Kenilworth Road on Saturday will be the venue where Marco Silva’s Fulham side look to end a run of three successive draws against Luton Town. The Hatters, back under the sensible stewardship of Nathan Jones who led them out of League Two and to the top of League One before being seduced by Stoke, have a comfortable twelve-point cushion above the relegation zone after an impressive win at Blackpool and are six points off the play-off spots.
Victory at Bloomfield Road was the perfect response following home defeats at the hands of Stoke and Cardiff City with Sonny Bradley’s header on the stroke of half time followed by goals from former Fulham forward Elijah Adebayo and Jordan Clark that clinched all three points. The Hatters will be full of confidence and Fulham have recent rocky history in Bedfordshire, having handed out a couple of belated Christmas presents with comical playing out of the back on Boxing Day two seasons ago before being rescued by Bobby Decordova-Reid’s 95th-minute leveller.
Luton’s quiet assuredness back in the second tier has been one of the lesser-told stories of recent seasons. Jones guided the Hatters to safety after returning to Kenilworth Road following his sacking at Stoke, taking sixteen points from a possible 27 when the Championship resumed after the coronavirus lockdown. The following campaign was arguably even more impressive as Luton finished twelfth with 62 points – their best return in the second tier since 1982. Clever – and cut-price – recruitment has been key, with the acquisition of Amari’i Bell after the Jamaican full back’s release by Blackburn arguably one of the signings of the summer at this level.
Adebayo, who leads Luton’s scoring charts with nine goals in nineteen games this season, will be particularly keen to prove a point tomorrow having spent three years at Fulham’s academy and worked his way back up to the Championship following his release in 2019. Silva suggested that the Hatters could pose a physical threat, but their football is more varied than that under Jones, even if the Kenilworth Road regulars have yet to see the very best of Allan Campbell, who moved south in the summer after his Motherwell contract came to an end. Jones’ biggest selection dilemma will be whether to stick with James Shea between the sticks after his clean sheet at Blackpool or reinstate Simon Sluga with the Croatian international now fully recovered from an untimely illness.
Illness has been a feature of Fulham’s past fortnight as well with a norovirus bug damaging their preparations for the draws with Derby and Preston. The Whites were below par in both of those encounters – even without some of their key performers – but Silva was encouraged by the manner of their comeback against Bournemouth last Friday, with Tosin Adarabioyo’s late glancing header preserving top spot. A first point won from a losing position this term was a pleasing response to the shock of conceding to Dominic Solanke seconds into the second half, but the Whites badly need to reaffirm their promotion credentials with a return to winning ways this weekend.
Silva confirmed yesterday that, whilst Antonee Robinson is available for a swift return having missed the Bournemouth draw through illness, neither Ivan Cavaleiro nor Nathaniel Chalobah will be feature tomorrow. The chief questions around selection should surround a recall for Kenny Tete at right back and how best to structure Fulham’s midfield. Tom Cairney changed the complexion of Scott Parker’s return to Craven Cottage when he came off the bench alongside Decordova-Reid, but sacrificing the newly-blonde Jean Michael Seri – who has been sensational for much of this season – would be a bold. Fabio Carvalho faded somewhat against the Cherries and his precocious talent needs careful nurturing, even if he remains Fulham’s most dynamic number ten.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Tete, A. Robinson, Adarabioyo, Ream; Seri, Reed; Wilson, Kebano, Carvalho; Mitrovic. Subs: Gazzaniga, Odoi, Hector, Cairney, Onomah, Decordova-Reid, Muniz.