Fulham’s progress to the knockout stages of the Europa League was upset by a disappointing defeat in Krakow a couple of weeks ago and the sending off of Moussa Dembele, which so angered Martin Jol. The disgraceful play-acting of Gervasio Nunez means that Jol will be without the Belgian – a scorer at Wigan on Saturday – as the only mechanism for appealing against a UEFA red card is when mistaken identity is involved.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference yesterday, both Jol and midfielder Clint Dempsey underlined the importance of tonight’s fixture for keeping Fulham’s qualification hopes in their own hands. The Fulham boss has rotated his side regularly during the European competition this year – soething that became necessary once their season started in June – but he will field something approaching his strongest side for the visit of Poles given the tightness of Group K.
That should see Dempsey, who was rested for the reverse fixture, return to the Fulham midfield alongside skipper Danny Murphy, who was also left at home for the trip to Poland. Striker Bobby Zamora, who has also been a bit-part player in Europe so far, should lead the line and will be hoping to rekindle the form that fired Fulham all the way to the final a couple of seasons ago. Zamora has seemingly lacked the sharpness that marked his return from injury last season so far – and it remains to be seen whether he will operate as a loan striker this evening. Jol has favoured the 4-2-3-1 formation since he took over at Craven Cottage, but Zamora’s partnership with Andy Johnson has flourished when the pair have been used together.
Johnson could continue in the first eleven even if Zamora plays up front on his own, reprising his role as an advanced midfielder, which worked well at Wigan – although Jol might settle on a 4-4-2 given the need for press for a win tonight. Fulham are definitely without Orlando Sa, who injured in his hamstring in the first game between the two sides in Poland.
Injuries will also leave Fulham’s defence with a makeshift look once again. Aaron Hughes is still missing after aggravating a thigh problem in his brief substitute appearance against Everton eleven days ago, while Philippe Senderos has been ruled out with a similar injury. It means that Chris Baird, impressive in the away win at the DW Stadium at the weekend, should continue at centre back alongside Brede Hangeland and Zdenek Grygera will feature again at right-back. Jol’s only decision in midfield will be whether to opt for the added bite of Dickson Etuhu or the guile of Steve Sidwell, who played in Dembele for the clinching second goal at Wigan on Saturday. Young Kerim Frei, who has enjoyed some fleeting cameos so far this season in Europe and the League Cup, may well be amongst the substitutes once again.
Wisla’s narrow win over Fulham has revived their own hopes of qualifying through the group stages after their own campaign began with a disappointing home defeat by Odense on matchday one. The Poles come to London confident that they can be the first team to defeat Fulham on home turf in 21 European matches. They will look to the likes of forwards David Bilton, who scored the winner in Krakow, and Ivica Iliev – man of the match in that contest – to unlock a Fulham defence that has proved miserly in Europe so far this season.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Grygera, Briggs, Hangeland, Baird; Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey, Duff; Zamora, Johnson. Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, J.A. Riise, Gecov, Sidwell, Kasami, Frei.