I’m quite surprised I’m writing this. When we were drawn against Spurs, I thought it’d be a repeat of last season; a home draw followed by a defeat at White Hart Lane. I’m not naturally a pessimistic person but I do like to manage my expectations. So much so that I actually made plans for this weekend which have had to be hastily rearranged to accommodate tomorrow’s match. That’ll learn me.
Our opponents for tomorrow were decided late on Wednesday evening when the rest of the world was fawning over the frankly beautiful football being played at the Emirates. Despite my best intentions to watch Bolton fight Wigan for the right to come to Craven Cottage, the internet scuppered my plans. By the sounds of things I didn’t miss much. Wigan had few chances and Bolton struggled to convert most of theirs. A solitary goal from Klasnic in the second half was all it took to decide the tie. So it’s Bolton, minus injured ex-Fulham defender Zat Knight (anybody see that injury against Everton? It looked AWFUL) and the cup-tied goal-machine Daniel Sturridge (phew), standing between us and the quarter final.
I’d imagine most Fulham fans wanted Wigan. I know I did. We’ve already beaten them at our place this season and they’re lower in the league than us, so there’d be a greater air of confidence going into the match which would hopefully translate to a good, winning performance from “the boys”. Instead, we play a team who have yet to visit the important team in SW6 – our home league game against Bolton isn’t for another 2 months – so they are somewhat of an unknown force on our turf, and the away tie at the start of the season yielded no goals for either team. They’re a good side playing good football and their league position of 8th confirms that. Fortunately for us their away form isn’t great, in fact it’s only marginally better than ours with two away wins. There are some injury concerns as well. I’ve already mentioned Big Zat who is out for around 6 weeks with knee ligament damage, but another defender, Sam Ricketts, is out for the rest of the season after suffering an Achilles injury. I seem to remember Ricketts playing well against us at the Reebok last year so that’s a big loss for boss Owen Coyle, who will now need to bring two possibly less experienced squad members to join stalwarts Gary Cahill and Paul Robinson. Arguably there was a potential issue with the defence before it was hit by injury as suggested by a stat from OptaJoe – Jussi Jaaskalainen made the most saves (135) in 2010. Lucky he’s a decent ‘keeper. They’ve still got some good attacking options though, in the form of captain Kevin Davies and Johann Elmander, and their midfield certainly isn’t too shy to convert the odd opportunity with Muamba, Holden and Petrov all finding the net this season.
We’re doing alright though, aren’t we? Hughes and Hangeland continue to be the best centre-back pairing in the Barclays Premier League and Baird is putting in some great shifts at both left and right back. Not at the same time obviously. He’s not that good. The match against Chelsea suggested that Salcido may have shaken off his wobbly patch so could well make another start tomorrow. That leaves Pantsil on the bench, perhaps with Kelly who was recalled to the squad on Monday. Dickson Etuhu is back in training but won’t be fit enough to make an appearance, and Dempsey is a doubt with a “sore toe”. That should give us a midfield of Captain Dan, in-form Damien Duff, the excellent Steve Sidwell and… dare I say it…. Zoltan Gera with perhaps Greening on the bench. We’re still a little limited upfront so it’s probably safe to assume that Andy Johnson and Moussa Dembele will both start. They seem to complement each other well, although those of you who follow my (excellent) Twitter commentary during matches will know that I sometimes worry that Dembele plays more like a midfielder than a striker. He does tend to sit quite far back leaving AJ on his own. When we have a reasonably attacking-minded midfield such as we have, I don’t feel there’s a need for Dembele to go and join them. To be fair though, I’m neither a professional footballer nor a qualified coach so I’ll trust him to do what he needs to. For now.
I can’t see this being the most exciting game ever but I don’t think it’ll be a draw. We’ll possibly just do it, but only by one goal. Lawro predicts a 2-1 home win and, for a change, I’ll agree with him. I’ll be wearing my lucky earrings just in case though.
Do you agree? Or do you think it’ll be another thriller?