FA Cup third round day. One of the best days in the English footballing calendar as the big boys enter the competition and more than a few exit on the very same day, the subject of some stunning upsets. For most of my time as Fulham fan, you were left dreaming of making the big day in January and drawing a top flight – and now the emotions are different. Avoid another embarrassment and dare to dream of a Cup run.
Martin Jol has at least – in theory – lessened the chances of another Leyton Orient by declaring that he’ll play his strongest side this afternoon. After the early exit from Europe, the FA Cup is the only distraction from Fulham’s improving league form and Jol believes his first choice team will have had enough rest in the five days since the win over Arsenal on Monday night. Confidence should be high amongst the squad after that magnificent comeback against the Gunners and the prospect of the likes of Ruiz, Dembele and Dempsey running at a League One defence is very appealing. That’s before Kerim Frei comes off the bench.
There might have been value in offering some of the fringe players a run out this afternoon. After an impressive start to the season, Matthew Briggs has drifted back to second-choice left back behind John Arne Riise and the England under-21 international does need regular games to aid his development. Similarly, we’ve seen little of Pajtim Kasami of late – his last contribution was to drive a disappointing snapshot straight at Petr Cech in injury time at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day. Equally, if Marcel Gecov is really the long-term replacement for Danny Murphy at the heart of Fulham’s midfield, he should really be given an opportunity to dictate a few games from the middle of park.
Still, there’s merit in Jol’s caution. Charlton are flying – having lost just two of 24 league games – and currently sit top of League One. They’ll be backed by a veritable army of fans, after selling all 7,000 tickets in the Putney End, and playing an expansive, enterprising game could pose problems for the Fulham defence. Chris Powell, the former Charlton and England full-back, is one of the game’s promising managers and will have his side well organised and up for the challenge. While all eyes will be on leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has scored 14 goals in his 25 appearances for the Addicks this season, the Whites will be advised to pay particular attention to Danny Hollands and former Tottenham trainee Johnnie Jackson, who will pose a real goal threat from midfield.
There’s a terrific tale that only the Cup could conjure up at the other end of the pitch. Charlton’s second-choice goalkeeper John Sullivan, only playing because regular number one Ben Hamer was sent off at Leyton Orient on New Year’s Eve, is a big Brighton fan and was in the Albion youth team when Bobby Zamora was banging in the goals for Micky Adams’ side. Sullivan will face the man he describes as his ‘hero’ this afternoon – and you wouldn’t bet against him having a blinder.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Kelly, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Sidwell, Murphy; Ruiz, Dembele, Dempsey; Zamora. Subs: Etheridge, Baird, Hughes, Etuhu, Frei, Duff, Sa.