the other dangers in the Everton midfield. Lest we forget Leon Osman ran the show in the May with a highly-polished performance and a peach of a second goal to seal the victory. Then there’s the athletic Stephen Pienaar, who hardly gets a mention in amongst the more established names in the Everton midfield. I’ve been impressed with the development of a few of the youngsters Moyes has blooded in the last couple of seasons – Jack Rodwell should really go to South Africa with England and I like the look of young Dan Gosling, who showed promise at Plymouth and doesn’t seem overrawed by the Premier League stage.
If the Fulham defence can avoid the momentary lapses that dogged our lamentable performance at Villa Park, then we might have a chance of getting something from this game. Hangeland and Hughes will need to be on their toes, though – as it is certain to be a tall order.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Greening, Dempsey, Duff; Nevland, Kamara. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Baird, Gera, Seol, Zamora, E. Johnson.