Select Page

The mouthwatering prospect of a meeting between the Championship’s top two, separated by just a single point, awaits at Craven Cottage on Friday night. Both Fulham and Bournemouth were threatening to build a sizeable advantage over the chasing pack until a couple of setbacks over the past week or so, but you would be hard pressed to find a bookmaker who wasn’t packing the pair to both be automatically promoted come May. The return of Scott Parker to SW6 offers this clash an extra edge – and should generate plenty of column inches in the morning papers – however much sides seek to downplay the significance of his presence in the visiting dugout.

Parker’s departure after an underwhelming return to the top flight wasn’t without rancour. The Fulham board were disappointed in the lacklustre way the club went down, especially after giving themselves a fighting chance of survival with back-to-back wins on Merseyside. The suspicion remains that Parker, an astute manager of his own media profile, was engineering his exit having isolated a number of key players and his plan to offload the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Tom Cairney as part of a radical reshaping of the playing squad ahead of another tilt at the Championship now looks laughable. Fulham might well consider themselves fortunate to have dodged that particular bullet – as well as Parker’s particularly sterile football.

Contrary to Parker’s rather curious assertion yesterday that little has changed at Craven Cottage after he decamped to the south coast, Marco Silva has introduced a much more adventurous style of play, reinvigorated Mitrovic and successfully reintegrated Jean Michael Seri. Fulham’s approach is now designed around attacking the opposition and giving creative players the platform to shine – rather than simply seeking to stay in matches. It is, of course, much easier to play this way in the Championship than in the pressure-cooker of the Premier League but few could argue that Parker’s Fulham sides stretched pragmatism to the extreme. Other than the mullering of Millwall at Craven Cottage, there were few flowing performances under his stewardship and the Whites underwhelmed when expected to be one of the leading contenders for automatic promotion in 2019/20.

That is not to say that Parker has not put together a strong Bournemouth side. They are well drilled, look after the ball impressively and difficult to beat. Marrying Lloyd Kelly’s promise with the experience of Gary Cahill makes for a miserly central defensive partnership and in, Phillip Billing, the Cherries have one of the division’s most complete midfielders. Jaidon Anthony’s emergence as a lively winger, who weighs in with crucial goals, has been one of the stories of the season alongside the goalscoring exploits of Dominic Solanke and the canny acquisition of the dangerous Ryan Christie. Make no mistake about it – Bournemouth will represent the toughest test of Fulham’s season to date.

Parker will have to navigate his way around a significant injury crisis as he prepares for this fixture. Bournemouth might be without as many as nine first-team players for the trip to the capital. Kelly, Cahill, Adam Smith, Robbie Brady, Jordan Zemura, Ben Pearson, Junior Stanislas and David Brooks all missed Saturday’s dramatic draw with Coventry City, in which Jefferson Lerma was sent off meaning the midfielder – who had lined in central defence – will be suspended tomorrow night. Parker cast doubt over whether any of his injured eight would be available tomorrow night, although there may be a degree of smoke and mirrors in operation when recalling how tightly he keeps his cards close to his chest.

Fulham’s own selection will once again be dictated by how well key members of the squad have recovered from the norovirus bug that badly disrupted Silva’s preparations for the draws against Derby and Preston. The Fulham head coach did suggest earlier today that Cairney will be available, having missed those two fixtures, although whether the playmaker will come straight back into the starting line-up remains to be seen. You’d feel that Fulham will need Harrison Reed’s tenacity from the outset in what is likely to be a high octane clash and it would be strange to drop Seri given both his form and the opportunity to prove a point to his former boss. That motivation will be uppermost in Mitrovic’s mind too – given how he and Parker clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye in the last twelve months.

Fulham have passed most of the tests put in front of Silva’s side this season. They easily dispatched West Brom at the end of October, sparking the Baggies poor run of form, and will need to perform at a similar level if they are not to surrender top spot. Parker will undoubtedly get a hot reception from a hostile home crowd, but the Whites can’t afford to take their eye off the ball. Retaining focus, possession and putting an impressive Bournemouth defence under pressure from the first whistle will be essential.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Reed, Seri; Kebano, Wilson, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Odoi, Hector, Cairney, Onomah, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.