After getting back to winning ways in midweek courtesy of a first half hat-trick from Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham face an intriguing trip to the Championship’s early season surprise package, Coventry City, in their final fixture before another international break. The hosts, who boast a flawless home record, suffered the first setback of a superb season so far when they were thrashed 5-0 at Luton on Wednesday night and the experienced Mark Robins – probably one of the country’s most underrated managers at present – will be determined to make sure that was merely a blip.
The Sky Blues will certainly be formidable opposition on their home turf, having taken fifteen points from their five games back at what is now known as the Coventry Building Society Arena. The impact of being able to play at their permanent home again, after years of exile prompted by the SISU shenanigans, can’t be understated when analysing such an outstanding start to the new campaign. Successful recruitment over the summer, sticking with Robins – who has guided the club to promotion from both League Two and League One – and proving that they can mix it at this level last season have all helped to generate a sense of optimism around the club arguably not seen since they were regularly surprising the Premiership’s big boys under Gordon Strachan.
Robins has largely stuck with the 3-4-1-2 formation that saw City secure the League One title and establish themselves at this level. That consistency in selection and methods is one of the main reasons why his side have amassed eight more points than at this time last season and have also established a hefty buffer between themselves and the relegation zone. Robins has refused to get carried away after a fantastic start, but it is reasonable to suggest that the Sky Blues should be readjusting their sights towards the top of the Championship table.
Before the Kenilworth Road horror show, Coventry had conceded just six goals in 810 minutes of Championship football, and their back three has been superbly marshalled by veteran Kyle McFadzean. Dominic Hyam’s adept reading of the game has made him one of Coventry’s most reliable performers in recent years, whilst Jake Clarke-Salter has began his loan spell from Chelsea impressively. Another Stamford Bridge loanee in Ian Maatsen offers both defensive diligence and a forward thrust from left wing back with Fankaty Dabo, also a Walham Green academy graduate, likely to return from suspension on the opposition flank.
The hosts will be without the influential Gustavo Hamer, who picked up a fifth booking in Buckinghamshire, with captain Liam Kelly likely to return to the engine room alongside Jamie Allen as a result. Fulham will need to watch the gifted Callum O’Hare, who has taken his fine finish to last term into the new campaign, and, whilst not being talked about too often by the pundits as one of the second tier’s most accomplished attacking midfielders, he’s finally showing the potential that saw him considered one of Aston Villa’s most highly-rated academy prospects earlier in his career.
Swedish striker Viktor Gykores is the most obvious threat to Fulham’s defence, having scored seven goals so far this season, after making his loan move from Brighton permanent in the summer. He has largely been paired with the experienced Martyn Waghorn up top, although the former Nottingham Forest forward Tyler Walker is also an option for Robins. Gykores has been particularly productive at home, with his intelligent movement and predatory instincts certain to keep Tim Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo on their toes.
Marco Silva’s men banished the disappointment of a frustrating afternoon at Ashton Gate last week as Mitrovic scored a second Fulham hat-trick inside 45 minutes against Swansea, having missed three clear-cut chances to beat Bristol City in stoppage on Saturday. That victory lifted them up to third in the table and might have settled a few jitters in the camp, but the Portuguese head coach has already stressed the need to finish September’s schedule strongly before the international break. Fulham looked threatening every time they came forward against the Swans, with Neeskens Kebano particularly lively down the left flank. The Congolese winger should be rewarded with a regular run in the team.
Silva suggested that the left back crisis might be a little less severe than initially feared last night. He will check on the fitness of Joe Bryan, who came off after injuring his back in the first half on Wednesday, and Antonee Robinson after today’s training session but both are in contention to start at Coventry, which comes as a relief given Fulham had to see out the final 35 minutes against Swansea with a back three and Bobby Decordova-Reid at left wing back. The Whites will definitely be without Nathaniel Chalobah, who picked up a leg injury at Bristol City, and the exciting Fabio Carvalho – missing since the end of August with a fractured toe.
MY FULHAM XI (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri, Onomah; Kebano, Wilson, Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Robinson, Mawson, Quina, Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Muniz.