Sunday sees Notts County come to town. Fulham, who have something of a hit or miss record record in the FA Cup in recent seasons, will see this as a glorious opportunity to book a place in the last eight. Notts County, once seemingly set to make the kind of surge up the footballing pyramid that Mohamed Al Fayed’s funny had funded for little old Fulham after Micky Adams’ basement rescue act, now suddenly seem destined for administration. With Sven-Goran Eriksson and Tord Gripp gone on the eve of their big day out which will see 4,000 supporters of the league’s oldest club travel to London, who knows what will ensue on Sunday. Is it another one of Peter Trembling’s false dawns?
Mark Schwarzer eluded to the fact that, with their form on the upturn of late, Fulham would rather be playing for league points this weekend. They might have rediscovered the swagger that saw them swot Manchester United aside before Christmas, but there was an ease about the home side’s football as they swarmed all over Burnley in the second half on Tuesday night. With the return of Dickson Etuhu and Bobby Zamora, the spine of Roy Hodgson’s side suddenly looked stronger and the manager was moved to describe David Elm, whose summer purchase from Kalmar had been seen as something of a gamble, as a revelation.
Changes are almost certain to be made for the visit of Notts County with games against Shakhtar Donetsk and Birmingham City to follow quickly afterwards, but not as many as you might think. Hodgson has spoken this week about his desire to ‘attack the FA Cup,’ knowing that his team are only 180 minutes away from a rare appearance at Wembley. Stephen Kelly might get another chance to prove himself at right back and Chris Smalling could come into the heart of the defence, whilst Jonathan Greening and Bjorn-Helge Riise might feature in midfield. There’s something intriguing about pairing the raw Stefano Okaka with Elm, with confidence now surely coarsing through his veins, up front.
Notts County certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted, although they have fallen away from their early pacesetting form at the top of the League Two table. They plenty of players with Premier League pedigree. Eyebrows were raised that Kasper Schmeichel, so impressive when he made a top-flight impact for Manchester City a few years ago (he kept goal well in a thriller at Craven Cottage just a couple of seasons back), decided to drop down the divisions in the summer, persuaded by Eriksson’s charm perhaps. Jamie Clapham has plenty of top flight and European experience from his days at Ipswich and is a tireless worker in midfield, whilst the likes of Lee Hughes, whose return to professional football from prison sparked plenty of debate and Ade Akinbiyi, sure to get a hot reception from those who remember his Gillingham antics, could be a handful up front. Fulham will certainly remember Craig Westcarr, who twice brought non-league Kettering level as they threatened to embarass us at the fourth round stage last year.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Kelly, Shorey, Smalling, Hangeland; Greening, Murphy, Riise, Davies; Elm, Okaka. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Baird, Hughes, Etuhu, Duff, Nevland, Zamora.