Fulham’s recent resurgence – with that amazing game at Bramall Lane still fresh in the memory – will do wonders for the Whites’ confidence as they head into their second west London derby of the season at Griffin Park. Brentford will be smarting from Monday night’s madness at Loftus Road, when former Fulham forward Matt Smith’s stoppage-time header sparked a QPR comeback from 2-0 down in the first of the week’s local skirmishes. The Bees have improved as this season has progressed under Dean Smith, putting together a ten-match unbeaten run before the international break, and will be desperate to reclaim the bragging rights this afternoon.
Lasse Vibe admitted that the hosts are in ‘angry’ mood after outplaying Rangers in Shepherd’s Bush on Monday but someway coming away with only a point. Brentford have lost more points from a winning position than anyone else in the Championship – had they held onto the 18 points they’ve dropped the Bees would be in the top six – with both Andreas Bjelland and Smith discussing how to see out games in public this week. The key to adding to the discomfort in TW8 will be denying Brentford the kind of imposing start they got two years ago, when the game was effectively over inside half an hour.
The home side will give late fitness tests to Danish defender Henrik Dalsgaard, who is nursing an ankle problem, and flying winger Florian Jozefzoon – who could be sidelined by a hamstring injury. Smith will definitely have to do without Neal Maupay, who serves a one-match ban, although judging by the striker’s astonishing miss at Cardiff that might be such a bad thing for Brentford. Midfielders Lewis Macleod and Alan Judge are probably not far away from making long-awaited returns but highly-rated young left-back Rico Henry is sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Given the way the Bees looked shaken by QPR’s late aerial assault, Slavisa Jokanovic might be tempted to field Aboubakar Kamara, who is the closest to a physical imposing striker Fulham now possess having let Smith leave for Loftus Road. It doesn’t really fit with the Serbian’s way of playing – and the visitors’ best way of getting their noises in front will be winning the midfield battle as they did comfortably last November. Jokanovic can pick from some of the best central midfielders in the Championship and it will be interesting to see whether Ollie Norwood, who has grown in influence of late, has done enough to keep Stefan Johansen out of the team. There is concern about the fitness of Kevin McDonald, but the Scottish schemer should be available to protect the back four, whilst his compatriot Tom Cairney won’t need reminding of his memorable finish in front of the travelling Fulham faithful in the Brook Road last year. The excellent Ryan Woods, who has blossomed at Brentford after coming through the Shrewsbury youth set-up, will be a real danger and is likely to have Kamo Mokotjo and Nico Yennaris, who scored an excellent equaliser at Craven Cottage last term, alongside him.
The contest could also turn on how effective Ryan Fredericks, who credits a brief loan spell with the Bees as helping him adjust to the unrelenting pressure of senior football, and Ryan Sessegnon prove to be on either flank. When Fulham are really firing, Fredericks is flying down the right flank – and the combination of the former Tottenham full back and the in-form Sheyi Ojo – could prosper if they are able to blunt Brentford’s ambition early. Jokanovic likes pace in the final third and, when you watched the Whites frighten the life out of the Blades a couple of weeks ago, you can see why. In the build-up this week, Bjelland advanced the theory that Fulham’s pretty football will play into Brentford’s hands – but the Whites’ probing and patient possession is one of the main reasons why they have turned into one of the division’s most successful sides on their travels.
Both sides have great difficulty in keeping the ball out of their goal – and there hasn’t been a goalless draw between these local rivals in 23 years. It should be an attractive encounter with both teams committed to playing open, attractive football but referee Bobby Madeley will need to be decisive in the first twenty minutes or when the usual slew of tasty tackles mirror the fans’ passion. Fulham will need to keep their cool – Fredericks especially – and earn the opportunity to express themselves in what will be a frenzied atmosphere.
The fans have experienced the full range of derby day emotions in recent years. Brentford, always the big boys a division or two ahead when your correspondent was growing up, had that famous win in the last minute, but less regularly recalled in Hounslow was the League Cup earlier that season – the first meeting between the sides since Paul Moody’s brace in April 1998 – where Marcus Bettinelli kept a clean sheet on his debut and Ross McCormack fired home the winner, his first goal for Fulham. McCormack was visibly chastened by the reaction of the visiting fans as his side trudged off for half-time 3-0 down in 2016, but Jokanovic’s boys were spot on in a clinical display in front of the television cameras thirteen months ago. We’re all hoping for more of the same this afternoon.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fredericks, Odoi, Kalas, Ream; McDonald, Norwood, Cairney; Ojo, R. Sessegnon, Fonte. Subs: Button, Soares, Djalo, Johansen, Kebano, de la Torre, Kamara.