Norwich striker Grant Holt has been ruled out of this afternoon’s Carrow Road clash with Fulham after suffering a back injury this morning.
In the absence of his captain, Chris Hughton has handed former Leeds striker Luciano Becchio a first Norwich start after the Argentine forward made his Canaries’ debut in the 0-0 draw at Queen’s Park Rangers last weekend. Defender Russell Martin will wear the captain’s armband. Sierra Leone striker Kei Kamara, who is on loan from Sporting Kansas City until the end of the season, is among the Norwich substitutes.
Martin Jol has made five changes for Fulham. An ill Sascha Riether misses his first game of the season and is replaced at right back by new signing Stanislav Manolev, who makes his debut after finally being granted his work permit. Emmanuel Frimpong also makes his Fulham debut in the absence of Chris Baird and the Arsenal loanee is joined in central midfield by the returning Steve Sidwell, who is fit again after a knee injury. Up front, Dimitar Berbatov is back after missing the defeat by Manchester United with a hamstring strain and partners Hugo Rodallega in a 4-4-2. Giorgos Karagounis joins Urby Emmanuelson and Alex Kacaniklic on the substitutes’ bench.
NORWICH CITY (4-4-1-1): Bunn; R. Martin, Garrido, Bassong, Turner; Tettey, Johnson, E. Bennett, Snodgrass; Hoolahan; Becchio. Subs: Camp, Whittaker, Tierney, Howson, Surman, Jackson, Kamara.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Manolev, Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Frimpong, Sidwell, Duff, Ruiz; Rodallega, Berbatov. Subs: Etheridge, Hughes, Karagounis, Emmanuelson, Kacaniklic, Dejagah, Petric.
After pushing the league leaders all the way at Craven Cottage last weekend, Fulham’s task is to build on that promising performance with a similar showing at Carrow Road this afternoon. Martin Jol’s side have not really returned to the sparkling manner in which they started the season – by putting five goals past Norwich in the summer sunshine – and both sides are still in search of the points that would secure their top flight status for another year.
Chris Hughton has won plenty of plaudits for lifting the Canaries up the table after a tough start having succeeded Paul Lambert but Norwich have yet to win in 2013 and they sit seven points above the drop zone after a goalless draw at relegation-threatened Queen’s Park Rangers last Saturday. The extension of that winless streak owed much to the heroics of Julio Cesar in the QPR goal, although Hughton’s side were indebted to a splendid penalty save from Mark Bunn, for preserving parity.
This Norwich side have had a happy knack of punching above their weight since their return to the top flight and Hughton has assembled a side that certainly doesn’t look out of place at English football’s top table. The quietly efficient Robert Snodgrass, excellent since his move for Leeds a couple of years, became the first player to put in a hundred crosses in the Premier League last weekend and, with that level of service, it’s easy to see why Grant Holt has floruished up front. It’s not just the Scottish winger’s delivery that has been consistent – with four goals, Snodgrass is Norwich’s joint-top scorer in the league. The Glaswegian has also created four goals and completed more passes in the opposition’s half than any of his team-mates.
The strength of Norwich’s midfield has been crucial to their success this season. Like Snodgrass, Anthony Pilkington has also made his mark in the opposition box – finding the net four times in the league – but his diligent defensive work has proved just as vital. The Republic of Ireland international can operate in a number of positions, but gets through his fair share of tackling even when deployed in an advanced role. Pilkington has an impressive 73% success rate in the tackle this term and with Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey expected to continue their formidable partnership at the heart of the Norwich engine room, the likes of Giorgos Karagounis and Chris Baird will have their work cut out to remain competitive this afternoon.
Breaching Norwich’s defence will be the matter most occupying Jol’s mind ahead of this fixture. The goals have dried up somewhat since the free-scoring early weeks of the season and the Fulham manager will have to make a late decision about Dimitar Berbatov’s fitness. The Bulgarian striker missed a reunion with Manchester United after limping out of the victory over West Ham with a hamstring strain and is rated as ‘only 50-50’ to be fit enough to start. Hugo Rodallega’s rugged running caused plenty of problems for the United defence last Saturday, but Fulham missed Berbatov’s clinical finishing and understanding with the mercurial Bryan Ruiz, who could also be unavailable after international duty in midweek.
With Steve Sidwell also likely to miss out with his knee injury, Jol will ask Karagounis to continue his whole-hearted performances in central midfield. The Greek veteran has proved a revelation since signing as a free agent to fill the gaping void left by the summer departures of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Clint Dempsey and Mousa Demebele, belying his senior status with displays brimming with desire and energy. Karagounis has popped up with a couple of crucial, goals and added a combination of steel and sense that Fulham have badly been lacking during Mahamadou Diarra’s long absence with his own knee problem. The vitality of on-loan midfielder Urby Emmanuelson, glimpsed in a second-half cameo against Manchester United last week, could provide another option from the bench.
Stringing together consistent performances has been a big problem of late for Fulham, although they will travel to Carrow Road full of confidence, given that their record at Norwich belies their usual Premier League travel sickness. The Whites haven’t lost at Carrow Road for nearly seventeen years – winning on three of their last four visits. They were only denied a fourth straight victory by Simeon Jackson’s last-minute equaliser in the corresponding fixture on New Year’s Eve last season.
MY FULHAM XI (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Riise, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Karagounis, Duff, Dejagah; Berbatov, Rodallega. Subs: Etheridge, Manolev, Senderos, Frimpong, Emmanuelson, Davies, Petric.
The date of Fulham’s FA Youth Cup fourth round tie against Arsenal has now been confirmed.
Steve Wigley’s side will take on the Gunners at Underhill, the home of Barnet, on Wednesday 16 January, with kick off at 7pm. According to the Arsenal official website, tickets are priced at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions. The date is subject to change, however, should Arsenal’s senior side draw their FA Cup tie against Swansea this weekend and require a home replay, which is pencilled in for the same evening.
Fulham, who reached the quarter finals of this competition last season before bowing out to Burnley, booked their place in the fourth round after a ten-goal thriller with Middlesbrough. The Whites prevailed after extra time, with Cauley Woodrow scoring twice after Boro had been reduced to ten men and still recovered from a 3-1 deficit.
Fulham’s Under-18 side will begin their participation in the Elite Group stage of the Academy Under-18s league with an away trip to Reading on January 18.
Steve Wigley’s boys qualified for the elite stage of the competition by finishing second in their group after winning eight of their twelve fixtures. Their only defeats came in three successive games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Wolves. The Whites, who have won the last two consecutive national titles at this age group, follow their visit to Reading with a home game against Manchester United and their latest run of fixtures also includes two more derbies with Chelsea.
Fulham have confirmed this morning that Craven Cottage will host a February friendly between South Korea and Croatia.
The game will be played on Wednesday 6 February, with a 2pm kick-off so that the match can be broadcast to a primetime Korean audience. Tickets, priced at £15 for adults and £5 for those aged under 16, can be purchased here.