Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham scrapped for their lives to secure their first home win of the season in what at times seemed a titanic struggle against Hull City on Wednesday. The Serbian appreciated their appetite for the battle – if not the heart-stopping nature of the final fifteen minutes – and will be targeting back-to-back wins ahead of this afternoon’s visit to Burton Albion. Taking all three points back to London won’t be easy, though, as the Brewers picked up an impressive first away point of the season at Norwich in midweek and aim to upset the applecart by avoiding relegation again.
The job that Nigel Clough has done over two spells at the Pirelli Stadium tends to get overlooked by the national football media. He played a big part Burton’s initial rise up the footballing pyramid and could very easily been considered the Championship’s manager of the year last term for keeping the Brewers in the division. The very fact that Albion can go toe-to-toe with the best sides in English football’s second tier is a testament to careful husbandry in the boardroom and a community-orientated football club as well as Clough’s own brand of meticulous management.
The Burton boss was pleased to register an important clean sheet at Carrow Road after the disappointment of a 5-0 reverse at Leeds at the weekend. The loss of Jackson Irvine – one of the league’s most enterprising midfielders – can’t be understated but Burton have shrewdly planned for the time when the vultures would circle to lure the Australian away. Jamie Allen, the long-serving Rochdale midfielder, has made an encouraging start in the centre of midfield, whilst Matty Lund and Hope Akpan, who could return from suspension this afternoon, will also hope to add some of the goals that Irvine also contributed from midfield.
Clough will likely field the same side that so thoroughly frustrated the Canaries, which should see former Fulham academy striker Marvin Sordell attempt to shoot down his old club. Burton fans have fond memories of the contributions Lasse Vigen Christensen and Cauley Woodrow made to their escape from the drop last season, but Clough won’t allow any sentiment to get in the way of earning Albion’s first victory in four attempts over Fulham later today. His side will be defensively diligent and difficult to break down, as we saw in the two games last term, but progressive with the ball and aiming to built on their four league goals this season – currently the lowest in the Championship.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s selection should be similar to the one that started against Hull in midweek. Fulham are still without two players who you feel will be pivotal to their promotion aspirations in Tom Cairney and Rui Fonte, but this test provides the perfect opportunity for understudies to step forward. Oliver Norwood had his best game since arriving on loan from Brighton at the Cottage on Wednesday and provides an excellent range of passing in midfield, whilst Sheyi Ojo enjoyed an excellent home league debut, laying on the first goal for Floyd Ayite.
The key for Fulham will be to play at a tempo that will difficult for the home side to live with. Stefan Johansen’s energy in midfield will be vital to establishing the rhythm that has been lacking from Fulham’s play at times this season – and the Norwegian has found memories of this ground, having broken the deadlock just after half-time here back in February. He should also be full of confidence after a match-winning display against Hull was capped with a splendid winning goal. The Whites were excellent away from home last season – today will offer an early indication of whether this season’s side can keep up those high standards.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, R. Sessegnon, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Johansen, Norwood; Kebano, Ojo, Ayite. Subs: Button, Madl, Odoi, Cisse, Graham, Mollo, Kamara.