Back to back frustrating league losses means it is probably a good time for Fulham to embrace the FA Cup again this weekend. The world’s oldest Cup competition still holds a special appeal for plenty of supporters and Marco Silva has been fairly emphatic this week that he considers it ‘very important’. That message has been emphasised by the players and the Fulham faithful seems to have responded by buying a considerable number of tickets for an intriguing fourth round tie against Sunderland, who are going very well on their return to the Championship under Tony Mowbray and will pose a real threat to Fulham’s hopes of progress this afternoon.

Mowbray might well ring the changes this afternoon, as he did in the previous round against Shrewsbury Town, but that might have more to do with the fact that the Black Cats bid for a second succession promotion is gathering steam. Sunderland, backed by a support that will take up the entire Putney End, will head to Craven Cottage in good spirits having comfortably seen off Middlesbrough in a local derby last weekend and, although they are facing a chronic injury crisis, a canny manager like Mowbray has already shown he knows his way around one of the most competitive divisions in the world. In a one off game where anything can happen – and almost half the top flight has been dispatched from the FA Cup already – there were far easier assignments that Fulham could have been handed.

Sunderland have lost just one of their last six and produced a stunning turnaround at Shrewsbury in the third round, having trailed 1-0 until stoppage time when goals from Ross Stewart and Luke O’Nien turned that tie right around. The Black Cats suffered a big blow in the week with confirmation that captain Corry Evans will miss the rest of the season after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the win over Middlesbrough. Elliot Embleton is also unlikely to feature again before the summer and Lynden Gooch’s hip injury is likely to rule the American out of action this afternoon. O’Nien is suspended, but Alex Pritchard and Dennis Cirkin should be available, whilst Pierre Ekwah and Isaac Lihadji – dependent on international clearance – will be pushing for debuts. Joe Gelhardt, an eye-catching loan signing from Leeds, is cup-tied. There should be a return for Patrick Roberts, whose prodigious talent we never saw enough of in the Fulham first team.

Marco Silva’s own selection will be interesting. Fulham have a good chance of completing the SW6 double over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Friday, after memorably beating the Blues courtesy of that Carlos Vinicius header earlier this month. The Fulham head coach hinted at a degree of squad rotation, although the precise nature of his alterations remained under wraps during yesterday’s press conference. He was adamant that the Whites would need to take Sunderland seriously or they could find themselves on the end of a humbling upset. Layvin Kurzawa certainly fancies a Cup run – and has his family to impress today – after opening his Fulham account in a stodgy third round win at Hull City. The French left back should get another chance to build up his match sharpness this afternoon.

Tosin Adarabioyo, the subject of fairly frenzied transfer speculation at the start of last week, could well return to the back four, and we might see Bobby Decordova-Reid slip into the right back role once again. There seems an obvious chance to give Tom Cairney a rare start in central midfield, perhaps alongside Harrison Reed, whose energy will be vital against opposition will be up for a real battle. Dan James scored at Hull and deserves another shot in the Cup, whilst this tie represents an ideal opportunity to hand Manor Solomon his first start in Fulham colours after a number of encouraging cameos. The romantic in me wants Luke Harris to get a go in the number ten role, a position from where he can arrive late in the box as he has so devastatingly for Steve Wigley’s academy sides over the past season, and Vinicius should lead the line – even if Aleksandar Mitrovic has shaken off any concerns about the ankle injury sustained late on against Tottenham on Monday night.

MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Decordova-Reid, Kurzawa, Diop, Adarabiyo; Reed, Cairney; James, Solomon, Harris; Vinicius. Subs: Wickens, Duffy, Tete, Palhinha, Chalobah, Willian, Wilson, O’Neill, Mitrovic.