There’s little doubt that Aleksandar Mitrovic is irreplaceable. Both in terms of his goals and hold up play, the Serbian striker is invaluable to way that both his club and country play, which makes his moment of madness early on at Elland Road all the more galling. We’ve all heard of ‘leaving one on’ the opposition centre back, but that sort of uncontrolled aggression seemed to have been something that Mitrovic had left behind him in the north east, whatever Steve McClaren might think.
This afternoon’s confirmation that Mitrovic will be missing for Fulham’s next three matches was something of a foregone conclusion. Parker would have seen his talisman as one of the senior players who could lead by example and prevent Fulham’s season from completely subsiding after those two damaging defeats by Brentford and Leeds. The Fulham manager now has a tricky choice to make in the absence of Mitrovic and Aboubakar Kamara, who will also miss the trip to Loftus Road tomorrow night. Just who can lead the line and carry a serious goal threat that Fulham have lacked lately even with Mitrovic in the team?
Stansfield might seem like an emotive choice to lead the line at Loftus Road, but the teenager has had a dream start to life at Craven Cottage. He’s scored an incredible 22 goals in 14 Under 18 Premier League games and grabbed a goal on his under-23 debut for good measure as well. The teenager has already stepped up to senior level effectively, having produced an eye-catching cameo in the FA Cup as a late substitute against Aston Villa. Fulham’s prospects might even have been better served by him having more than a couple of minutes on the pitch as the Whites chased a late goal at the Valley and, while he hasn’t seen senior action since January, Stansfield has been training with the first team squad. He’s highly rated at Motspur Park, has an eye for a pass as well as the goal, and could surprise QPR. He certainly wouldn’t be be overawed by the opportunity.
On paper, Bobby Decordova-Reid looks like the most likely candidate to play up front on Tuesday evening. He might be more used to playing behind Mitrovic or more recently out on the wing for Fulham this season, but he’s no stranger to the leading role. He played up front successfully in his final season for Bristol City, scoring eighteen league goals, and also in the Premier League for Cardiff. Decordova-Reid has chipped in with five goals after a slow start at Craven Cottage, but there are nagging doubts about his finishing after he missed huge chances against both Lots of doubts have arisen about his finishing, squandering huge chances against both Brentford and Leeds. Could be as clinical as Mitrovic? There’s also another factor to consider. Parker would need to change Fulham’s style of play to accommodate Decordova-Reid as a forward. As more of a false nine or a deep-lying forward, he would more comfortable making runs in behind the back four – which might prove profitable given the range of passing in Fulham’s midfield.
Other options: Ivan Cavaleiro or Anthony Knockaert
A more fluid front three could see either Knockaert or Cavaleiro, who have largely disappointed on the wings this season, start through the middle with the proviso that the forward line would be much more interchangeable than previously.
With a combined nine goals between them, neither Cavaleiro or Knockaert have hit the heights of their previous seasons in the Championship, and they will need to weigh in with big displays now that Fulham’s participation in the play-offs appears under threat. It goes without saying that Fulham will struggle without Mitrovic, but there is no room for error after those two defeats by Brentford and Leeds. Maximum points against QPR and Birmingham are a must – and securing them without Mitrovic will send a message to the rest of the division that Fulham are far from a one-man team. Parker will want a reaction from his side tomorrow night and where better to put things right than in a local derby.
My preferred team line up v QPR; Rodak, Christie, Hector, Ream, Odoi, Reed, Cairney, Onomah, Knockaert, Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro
Before the original fixture was postponed due to the spread of the coronavrius pandemic, I spoke to Brentford fan Lucas (@lucashesse8) about what we can expect in this London derby.
What do you make of your sides season so far?
“If I’m honest it’s been a brilliant season, arguably our best ever. To think how far we’ve come and now we’re competing for promotion to the Premier League is just mind blowing. If you were to tell any Brentford fan that we would get to the play-offs this year, every single one of them would be over the moon. Our striker, Ollie Watkins, is challenging Mitrovic for golden boot on 22 goals and defensively this year we’ve been outstanding. Evidently, from viewing our goal difference you can tell how much of an impact signing Pontus Jansson was in the summer! Despite our recent form, I really believe we can aim high for the rest of the season.”
