I’m feeling uncharacteristically chilled about tomorrow night. It’s not at all that I think that we will roll Cardiff over, I’m just very relaxed about whether we are in the Premier League or Championship next season. Obviously it would be nice to be in the top league again, but I just think that the Championship is much more fun and I have this dream that when we do go back up, it will be as champions. How nice would that be?
However, that doesn’t mean that I’ll not be nervous tomorrow evening, nor does it mean that I want us to lose, or that I don’t care. I hate watching us lose football matches. While Cardiff was the team that I wanted to avoid in the play-offs, I’d rather face them than a Swansea side who will be absolutely buzzing following the final day of the season. I fancy our chances against Neil Harris’ side, but we have to be aware of the threat they provide. This is a very different outfit that it was under Warnock. While they are still hard to break down, they have much more about them going forward. Lee Tomlin is their most creative player, so I’d say that the key will be in keeping him quiet. Make him struggle to have an impact and we should win over two legs.
Fulham have a very talented squad, but in some positions it’s our more workmanlike players who I would have on the field. I’ve decided to put together my starting eleven for tomorrow night so, Scott Parker, if you are reading, feel free to take some notes.
No surprises that Rodak will start in goal. He has been a revelation since he made the position in between the sticks his own. He is by far the most talented keeper that we have had at the club for years.
I’ll stick with the centre back pairing of Michael Hector and Tim Ream. I do worry about Ream going forward as I think that his best years are behind him, but he has played there all season so it would be a strange move to change that up at the last moments of the season.
I’d have Joe Bryan at left back with Cyrus Christie on the right. Christie has been hard done by this season I think given that he has been very solid pretty much every game he has been in for. I’d reward him for that with a place in the side tomorrow evening. Bryan is much better going forward than in defence, we know that. But I’d still have him in the side tomorrow night. With Denis Odoi on the bench, it means that we have a very good option to come on there, or at centre back, if either Bryan or Ream have an off day.
In midfield I want to see Tom Cairney, Josh Onomah and Harrison Reed. Imagine if we had those three fit and on form all season? Reed has been exceptional in particular since the restart while Onomah has really grown into that role after a poor start. The Cairney situation one is an interesting one. He is an immensely talented player but there have been concerns that our play is much slower when we have him on the field. If he could just make that pass half a second quicker, his role as the heartbeat of the side would be much better. But he is still our most talented midfielder, and our captain, so it would be daft to leave him out.
Our front three is where it gets interesting. We have a wealth of talented and luxury players like Ivan Cavaleiro, Anthony Knockaert and Bobby Decordova-Reid, but none of those three have really lit things up in the way we’d have hoped. The we have Aboubakar Kamara who only made his return from injury in the dying seconds of the game against Wigan on Wednesday night but who was a crucial part of our play-off win over Derby County two season ago. Given that he has played well when fit this season and the fact that he is our quickest player, I’d be tempted to put him in from the start.
Then I think Neeskens Kebano should be rewarded for his contribution over the past few games. Two goals, each a wonderful freekick, and his general play since the restart has been far more positive and impactful than Knockaert, Cavaleiro and Decordova-Reid put together, so for me he gets the nod. And Mitrovic is obvious. Our Golden Boot man. What an absolute joy it is to have a player named as the leagues top goal scorer! He loves it at Fulham, and we love him. SO that makes my front three Kebano on the left, Mitrovic in the middle and Kamara on the right.
We have so many talented players to come on then and change the game if needed. We have far more options there that Cardiff do and with the five-sub rule now, we need to make the most of it.
Tomorrow night is big. It’s just an absolute shame that we’ll have to watch from afar.