The wait is finally nearly over. On Sunday our latest charge towards the Premier League begins with a home tie against Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough. And in true Championship fashion, our first month back in the second tier will see us play five league matches in the space of just 20 days before the first international break of the season.
So what can we achieve over those first matches? The target for the club is promotion so it’s important that we get off to a good start. Here is a brief look at the first five for Fulham.
8th August- Fulham v Middlesbrough
Last year’s finish- 10th
Manager- Neil Warnock
Let’s be honest, all Neil Warnock sides are tough to beat. Another well drilled and defensively sound team will be visiting from the North East but it’s a real opportunity for us to see how we fair against one of last season’s mid-table sides. The first match is always a bit of a mystery, isn’t it? It’s hard to judge how well any team done over preseason until we see them in action in a competitive fixture. But as we were a Premier League team last season, we will go into this as favourites. Boro don’t have an illustrious list of attacking options but be aware of Duncan Watmore who finished last season as top goal scorer. Marcus Tavernier is a solid Championship player who likes to chip in with a goal as well. We also might get to see former Fulham Academy player Djed Spence in action.
14th August – Huddersfield v Fulham
Last year’s finish- 20th
Manager- Carlos Corberan
This is a good chance for us to banish the memories of our last trip to Huddersfield back in 2018/19. I still have nightmares about it. It was on a miserable November Monday evening and we lost 1-0 thanks to an own goal. We were absolutely brutal that evening and my trip home on the train knowing that I was starting work at 6am the next morning meant that it was particularly grim. But three seasons on both clubs have been in very different places and really we should be targeting three points here. They do have a decent attacking threat with last seasons top scorer (8 goals) Josh Koroma alongside the likes of Jordan Rhodes, Fraizer Campbell and Danny Ward – all players who can score on their day.
17th August – Millwall v Fulham
Last year’s finish- 11th
Manager- Gary Rowett
Then we head to The Den for our first midweek game of the season. Millwall is never an easy place to go and pick up points and they will certainly be targeting an improvement on last season with an eye on the play-offs. Jed Wallace is the man to look out for in terms of goals, but there is some talk about a move for him so we will have to wait and see if he is still around by then. Former Fulham man Scott Malone chipped in with 5 goals last season and we know what he can do down the left. They have also brought in Arsenal youngster Daniel Ballard in defence. And as well as Malone, we also might get to see former Fulham men Shaun Hutchinson and Matt Smith in action.
21th August – Fulham v Hull City
Last year’s finish- 1st in League One
Manager- Grant McCann
Our first match against one of last seasons promoted teams is against Hull City. They will be hoping to keep the momentum going after finishing as League One champions. We’ll need to be aware of the attacking threat of Josh Magennis and Tom Eaves – anyone else having flashbacks of when he bagged a hattrick last time we faced Hull at the Cottage?
28th August – Fulham v Stoke City
Last year’s finish- 14th
Manager- Michael O’Neill
Our final match of August and last one before the first international break is at home to Stoke City. After being close to relegation two seasons ago, Stoke will be hoping to improve further under Michael O’Neill. From his time as Northern Ireland manager, O’Neill proved that he can get players united and playing above themselves. Nick Powell and Tyrese Campbell provided most of the goals last season. Defensively, expect a tight-knit back line giving very few chances away for free.
Let’s be honest, with a few days to go until kick-off it’s very hard to judge ourselves never mind other teams. What we do know, though, is that if we want to lift the mood around the Cottage after last seasons shambles, we’ll need a decent start. Having the fans back will be a boost. Players like Mitrovic in particular really thrives on the emotional that crowds can bring. Last season was terrible. This season can only be better, right?