The received wisdom is that Fulham should comfortably dispose off Bolton tomorrow afternoon and consolidate their new-found position in the top half of the Premier League. Forgive me for lapsing into pessimism for a brief moment, but I’m not sure that this confidence is a little misplaced. For a start, we never make it easy for ourselves against the sides that we should expect to beat. While we might have improved in this respect under Hodgson, it’s still a concern. Perhaps the most salient reason for Saturday being a tough assignment, though, is the fact that Bolton will be desperate for a result.
Gary Megson’s side slipped into the relegation zone for the first time this season after losing 2-0 at home to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday afternoon. Megson, hardly a popular man in Lancashire since his appointment, has since had to clarify his own suggestion that there is unrest in the camp and will bring his team to Craven Cottage looking to end a miserable run of three straight defeats defeats during which the Trotters have shipped a worrying eleven goals.
Bolton also have a lengthy injury list to contend with ahead of their trip to London. Tamir Cohen will have a late fitness tight on a groin injury ahead of the game and Mustapha Riga is apparently touch and go as to whether he’ll be available as he recovers from a hamstring problem. Joey O’Brien is a long-term absentee with a knee injury, while the latest addition to the unavailable list is Sean Davis, whose serious knee injury won’t just rule him out of a return to Fulham but could sideline him for the rest of the season. Zat Knight is likely to be on the bench after his recent unfortunate spurt of own goals. Megson can still call on Kevin Davies, who always seems to grab a goal against Fulham, and his namesake Mark, who seems to maturing into a solid performer at this level.
Despite all the troubles, Megson will surely have his players fired up as they try and claw their way out of the relegation zone before the Christmas period. The game could be as attritional an affair as Wednesday’s game against Blackburn threatened to be for a while. Bolton might have eschewed the more direct style under Megson of late but it could be the easiest way to get them out of this particular rut.
For our part, Fulham will be looking to build on the positives from Wednesday’s win over Rovers. After a nervy opening and a very handy piece of predatory finishing from Erik Nevland, Hodgson’s side passed and played much better in a second half when they were clinical in exploiting the gaps Blackburn left as they went searching for an equaliser. There will be a few selection posers for Hodgson to consider.
As I mentioned in an earlier comment, Erik Nevland remains an enigma. Despite that glaring second half miss, he’s probably still our most naturally-gifted finisher in front of goal – and we can now add that smart finish for the first goal to the evidence bag. It was past Paul Robinson before he’d blinked. Though that’s a considerable attribute to have, he lacks the pace and link-up play to be the focal point for our attack.
That might be a particular problem on Saturday, what with Bobby Zamora apparently unlikely to recover from the groin injury that prematurely ended his night on Wednesday. Clint Dempsey’s brace when he was pushed into a more advanced role might tip the balance in his favour, especially when you consider that Roy might be a little reluctant to risk Andy Johnson after just a week’s training under his belt after a long injury lay-off. With Diomansy Kamara absent for at least three weeks after his operation, David Elm could get a spot on the bench.
If Hodgson decides to play the American up front, that would create a space for Zoltan Gera to fill in midfield. The Hungarian’s been much more impressive this season and was a postive contributor from the bench against Rovers. He’s also got a very good against Bolton to maintain too – Gera’s scored three in four Premier League appearances against Wanderers. We’ll all be very happy if can continue that run at the weekend.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Greening, Duff, Gera; Dempsey, Nevland. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Smalling, Etuhu, Riise, A. Johnson, Elm.