Martin Jol’s team selection at Eastlands tonight will be very interesting indeed. Will Dickson Etuhu – badly missed in the past couple of weeks – be restored to the starting line-up? In the absence of Pavel Pogrebnyak or Andy Johnson, will Clint Dempsey continue to plough a lone farrow up front? But the one question that will tell us whether Jol’s a pragmatist or has a true desire to bring down the age of his first team is who the Fulham manager picks in goal.
David Stockdale’s done pretty well since being rushed back from his loan spell at Ipswich. He preserved parity at Stamford Bridge in the derby and made a few important saves against Arsenal and Newcastle. If you were going to be critical, he should have saved Mortem Gamst Pedersen’s free-kick at Blackburn and might have stopped Formica’s crucial third. Equally, perhaps Stockdale could have done better with either of the headers that knocked us out of the FA Cup at Everton. Young goalkeepers – and, 26, Stockdale is young for a keeper – make mistakes and Stockdale is Fulham’s future. He also needs first-team football to cement his position as Fabio Capello’s number three goalkeeper, as Jol himself conceded:
If Mark plays then I will have to sit down with David. He told me at the start of the season he needed to play and I think he was right.
Mark Schwarzer’s quality isn’t in doubt either. He’s had an outstanding career in England with Bradford, Middlesbrough – and latterly with Fulham. The Australian commands his box with authority, which is the area where Stockdale might improve, and has been a key part of the club’s success over the last few years. Yet, there are signs that his powers are waning. His decision to come for a cross at Wolves was a rash one and he let a speculative shot from Leon Best beat him a little easily up at Newcastle.
The reports suggest that Schwarzer’s ready to challenge for a starting spot against Manchester City today. He’s the safer option I suppose and, having just signed a two-year contract, looks like the number one. But there is always the danger that Stockdale might become tired of being passed over. Jol made it clear he would be looking to reinvigorate an ageing squad on his arrival but so far, with the exception of introducing Kerim Frei, has been largely conservative in his choices. Sticking with Stockdale would prove he means business.