Fulham travel to the Amex Stadium tonight for one of those classical relegation six pointers. The meeting with Brighton and Hove Albion, despite the protestations of both managers, looks like the typical ‘must win’ fixture. A win on the south coast would put the Cottagers just two points behind Brighton having played a game less, but defeat would leave the Seagulls eight points clear of the drop zone and with plenty of breathing space going into the second half of the season. The stakes are exceptionally high.
Sunday’s FA Cup capitulation to Burnley will still be fresh in the minds of Scott Parker, even if he did made eight changes for the fourth round tie ahead of what feels like a critical week in Fulham’s season. Parker, who has talked all season about the need to not be deflated by defeats, will be aiming for an immediate response against Albion, who recorded an impressive win at Leeds in their last league outing. Former Brentford forward Neal Maupay’s early strike was enough to earn Brighton’s first league away win since mid-November. It is Brighton’s form on the road that has been keeping them above water – Graham Potter’s men having won in thirteen league attempts at the AMEX.
Whilst the results haven’t been going Fulham’s way of late, the ‘progression’ that Parker described in yesterday’s pre-match press conference has been striking. Where earlier in the season, the Whites were comically vulnerable at the back, Parker’s adoption of a three-man central defence has seen them become much more resolute. Narrow defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Manchester United – where Fulham could legitimately consider themselves unfortunate to have been on the losing side – are their only reverses in the last seven league encounters. The problem is now at the other end of the pitch – Fulham have only scored four goals in their last eight league matches, passing up countless glorious opportunities in the process.
Brighton will be definitely be without strikers Danny Welbeck and Florin Andone – meaning that Elland Road matchwinner Maupay is most likely to lead the line for Potter. Winger Alireza Jahanbaksh and Tariq Lamptey, so impressive at right wing-back to date this term, are both missing with hamstring problems. Potter could be able to call on former Liverpool and Southampton midfielder Adam Lallana, who has been missing with a groin complaint, and Republic of Ireland international forward Aaron Connolly, sidelined recently with a hamstring injury, although both are expected to start on the bench.
Fulham will have to do without first choice left back Antonee Robinson, who is serving the third and final game of his three match suspension after his sending off against Chelsea. Tom Cairney’s knee problem and Terence Kongolo’s latest injury setback see them on the sidelines, but Parker otherwise has a fully fit squad to pick from.
This game feels like a make-or-break match. Defeat could see the Whites could adrift below the relegation line and Parker’s charges need to be ruthless, making the most of any chances that come their way against a very well-drilled defensive outfit. These are the sort of games that need to be won to mount a successful survival bid – and with wins at a premium this season – some of those impressive performances need to be translated into points on the board.
@ffcSeb’s prediction– Brighton and Hove Albion 0-1 Fulham FC