In the crazy world of post-match reactions, especially in this internet age, one defeat can take on a life of it’s own. Saturday’s reverse at Birmingham, for example, could be seen as an indication that our squad depth isn’t as impressive as we might have thought, given that we struggled to test the Blues with a few key players missing. Rather than heralding the start of a few winnable fixtures that could lift Fulham into the top half of the table, it might be the beginning of a dire run that drags us into a relegation scrap.
Of course, I don’t think that’s going to happen. For one thing, we’re far more organised that the last time we were in an almighty struggle for survival. We’ve got Roy Hodgson to thank for that. But there was, in my mind anyway, an inevitability about our defeat at Birmingham. On a day when conditions didn’t exactly suit our silkly football, it was no surprise that the Blues combative midfield – with the evergreen Lee Bowyer to the fore – were able to dominate so effectively.
Blackburn are coming into form nicely and a repeat of last season’s victory at the Cottage would give them three straight league wins. They might be without both Sam Allardyce and Gael Givet tonight, but there’s plenty to worry Fulham if we aren’t on our game. Rovers were pretty impressive at Bolton on Sunday and a terrific finish from David Dunn, who was introduced to Premier League football what seems like a lifetime ago by Hodgson, showed that another talented midfielder is back in business.
There’s no real reason why Rovers should struggle. They have been solidified since Allardyce took over the reigns from Paul Ince early last season and the side that took the field at the Reebok looks pretty impressive. Paul Robinson’s not as bad a goalkeeper as his critics would have you believe and, were it not for that ill-timed Croatian miskick, he might be preparing to go to a World Cup as England’s number one. Such is the unpredictable nature of football.
The defence looks pretty strong too. Pascal Chimbonda can launch himself into tough challenges just as easily as attacks down the right and the centre back pairing of Chris Samba, now that he’s deployed in his correct position, and Ryan Nelson is probably underrated. Nelson has just led New Zealand to only the second World Cup in their history and will be a danger in our box tonight as well as with limiting Fulham’s chances.
With Dunn, the dependable Brett Emerton and the pantomine villain El Hadji Diouf in midfield, the Fulham quartet could be in for a real tussle. The Whites should need no reminding of the potency of Jason Roberts up front as he scored the goal that sealed Blackburn’s come from behind win at the Cottage last year. The on-loan Chelsea striker Franco Di Santo could be a handful too, while there’s Benni McCarthy to summon from the substitutes bench as Rovers did effectively last season. I still maintain that Nikola Kalinic is a lot better than the early bloopers reel suggests.
Even if we’ll be without Diomansy Kamara for a little while, Fulham’s injury situation is easing. Andy Johnson and Danny Murphy both now have a few training sessions under their belt, though it might be a little early for Roy to throw them in from the start this evening. The good news is that Erik Nevland has recovered from the ailment that ruled him out of Saturday’s game at St. Andrew’s and he must be favourite to start alongside Bobby Zamora up front.
Damien Duff might well be motivated to play from the start against one of his former sides and he certainly added a bit of spark when he came off the bench on Saturday. That might see one of our extra midfielders drop out of the line-up, possibly Simon Davies as he’s still feeling his way back from injury. Even if Murphy doesn’t return, Jonathan Greening could make way, despite Roy’s insistence that Birmingham was the on-loan midfielder’s best performance yet for Fulham. I’d tempted to keep Chris Baird in midfield, but we’ll have to wait and see how Hodgson lines up.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Dempsey, Duff; Zamora, Nevland. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Kelly, Etuhu, Gera, Davies, A. Johnson.