Fulham return to Craven Cottage this week full of confidence after two commanding away displays. The Whites might have scored five goals at Huddersfield, but there’s a strong argument to say that Tuesday night’s performance at Millwall proved even more fluent – despite the fact that they were hanging on at the end after Benik Afobe’s fluke. A look at the early table would make Marco Silva’s side overwhelming favourites tomorrow, but Fulham would be wise to be wary of a Hull side who have a history of springing surprises at Craven Cottage and scored the most away goals in all four divisions last term.
Grant McCann remains something of a marmite manager among the Hull faithful. There were loud calls for his dismissal as City went down from the Championship, but eccentric owner Ehab Allam – himself far from popular with the supporters for many, many reasons – opted to keep the faith and McCann delivered an immediate return with a record-breaking title winning campaign that saw him rewarded for placing faith in a number of homegrown talents. The Tigers quickly demonstrated how dangerous they can be away from home, putting four past Preston on the opening day and demonstrating real resilience to come from behind.
McCann’s men will want to bounce back from two disappointing defeats where they looked rather powderpuff going forwards. While the harsh realities of the Championship might be thought to be biting after losing to in-form QPR and doom-laden Derby, there were mitigating circumstances in midweek. Hull were always likely to miss a player of George Honeyman’s class – and given that the former Sunderland midfielder will be absent for the trip to the capital as well, McCann will be in need of a solution to that particular conundrum. The return of Tom Huddlestone, whose name still brings many a Fulham fan out in a cold sweat after our 6-0 Christmas mauling in 2013 when he broke a substantial scoring drought, adds experience and knowhow, whilst local lad Kean Lewis-Potter looks a real livewire up front.
Silva will need no reminder of Hull’s potential, of course, having almost kept them in the Premier League from what appeared an impossible position in his first job in English football. Fulham haven’t won a home fixture since February – and there was a great sense of frustration after the Whites were pegged back by Middlesbrough on the opening weekend. Silva will want to put that right. We have seen ample evidence already of his preference for playing on the front foot, something even emphasised in the aftermath of Harry Wilson’s red card at Huddersfield when he sent on Ivan Cavaleiro and Fulham scored two more goals instead of shutting up shop. There was a more pragmatic reaction following Millwall’s late rally at the New Den in midweek, but it is still really refreshing to watch a Fulham side attack with pace, purpose and panache rather than the cagey, formulaic football that Scott Parker all too regularly served up.
Fulham’s only selection puzzlers are the regular ones. Is Harrison Reed any closer to playing a part having seen his start to the season delayed by ankle problems? Josh Onomah was forced off at half-time on Tuesday after a couple of hefty challenges and, given how he has linked play offensively, losing his drive into the final third would be a blow. Jean Michael Seri’s sudden seamless return to a deep-lying role where he looks able to dictate the play has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the past week – and Silva’s insistence that the Ivorian wants to stay at Craven Cottage offers another timely option with Fulham a little light in the middle of the park.
Fabio Carvalho has blossomed beautifully behind a revitalised Aleksandar Mitrovic, with the pair mauling Millwall within eight minutes earlier this week. The teenager’s electric burst of pace to create the first for the Serbian, who is finally playing with a smile on his face again, was almost as eye-catching as his assured finish that established Fulham’s two-goal lead. Neeskens Kebano’s contribution after coming in for Bobby Decordova-Reid in south east London was noteworthy – the pass to put through Carvalho was fantastic, but his continual beating of Scott Malone represented probably the Congolese winger’s finest showing in a Fulham shirt. Silva certainly has a mouthwatering set of offensive options at his disposal.
The only place we could possibly quibble at present is with Paulo Gazzaniga in goal. The Argentine has let in three goals from five shots on target this season – and the concession of the last two, as well as his flapping at Jed Wallace’s cross that nearly handed Millwall a stoppage time equaliser, makes his selection ahead of Marek Rodak – now available again after a finger injury – a genuine talking point. Gazzaniga hasn’t impressed under the high ball to date and you can be certain that the rest of the Championship will be testing him out should he continue in the Fulham goal. It might be too early to make a change, but these sort of errors could be costly in tight games.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Seri, Onomah; Kebano, Decordova-Reid, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Mawson, Bryan, Francois, Anguissa, Cavaleiro, Stansfield.