It seems as though every game Fulham play these days is branded as ‘must win’. Our inconsistent form this season has left us with a lot of ground to make up if we stand any chance of finishing in the coveted play-off places for the second year in a row. From now on, every goal and every point is crucial.
Last season, festive football proved to be a bit of a turning point in our season, with 11 points gained out of a possible 15 in December, including a 5-0 thumping of Reading, leaving us just outside the play-offs. If we are to stage a fight for the top-6 this year, then we will need a similar or better points gain this time around so that we go into the New Year within reach. So far this month we have had another very mixed bag of results with a humiliating 3-1 defeat at the hands of neighbours Brentford followed up with a slim victory over Championship strugglers Birmingham. If we are to make up ground, and quickly, then we probably need at least 9 points from our remaining four games in 2017. But with away trips to Sunderland, Hull and Cardiff alongside a home tie against Barnsley, those points certainly aren’t going to come easily. However, if we are serious about the play-offs then it doesn’t really matter who we play, we need to target maximum points regardless.
Tomorrow’s opponents have been one of the disappointments of the Championship this season. Sunderland remind me a little bit of ourselves when we came down in 2014. Toothless in attack and fearful in defence, manger sackings and struggles in the transfer market have been an all too common sight if you are a Sunderland fan, and they are all the signs of a club in decline. We were fortunate not to go down during our first season in the Championship, and it seems as though Sunderland will need similar fortune if they are to avoid the dreaded double drop. They have acted reasonably fast with the sacking of Simon Grayson before bringing in one of the hottest properties in the management scene in Chris Coleman. Only time will tell if the trust in Coleman is worth it, but for now he has the job of steadying the ship, before the club can think about moving back up to the Premier League.
So far Coleman has guided Sunderland to 4 points out of a possible 12, but last weekend’s 0-0 draw with high flying Wolves will be a big boost to everyone at the club. Only two other sides have managed to keep a clean sheet against Wolves this year so, defensively speaking, that was very impressive. They will be eying tomorrow’s match as a chance to build on that and, in doing so, gain their first win at the Stadium of Light in a year. If they do win, it will also be Chris Coleman’s first home win as Sunderland manager.
In my opinion, playing against a team fighting for their lives can sometimes be harder than playing a team at the top of the table. At the top of the table you can control games, and often be patient with your attacks, but when you are at the bottom, you know that every tackle is going to be robust, and every decision made is a frantic one. We will need to be at our very best if we are to take this game away from Sunderland, and we can’t give them a way into the game. They don’t have an awful lot of quality at the minute, but if the crowd sense that they are getting on top in the game, they will do all they can to help their team onto victory, so we just can’t afford to let that happen.
Last time we played Sunderland at the Stadium of Light it was in the FA Cup 4th Round. We managed to gain a 0-0 draw, mainly thanks to the heroics of Marcus Bettinelli who made a number of saves to keep out Jermaine Defoe (maybe a good omen) but I also distinctly remember Hugo Rodallega missing a great chance right at the death which would have given us a slender victory. Neither team can really afford to continue to drop points so I’m expecting another nervy game. Coleman will be desperate to get the home win but hopefully we can heap more misery on our former player and manager. Surely he won’t end Sunderland’s horrible home form against his former club, will he? I think I’ll be watching this one through my fingers.