You mentioned there Brentford’s recent in form – two wins in seven, do you think you have what it takes to stay in the playoff spots?
“Definitely. We sure have what it takes, but whether we will do it is a different question. However, any day of the week I’ll back my team and in my opinion with our quality and the desire to win from all the players is enough to get us over the line and finish the race. Two wins from seven games isn’t good enough, we know that. Although, after our 5-0 win over Wednesday and the hope for a return of the skipper against Fulham, I’m sure this is a turning point.”
What do you make of Thomas Frank so far this season?
“Thomas Frank has been class! He’s a man that I’ve been lucky enough to meet in pre-season, his attitude towards Brentford is superb. I think Frank plays a massive part in the success that’s occurred this season. This is because of the mindset he has and the passion he has for football. Personally, I think he suits the club brilliantly and is desperate for the squad to thrive. I’d love to see him take us up.
A tough choice considering the strong individuals in your squad, but whose the player Fulham should look out for tomorrow?
“As you say a very tough choice. Like I said earlier Ollie Watkins has been brilliant in front of goal of this season and is scoring for fun. Bryan Mbeumo, our french winger signed in the summer, has scored 14 goals in his first season. Not to mention Christian Norgaard, our central defensive midfielder, who has possibly been our best signing and could not get enough credit for the amazing performances he displays week in week out. However, I think the player Fulham need to look out for tommorow has got to be Said Benrahma. One of the best players to play at Griffin Park and his consistency is one asset that makes him so good. He plays superb almost every week, he is definitely one to look out for.”
And finally, what do you think will happen in the game itself and can we get a score prediction?
“It’s ‘The Six Pointer’. Four points separate the two teams and we all know the rivalry between us. There’s all to play for, it’s just about who turns up to play. All Bees are desperate to see a return of Pontus, which would be a massive confidence booster. I think there will be a sending off, both teams want to win it but I’m putting my faith in the boys to bring 3 points home from Craven Cottage.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s big lunchtime meeting with Bristol City, I asked City fan Euan (@euanbcfc_) a few questions about his side’s season so far.
What do you make of Bristol City’s season so far?
“It’s an odd one. On paper it should be seen as a success; seventh place, just two points off the play-offs. But compare that to a negative goal difference, a recent winless streak of four games, a period after our away win at Craven Cottage where we only beat teams in the bottom three until late January, plus that Cup defeat to Shrewsbury and it suddenly seems a bit disappointing.”
Do you see yourself being in a play-off spot come May?
“Personally, I’m not all that confident we can. I just don’t feel Johnson is able to get it done with you, Preston, Blackburn, Swansea all seemingly more up for it. But that being said, if we can get Wells scoring again and re-introduce Kasey Palmer as well as tightening up at the back a bit as well, I’d say we have a very decent chance.”
You mentioned Lee Johnson, what do you make of his season so far?
“In terms of the fanbase as a whole, I can’t remember a time when it’s been as split as it is now in regards to him. Personally, I wanted him gone months ago, but a lot of fans would definitely disagree. It just seems like he’s coached all flair and excitement out of our game this season, and if some of the dressing room rumours are true he’s most certainly lost it, which isn’t ideal when you’re pushing for the top six.”
Is there a player Fulham should look out for tomorrow afternoon?
“Normally I’d say Niclas Eliasson, but I can see him being dropped and our formation changed, so I’d probably say Dan Bentley in goal. Without him we’d be nowhere near where we are now, and I genuinely believe he’s one of the top three stoppers in the league. Ten clean Sheets in a team who, as I said, have a negative goal difference, shouldn’t be ignored. But again, if he plays it should really be Eliasson – his pace and ability on the ball is unreal, and he has the most assists in the league for a reason.”
Finally, how do you see tomorrow’s action unfolding and can you give us a score prediction?
“I can see it going either way to be honest with you. With it being our 125th anniversary game, and live on Sky, we should theoretically be really up for it, and obviously we won the return fixture earlier on on the season. However you’re simply on much better form, and of course you have two academy products in Bobby Reid and Joe Bryan who’ll be eager to get involved, so I have to admit I think it’s going to be an away win.”
