After two defeats in a week, Fulham will be desperate to record their first league victory of the season this afternoon. Slavisa Jokanovic couldn’t have hit upon tougher opponents if he tried, though. High-flying Ipswich Town are gunning for a club record fifth straight win to start the season and continue their outstanding start to the new campaign. After five years at Portman Road, Mick McCarthy has the place buzzing and this certainly won’t be an easy assignment for the Whites.
Freddie Sears has already openly discussed the chance of writing his name in Ipswich folklore, even if the wily McCarthy has been mouthing the usual platitudes about this being just another game and that nothing is won in August. The Blues have only won their first four games four times in total and the prize following another three points could be sitting at the Championship summit as the league heads into the first international break.
The hosts are certainly firing on all cylinders at the moment. Ipswich are the league’s top scorers with Martyn Waghorn, rumoured to be a one-time Fulham target, having really hit the ground running since he swapped Rangers for Suffolk. The former England under-21 international has four in four whilst ex-Nottingham Forest forward Joe Garner already has three, which means Town are unlikely to miss the regular scourge of Fulham, David McGoldrick, who is awaiting the birth of his child. The contrast with Jokanovic’s side couldn’t be more stark – Fulham have scored just three times this season, with one of those an own goal and the other pair of strikes coming from injured Lucas Piazon and look far removed from the side that breezed into the play-offs full of confidence.
McCarthy’s men are still something of an enigma. Ipswich have nine goals from 11 shots on target in the league this season – a staggeringly high conversion rate – and they scored with every single effort on goal in a crazy 4-3 win at Millwall ten days ago. They rode their luck at times in the 2-0 defeat of Brentford last weekend where McCarthy fielded a back four composed entirely of full-backs – in the form of Dominic Iorfa, Jordan Spence, Jonas Knudsen and Myles Kenlock – and the former Sunderland and Wolves manager is likely to be the same again. Spence, the former West Ham trainee, has been outstanding at the heart of the Ipswich defence this term and new signing Rui Fonte will need to work hard to get change out of the imposing defender.
Town’s two key midfielders, the excellent Cole Skuse – who has to be one of the classiest enforcers in the league – and former Tottenham man Grant Ward are expected to be fit following illness and a knock to calf, although McCarthy’s starting eleven could still have something of a makeshift look to it given the length of Ipswich’s injury list. He will hope to name the same side that saw off Brentford. Jokanovic’s team selection should return to something more familiar after the eleven changes that backfired against Bristol Rovers – although Sone Aluko will have a late fitness test on a hip problem.
Remarkably for a side that struggled for consistency in front of goal even when Jokanovic arrived, you have to go back to January 2015 for the last time Fulham failed to find the net in three consecutive league fixtures. He will hope that the return of Rui Fonte, with the recent arrival from Braga expected to lead the line this afternoon, will ease those goalscoring worries, whilst Ryan Sessegnon could be deployed in a more advanced role once again. This intriguing contest should give a real indication where these teams, who have enjoyed contrasting fortunes so far in August, are heading in the near future.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Odoi, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney; Ojo, R. Sessegnon, Fonte. Subs: Button, Madl, Djalo, Cisse, Norwood, Kebano, Kamara.