Sitting in west London, with the snow still pretty settled, I’d be a little concerned about whether tomorrow’s game against Portsmouth will go ahead. The Craven Cottage pitch will presumably be playable but the surrounding areas, which have caused so many cancellations this week, will be the concern for the police and safety officers. If Fulham do play this weekend, Roy Hodgson will be hoping to get things back on track with a win over the league’s bottom side.
Three points will be what Fulham are looking for after three games without a win in the league. Only in the last of those games were Hodgson’s side truly abject – and then only in the first half. Let’s hope that was just a defensive abberation, a mad 45 minutes, that can be put behind us pretty quickly. It certainly wasn’t the organised and composed defending that Hodgson has made his hallmark since he replaced Lawrie Sanchez. The most galling thing about the defeat at Stoke was that two late goals, including a peach from Clint Dempsey, would have given us a real shot at a getting a result had Fulham started playing earlier.
There was no disgrace in drawing with an improving Tottenham side, in a game we perhaps should have won, and losing out to Chelsea having led for more than an hour. Hodgson’s paramount concern now will be assessing the injuries we picked up in the Potteries. Brede Hangeland seemed to rushed back too soon, both by the uncharacteristically clumsy nature of his performance and the fact that he was taken off injured at half time. Should he not be able to face Pompey, the highly-rated Chris Smalling could step in again.
Hodgson’s major conundrum will be who to field up front in the absence of the injured Bobby Zamora. He’s been linked with a number of strikers in the transfer window and it’s inconceivable that he won’t add to Fulham’s forward resources before the end of January. For now, the choice boils down to Dempsey or Erik Nevland up front alongside Andy Johnson. Zamora worked well as the lone striker but Johnson simply doesn’t have the size or the strength to fill that role effectively. Nevland’s best as an impact player – he certainly made an impressive when he came on late at the Britannia Stadium – but you would be tempted to give Dempsey a go. His lively performance on Tuesday showed no discernible after-effects from the knock he picked up against Swindon and his confidence must be soaring after scoring that gem of a goal.
Inevitably, talk will turn to the financial problems at Portsmouth and their position at the bottom of the table. Serious questions should be asked of the owners and the management if the club can miss three payroll months out of five over the course of a season. Paul Hart always looked to have taken over a poisoned chalice at Fratton Park and, if anything, Avram Grant;s task looks tougher. Pompey undoubtedly have quality but if the price of starving out the threat of administration means selling their best players – after seeing an awful lot of talent depart over the course of the last two transfer windows – then the south coast club would surely be heading towards the Championship.
That being said, this certainly won’t be an easy game for Fulham. Grant will know that his side need to pick up points and fast – as they are four points behind second-bottom Hull. The flip side of that is that Portsmouth are also four points away from West Ham, who are currently in 17th place, and their goal difference isn’t disastrous. The squad still possesses plenty of quality. Both David James and his deputy, Asmir Begovic, are good goalkeepers and Younes Kaboul and Tal Ben-Haim should provide a solid central defence. Kevin-Prince Boateng has been showing signs of the promise that saw Spurs bring him to English football of late too and the evergreen Kanu is a clever creative forward. There’s certainly no room for complacency.
There are, intriguingly, a number of Fulham connections in the current Portsmouth squad too. Antti Niemi was tempted out of retirement at the start of the season and Steve Finnan came back to the Premier League after an unhappy spell in Spain. Factor in two Chris Coleman signings in Papa Bouba Diop and Michael Brown and you’ve almost got a decent five-a-side team.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Duff, Gera; Dempsey, A. Johnson. Subs: Stockdale, Smalling, Kallio, Dikgacoi, Greening, Riise, Nevland.