Away points are just as elusive as away wins at the moment. The search for solace continues at White Hart Lane tonight as Fulham take on a Tottenham side desperate to resurrect their promising start to season after a poor run. Both teams were run close by lower-league opposition in the FA Cup at the weekend. Fulham’s class eventually told against League Two Accrington Stanley, although had Darran Kempson not been sent off a replay might have been the best Roy Hodgson’s side could have hoped for. Spurs have a trip to Elland Road to look forward to after Jermain Beckford kept his cool from the penalty spot to square an absorbing game in the last minute of injury time.
This season under Redknapp, Tottenham have finally shown signs of being able to mix it with the big boys. Their Champions’ League ambitions have been undermined by two disappointing league results since they dispatched West Ham just after Christmas. They dominated against Hull City but came up against an inspired Boaz Myhill, whose string of fine saves helped the Tigers steal a point. Liverpool outplayed them at Anfield as Rafa Benitez’s side reminded everybody that they aren’t out of the race for fourth place.
Redknapp is apparently due to tell Jermain Defoe, whose razor-sharp start to the season (which made a virtual shoe-in for South Africa) has been followed by a string of costly misses from the penalty spot, that he won’t be taking any more spot kicks any time soon. Add Saturday’s tame effort against Leeds to a list that also includes an injury-time failure at Everton and even Fabio Capello could be concerned about this very English disease. Responsibility might fall on the shoulders of Tom Huddlestone or Niko Kranjcar, though Fulham have yet to concede a spot-kick this season.
There’s been plenty of discussion about where we should go in the full-back positions in the continuing absence of John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky. Much of the concern on the messageboards seems to centre around stopping Aaron Lennon, in the manner that Pantsil did so effectively in the Boxing Day meeting at Craven Cottage. Such worries are eased by the fact that the England winger, so dangerous with the ball at his feet, will only be watching from the stands, nursing a continuing groin problem. Redknapp might be able to welcome back Ledley King, Tom Huddlestone but will remain without the services of Jonathan Woodate and Roman Pavlyuchenko, who stepped off the bench to score impressive against Leeds on Saturday night only to injure a groin.
Hodgson’s selection will be interesting. Toni Kallio’s come in for plenty of stick since Accrington, although it is worth remembering that Roy relies on him in a large part due to a string of fine displays at full back when Finland very nearly reached the European Championships from one of the toughest groups going a couple of years ago. The cupboard’s pretty bare in terms of other options at left back and former Spur Stephen Kelly is likely to keep his place on the other side of the back four even if some questioned his display at the Crown Ground.
Midfield is another area for debate. Hodgson was quick to praise Bjorn Helge Riise’s excellent performance against Accrington and the young Norwegian has quickly established himself as a potential replacement for the injured Clint Dempsey. Simon Davies is still feeling his way back from injury and, if Zoltan Gera is to continue operating in the hole, then Riise may make a rare league start tonight.
That prospect might have receeded in the past few days as Bobby Zamora neared a remarkable return just a matter of weeks after dislocating his collarbone at Stoke. With Andy Johnson still searching for the sharpness that was so cruelly snatched away by a horror tackle against Amkar Perm early in the season and having a late fitness test on a knee injury, there must be a temptation to throw Zamora in from the start tonight. Bobby’s been in blistering form this season and will be desperate to show the Spurs fans just how hot he’s been in front of goal, particularly as he never really produced his best form when handed his first chance to impress in the top flight after Tottenham bought him from Brighton. Diomansy Kamara, an unused substitute at Stanley on Saturday, will be chomping at the bit to return as well.
It’s been six and a half years since we won at the Lane – and it feels about as long since that sunny day at Portsmouth when Fulham last triumphed in the league away from Craven Cottage. Much more likely is Gareth Bale wins a Premier League game from the start tonight – at the 23rd time of asking – and Spurs end their stuttering run, but we can dream, eh?
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Kallio, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Murphy, Riise, Duff; Zamora, Nevland. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Smith, Dikgacoi, Greening, Kamara, Elm.