Fulham return to Premier League action this afternoon probably still licking their wounds after Thursday’s events in Poland. The Whites must put the injustice of Moussa Dembele’s red card behind them quickly and focus on reviving a league campaign that hasn’t really been kickstarted by that derby win over QPR. Whether the international break came at just the wrong time with confidence coursing through Fulham veins is something of a moot point, as the meek surrender in the face of second half pressure at Stoke would have reminded Martin Jol that home points remain a real priority.
Up until a couple of years ago, this would have been regarded as the very definition of a home banker. Leon Osman’s double on the final day of the 2008/09 season didn’t dent Fulham’s chances of getting into Europe – and we all know where that led – but it did spoil the perfect record at home since the Whites returned to the Premier League in 2001. We’ll quickly gloss over the fact that you have to go back to the start of that memorable 1975 Cup run for Fulham’s last win at Goodison Park.
David Moyes, always a canny manager, will no doubt believe that Everton are well placed to take advantage of Fulham’s frenetic schedule. He’ll first be seeking to end a sequence of three straight league defeats, although the calibre of their recent opponents must be taken into account. The red card dubiously handed out to Jack Rodwell changed the complexion of the Merseyside derby and Everton were in the contest for much of a tight game at Manchester City. Only the trip to Chelsea, where few sides muster anything like a point these days, was a true write-off. Everton haven’t lost four straight games in six years and Moyes will no doubt have his side as well-organised and combative as ever.
This afternoon should see a return to the Cottage for Louis Saha, who is now happily back in the Everton first-team picture after a Twitter tantrum to his exclusion from the squad earlier in the campaign. Tim Cahill, who hasn’t scored an Everton goal since last December, will likely line-up just behind him in Everton’s familiar formation has always been a thorn in Fulham’s side and you wouldn’t bet against him aiming a few fake punches at a corner flag in celebration at some point this afternoon. Real Madrid loanee Roysten Drenthe has made a bright start on Merseyside and should start on the left of a midfield four, while the impressive Seamus Coleman could line up on the opposite flank.
Martin Jol will welcome back the experienced trio of Danny Murphy, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora this afternoon after they were rested for the trip to Krakow in midweek. His side should largely pick itself if the skipper shakes off a knee complaint to play. The only real selection dilemmas relate to personnel choices: should Zdenek Grygera displace Chris Baird at right back and will Bryan Ruiz get his first start since the agonising League Cup exit at Stamford Bridge. Given that Moussa Dembele had a briefer than expected cameo in Poland on Thursday night, you’d expect the Belgian to line-up on the right of a four-man midfield – with Johnson partnering Zamora again up front – and Ruiz making do with a spot on the bench.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Baird, J.A. Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey, Dembele; Zamora, Johnson. Subs: Etheridge, Grygera, Senderos, Gecov, Etuhu, Ruiz, Kasami.