The second round of the League Cup – which has proven fairly difficult for the Whites to navigate in the recent past – has thrown up an intriguing meeting between Marco Silva’s side and a Cottager from yesterday. Kevin Betsy, a promising youngster who both benefited and then felt the flip side of Mohamed Al-Fayed’s millions being bumped into the white side of SW6, is looking forward to welcoming his old side to his new stomping ground at Crawley Town this evening. A sold out crowd awaits the unbeaten Premier League newcomers at Broadfield Stadium, with the hosts grateful of the distraction from a difficult start in League Two this season.
Betsy, who followed up his twenty appearances for Fulham by returning to Motspur Park to begin his coaching career, was a bold appointment by the pair of cryptocurrency investors who took over Crawley in April. When faced with the need to replace John Yems after he was found guilty of racial discrimination, the Reds offered a first managerial opportunity to a man, who had built a fine portfolio of coaching success, first with the younger age groups at Fulham, then in the England youth development set-up at St. George’s Park and finally with Arsenal’s under 23s. Betsy might not have had the ideal start in West Sussex – his only win in six games was a gutsy success in the first round of the League Cup against Bristol Rovers – but the 44 year-old spoke passionately about the long-term nature of his project, putting together plans to knit his philosophy into Crawley’s progress alongside the new ownership group in the build up to this game.
Betsy has fond memories of this competition from his playing days, having been handed his senior debut by Kevin Keegan when third tier Fulham went to Anfield and almost shocked Liverpool on a night when Paul Peschisolido scored a stunning equaliser in front of the Kop. He credits Jean Tigana both with his development as a footballer and a man, with the French maestro advising him to convert a loan move at Barnsley into a permanent deal, as his first-team chances in west London receeding as the Whites established themselves in the top flight. Betsy is right to assert that Crawley’s performances have merited more than the single league point they have mustered so far this term, especially in a painful home defeat by Northampton last week, where the Cobblers’ late winner came courtesy of Fulham loanee Kieron Bowie.
The first competitive meeting between these two clubs will see both sides alter from their first choice line ups. Crawley’s changes are unlikely to be quite as dramatic as the refresh undertaken by Marco Silva, but the hosts will certainly be without veteran centre back Tony Craig after he was sent off in the 2-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. Ben Wells, who joined the Reds after a successful summer trial, may make his first appearance for his new side as Craig’s replacement, having come through the acclaimed West Ham academy to captain the club’s youth sides before moving to QPR. Jake Hessenthaler, son of former Gillingham and Dover legend Andy, could come into midfield whilst Ashley Nadesan, who has made more than a hundred appearances for Town, may lead the lead with Tom Nichols, who scored the goal that eliminated his old club Bristol Rovers in the first round.
Being sandwiched between a pair of London derbies against Brentford and Arsenal always meant that this fixture would probably provide an ideal opportunity for squad rotation for Marco Silva. Confidence will be high following a fabulous start to life back in the top flight that has taken plenty by surprise, although injuries and only an incrementalist approach to recruitment mean the Fulham head coach’s starting line-up this evening is likely to have a very youthful look. it will be interesting to see whether Marek Rodak, who started Fulham’s first two league matches, returns in goal with Bernd Leno given the night off ahead of his return to the Emirates this weekend or if the German needs more match practice following his debut on Saturday.
A reshaped back four seems a certainty with perhaps only American Antonee Robinson, who has been outstanding so far this season, surviving from the starting line-up against our near neighbours. Shane Duffy should make a first start in Fulham colours following a couple of cameos from the bench alongside another recent arrival in Issa Diop, with the towering French centre back having had to be patient given the continued excellence of Tim Ream. Tom Cairney’s introduction as a late substitute on Saturday altered the momentum of a contest that appeared to be ebbing away from Fulham and the club captain could be deployed in a deeper midfield role to allow Luke Harris, the Welsh teenage sensation, a senior debut.
The 17 year-old has been a regular scorer for Fulham’s under 18s and under 23s over the past eighteen months and compiled a brilliant hat-trick for Steve Wigley’s under 21s against Chelsea last week. Ollie O’Neill, the Irish under-21 international who has captained Wigley’s charges well on their return to the PL2 top flight, could be another pushing for a first senior start, with Jay Stansfield – so impressive in that right wing role against the Bees – set to lead the line as he did to great affect in this competition at Birmingham City last year.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Mbabu, A. Robinson, Diop, Duffy; Francois, Cairney; Jasper, O’Neill, Harris; Stansfield. Subs: Leno, McAvoy, Ream, Odutayo, Chalobah, Pajaziti, Decordova-Reid, Ablade, Sanderson.