After two defeats in three league games deflated Fulham’s early season optimism, Marco Silva may well be glad of the break from the unforgiving grind of a Championship promotion campaign this evening. The Fulham head coach has already indicated that rotation will be the order of the day as Premier League Leeds United roll into town for a League Cup tie that should allow some of the fringe players to press their own claims for a first team spot without the pressure of three league points to play for.
A noticeably weaker under-23 side than normal lost to Wolves at Kidderminster last night, suggesting that several of the key players in Steve Wigley’s previously unbeaten outfit – who still top the table on goal difference – might be the beneficiaries of changes to Silva’s usual starting line-up. Perhaps the most interesting selection conundrum of all could be at right back where a selection of the club’s younger prospects may be competing to replace Denis Odoi in that position given the extended absence of Kenny Tete through injury.
With Cyrus Christie out of favour, it is likely that Silva will turn to one of Steven Sessegnon or Marlon Fossey this evening. Sessegnon has the first team pedigree having been handed a few league starts in the early part of last season by Scott Parker after getting a taste of senior football in the cup competitions by Slavisa Jokanovic. Injury disrupted a loan spell at Bristol City designed to get him more game time last season – and you get the feeling it is approaching crunch time for his Fulham career. Fossey has also had dreadful luck with injuries but his sense of adventure from right back will appeal to Silva. The American has featured prominently for the under-23s, linking up with Sonny Hilton and Jay Stansfield successfully down the right.
Adrion Pajaziti impressed in central midfield at Birmingham in the last round of the League Cup and may well get another opportunity in the engine room tonight. Tyrese Francois made a real impression in the summer on Silva and did well on his first senior side on the opening weekend against Middlesbrough. Irish youth international Ollie O’Neill, so impressive in recent years during his rise through the academy, may also feature having been left out of the under-23 game last night and his creativity has really shone in a successful period for the youth sides.
Jay Stansfield, scorer of a stunning first senior goal at St. Andrew’s, is likely to get the nod to lead the line tonight. The teenage striker may be a potent penalty area poacher but has shown that there is more to his game than just scoring goals – and may be line for further first team football after Rodrigo Muniz, who looked bright in grabbing a goal off the bench against Reading at the weekend, sustained an injury on Saturday. He may a totally different proposition to Aleskandar Mitrovic, both in stature and style, but Stansfield offers a different type of threat to defences and has scored goals at every level in youth football.
There is some debate about how strong a side Marcelo Bielsa might field at Craven Cottage tonight. There could be a return for Cody Drameh, who left for Leeds last summer, and the visitors have an academy set-up that has produced a succession of outstanding talents in recent years. Whatever the composition of the Leeds line-up this evening, it will be a stern test for some of Fulham’s brightest youngsters on the big stage.
MY FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Fossey, S. Sessegnon, Mawson, Hector; Francois, Pajaziti; Kebano, Quina, Knockaert, Stansfield. Subs: Gazzaniga, Robinson, Adarabioyo, Onomah, Chalobah, Cavaleiro, O’Neill.