Bristol City doubts; Dan Bentley, Benik Afobe, Marley Watkins, Zak Vyner
Fulham doubts; Terence Kongolo, Alfie Mawson, Joshua Onomah, Joe Bryan
Ahead of this Saturdays mouth-watering clash against high flying Preston North End, I asked Preston fan Jack (@pnetucker) a few questions about North End’s season so far as well as his prediction for the clash at Craven Cottage tomorrow.
First question, what do you make of Prestons season so far?
“If someone was to tell me at the start of the season that by March we would be sixth and with a good chance of getting to the play-offs, I would’ve snapped your hand off. We (the fans) are happy where we are, but we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, its been a satisfying season so far but we are somewhat fearful we could slip down”
How are you feeling about your play-off ambitions at the moment?
“Optimistic, but skeptical, being aware of the teams around us it makes all these games ‘must wins’ as we need to start distancing ourselves away from Blackburn, Bristol City and Swansea. We haven’t done that yet, however I do believe the squad can grind important results, and it does help that some teams around us haven’t been very good , but it’s all down to whether we can take advantage of that or not.”
What do you make of Alex Neil so far this season?
“I think he’s improved us, he’s started to implement a more expansive, attacking style of play, but he still has his flaws, such as the very late substitutions and reluctance to take certain players out of the team. However, that doesn’t change the fact he’s performed miracles with a squad which is one of the cheapest in the league, and with very little backing from the board”
Do you have a player which Fulham fans should look out for this weekend?
“Daniel Johnson is definitely that player to look out for. His ability to control a game and make something for us is magnificent, and he also has goals to his name, not bad for a player we wanted gone in the summer!”
Finally, can I get your thoughts on tomorrows game and a score prediction?
“This has the potential to be a scrappy game as both teams need the points. Darnell Fisher’s red card being rescinded is a huge boost for us and that gives me hope we could put on a solid defensive display, but its hard to keep a player like Mitrovic quiet. I have no idea which way this is going to go but knowing us we could very much do a smash and grab and nick a win, so I’m going to be confident and go for a Preston win.”
Fulham doubts : Maxime Le Marchand, Joshua Onomah, Harrison Reed, Alfie Mawson and Terence Kongolo
Preston North End Doubts : Josh Harrop, Tom Bayliss, Billy Bodin and Louis Moult
My Fulham XI : Rodak, Odoi, Ream, Hector, Bryan, McDonald, Cairney (C), Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic, Kamara
@pnetucker’s score prediction: Fulham 0-1 Preston North End
@FFCSeb’s score prediction: Fulham 1-1 Preston North End
Another game under the lights and a much anticipated double header at Craven Cottage kicks off on Wednesday evening when we host South Wales outfit Swansea City.
In the return fixture we managed to hold on to a 2-1 lead on what was an entertaining encounter back on a cold Friday evening in late November, and this game represents a massive chance to get back to winning ways following a frustrating three match winless streak. After making a very fast start to the season, Swansea seemed to have tailed off in the new year, however three wins in a row have put them firmly in the play-off race. Steve Cooper is one of the country’s most progressive and promising coaches, although he will be alarmed that one of the division’s most miserly defences has managed just a single clean sheet in their last seven league games – against QPR. which came at an out of form QPR side.
The man to watch for the Swans is definitely striker Andre Ayew, scoring 13 times this campaign, including one against us back at the Liberty Stadium. He’s formed a potent partnership with Sam Surridge, impressive on loan from AFC Bournemouth, scoring seven times in all competitions. The Swans have plenty of creative quality in midfield and will fancy their chances of exploiting any frailties in the Fulham defence.
Veterans Mike Van Der Hoorn and Wayne Routledge will both be missing tonight, but Aldo Kalulu is available despite being forced off in his last fixture against Huddersfield, while winger Nathan Dyer faces a late fitness test to be ready in time. Scott Parker has no new injury issues for this game. The game will fall just too soon for the return of Harrison Reed while Alfie Mawson, Maxime Le Marchand and Terence Kongolo are all still sidelined for the Cottagers.
A victory is crucial for Fulham as we continue to try and mount the pressure on the top two – but Swansea will prove a tough test.
My Preferred Fulham XI: Rodak, Christie, Odoi, Hector, Bryan, McDonald, Cairney (c), Bobby Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic, Knockaert