I shall try to make a better go of this than last week’s Man City preview which was, frankly, rubbish. Although I did manage a correct result, even if not the correct score. Better than Lawro managed. Ha!
It’s probably fair to say that Blackburn seem to have a few defensive concerns this season, or certainly they do away from home where they’ve conceded a massive 35 goals. And the less said about the 1-4 defeat at home at the hands of Aston Villa last weekend, the better. Is that poor defending, poor goalkeeping or a combination of the two? With the usually safe England international Paul Robinson between the sticks perhaps the weakness sits with the back four. Unfortunately for Blackburn that back four will be further weakened tomorrow by the enforced absence of the suspended captain Ryan Nelsen, but boosted by the return of Chris Samba who we should all be fairly familiar with as he’s been rumoured to join us every transfer window since forever. Well, a couple of years. He’s good though. And for a centre-back he’s a bit of a Hangeland-esque goal machine with 13 goals in 135 appearances. It’ll be interesting to see if they can contain Clint Dempsey who like scoring against Blackburn, with 5 goals in 5 games. They could also have fit-again Bobby Zamora to deal with. Zamora looked in good shape on his eagerly-awaited return to the Fulham fold back in the FA Cup game against Bolton – not only was he hassling the defence, he didn’t look afraid to get stuck in which some feared he may after such a horrific injury. I can’t see Zamora starting tomorrow but Moussa Dembele and Andrew Johnson should both be available and they seem to be building up a decent understanding together.
In midfield, Blackburn are without the wonderfully entertaining El Hadji Diouf who’s currently plying his trade on loan to Rangers (and getting into a wee spot of bother, as you’ll know if you watched the Old Firm game on Tuesday) and the two injured Davids, Dunn and Hoilett. Last week’s match featured Jermain Jones, Grella, Brett Emerton, Keith Andrews and subs Jason Roberts and Nzonzi. Only Emerton has made it to double figures for league appearances so far this season. With 27 games played so far this season, that doesn’t suggest the most stable midfield ever. There’s a little fire power up front though with Morten Gamst Pedersen and this season’s top-scorer Nikola Kalinic leading the line. Roque Santa Cruz, on loan from last week’s opponents Manchester City, is another player recently mooted for a link-up with Fulham but for one reason or another it didn’t pan out. We won’t get to see whether that was a good or bad outcome tomorrow as he’s likely to be out with a back injury. There’s a lot of that going around at the moment – yes Mr Senderos, I’m lookin’ at you. I shouldn’t have thought there’d be too much there to worry Hughes and Hangeland who can together handle just about anything thrown at them. It probably goes without saying that Baird will start, probably at right back leaving Carlos Salcido on the left. With Matthew Briggs having signed a new contract in the week that’ll keep him at Craven Cottage until 2013, I’d prefer to give him a bit of a run out and see how well he fares against a similar level team. I can’t see it though, we may not look like relegation fodder at the moment but that table is still looking scarily tight and a slip-up could have dire consequences, a risk I’m not sure Mark Hughes will want to take in his first season in charge. In midfield, Steve Sidwell is still out with that knee injury although his recovery is progressing according to schedule. Duff’s on form and hopefully neither the week’s Twitter excitement (the person claiming to be him is actually an imposter) nor the fact that this is where his career started will put him off that stride. Dickson Etuhu did well on his return last Sunday although Murphy looked a bit off his game. Was it me or was there an unusually high number of misplaced passes courtesy of Captain Dan?
This will be Steve Kean’s first trip back to Craven Cottage as a fully-fledged manager, having spent four years here as assistant to Cookie. The team has seen wholesale changes since then so Kean won’t have much inside info to help him out. Historically Blackburn have done reasonably well against us at Craven Cottage if you ignore last season’s rainy Wednesday night 3-0 defeat (starring Erik Nevland, *sighs*). Overall though I think we should out-muscle Blackburn even with our reluctance to shoot from more than 5 yards beyond the goal-line. With a strong defence; a midfield which, on its day, can control anyone’s game; and a couple more options in attack than previously this season, I’m fully anticipating a home win. I hope it’ll be pretty too but I’d happily snatch a scrappy 3 points from you if offered it. By goodness do we need them.
How about your prediction? And what would be your starting XI?