Fulham might be – with good reason. Our record against the newly-promoted sides has been pretty poor since we were one of the new boys ourselves and Moulineux is one of those places where we are likely to struggle for our a result. It might well have been a home banker but for Roy Hodgson’s ingenious plan of replacing almost the entire team for our trip to Sofia on Thursday, which has boosted a few people’s hopes of nicking a point or three from the Midlands on Sunday.
Wolves might well be dangerous at the weekend. They have plan some lovely football at teams but have lacked a little bit of firepower up front. I’ve lost count of the number of times commentators have referred to Andy Keogh as being not a natural goalscorer in the opening weeks of the season, but if Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes resume their partnership at the heart of the Fulham defence on Sunday lunchtime they might be troubled by an entirely new partnership. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scored for fun in the Championship – both for Plymouth and Wolves – and was rewarded with a lucrative new deal after the club returned to the Premier League. He’s been missing since picking up an untimely injury in their opening game against West Ham but could be in line for a start against the Whites. Mick McCarthy might just pair him with the Austrian striker Stefan Maierhofer, a giant of a centre forward, who grabbed a goal in Wolves’ rather meek surrender at Blackburn before the international break.
You fancy that – rather like Stoke and Burnley – Wolves will have to pick up points at home to build the foundations of a successful fight against the drop. There’s no doubt McCarthy’s assembled a side with much more quality than the last one that had a crack at the top flight, even if some Wolves fans were a little disappointed with the sum of their additions doing the summer. Admittedly I’ve yet to see him in person but I’ve been impressed with the clever Serb Nenad Milijas, who seems to add a bit of flair to the midfield. Injury has also robbed McCarthy of the services of the promising Michael Kightly, who might be fit enough for the bench according to the BBC.
Even in defence there’s plenty of potential – and McCarthy’s been brave enough to forgive his young rearguard once for the kind of error made by Michael Mancienne at Blackburn last time out. There’s no doubt Mancienne, who has had to leave Chelsea in order to get a taste of first-team football but has managed to do enough to catch the eye of Fabio Capello, is a real prospect and rumour has it that Hodgson had a long look at both Mancienne and Christophe Berra, who made his Premier League debut at Ewood Park, before deciding to pass. Full back Richard Stearman – he of the eye-catching haircut – impressed against Fulham in the Cup a few years back for his former club Leicester.
There shouldn’t be quite as much mystique surrounding Hodgson’s selection for Sunday as there was about the composition of the side for last night’s game. We speculated in the build up to the Sofia game that was the experience of the Perm game and our underwhelming display against Aston Villa just a few days later that might have first given Hodgson the idea of making more than just a few changes. The fact that likes of Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora and Danny Murphy were all returning from injuries against Everton probably helped to make his mind up. The pleasant surprise that was the second string’s showing in Sofia means that a positive result would only increase the perception in these parts that our esteemed manager is something of a footballing oracle.
Stephen Kelly might be asked to deputise for Paul Konchesky – apparently our only serious injury worry – in the unfamilar position of left back again, but Hodgson should be able to recall most of the others who didn’t make the trip to Sofia. Damien Duff was taken off against Everton as a precaution and there hasn’t been any suggestion that the Irishman won’t be ready to pick up from where he left off with that spectacular strike at Craven Cottage last week. Resting Clint Dempsey was imperative after the American’s hectic summer schedule and it remains to be seen whether our wide players will continue last Sunday’s sucessful tactic of playing on the ‘wrong’ side.
We’ll have to be up for the fight from the first whistle again on Sunday. No longer are Hodgson’s men thought of as something of a soft touch on their travels but we were caught cold by Villa and never recovered. A similar experience needs to be avoided.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu, Murphy, Duff, Dempsey; Zamora, A. Johnson. Subs: Stockdale, Kelly, Baird, Gera, Greening, Nevland, Kamara.