If the draw for the FA Cup fourth round threw up the horrible possibility of revisiting a dark day in deepest Kent, Fulham fans got what they wanted on Tuesday night thanks to a late winner from John Miles. A trip to Accrington Stanley, who hold a special place in the hearts of football fans of a certain age, is a return to football in the good old days: terracing behind the goals and community clubs. It’s also pretty special to be the first Premier League side to play at the Crown Ground and, given that Stanley toppled Gillingham – who are a division above them – on Tuesday, is also potentially a massive banana skin.
Accrington went bust at a time when few football clubs did and it inspired an outpouring of emotion from around the football community. Stanley’s rise from the ashes, complete when they won the Conference in 2005-06, was a heartwarming story at a time when many feared football had lost it’s soul. Any preview of an Accrington game simply has to start with the advert that makes them famous – and also inspires dreadful attempts at Scouse accents up and down the land:
Stanley, where Brett Ormerod learnt the skills that took him to Blackburn and then Southampton, have been on an impressive upward curve since returning to the Football League. They finished 20th in their debut season, a creditable effort, and have improved with every year: 17th in 2007-08 and a place higher, with 50 points to their name, last season. The climb has continued this year, with the team currently sitting in ninth place, having lost just one home game all season, something which will pose a serious test to our dire away record. Manager John Coleman, who masterminded Accrington’s return to the league, plays pretty, passing football unlike a number of the more physical teams in the division and the best part about Stanley’s Cup run is that it has helped them starve off financial problems caused by an unpaid tax bill.
Stanley certainly have some interesting names set to test themselves against top flight opposition on Saturday. Dean Bouzanis, an Australian under-23 international on loan from Liverpool, has been keeping the experienced Ian Dunbavin out of the side at the moment – and kept a clean sheet against the Gills on Tuesday. Club captain Andrew Proctor should line up in central midfield and Fulham might want to keep a close eye on another former Liverpool man, Miles, who has an eye for goal as he demonstrated in midweek. Robert Grant has weighed in with twelve goals this term whilst Michael Symes has showed the form that made him such a prolific scorer as a trainee at Everton, with thirteen goals, two of them in the Cup.
How Fulham will line up for their first ever meeting with Accrington remains to be seen. Hodgson won’t want a repeat of our embarassing exit against Bristol Rovers early in his tenure a couple of years ago, but he’ll be wary of overexerting some of his key players with a trip to Tottenham on Tuesday at the back of his mind. Injuries will definitely deprieve Fulham of Paul Konchesky, Clint Dempsey, John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora – so it’s likely to be a much-changed time from the one we’ve seen in recent weeks. This one will be far from easy.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Kallio, Hangeland, Smalling; Baird, Murphy, Riise, Duff; Gera; A. Johnson. Subs: Stockdale, Hughes, Dikgacoi, Greening, Brown, Nevland, Elm.