It was jubilation for the home side at Craven Cottage last time these clubs met, but Fulham shouldn’t expect such a thrashing in their favor this time around.
I’ve already written about it at length, so I won’t discuss how vital this match is in terms of momentum for Fulham to finish their season strong and avoid the swirling vortex that is the relegation battle. But tomorrow when Fulham hit the road to face Norwich City, it will be a massive test. We all know about Fulham’s road record. If they’re to turn a spark into a full-blown fire, they need this match. Fulham already beat Norwich 5-0 in the reverse fixture, although that was way back in the first match of the season. Either way, this is how the Premier League works – that blowout needs validation, and so do the last two performances. Was it a fluke or is it the start of a brand new season? This match will help us find out.
State of Fulham:
It’s already been mentioned a bunch of times prior, but Fulham are playing well. The win over West Ham was convincing, and the match against Manchester United was creative, crisp, and organized. A number of people – Martin Jol included – said it was one of the best if not the best match the club has played all year. The only problem was it was against the overwhelming League leaders. The only catch – those two matches were both at home. Now it’s time to show this isn’t just about home cookin’.
On the injury front, the club received a huge boost with news that Brede Hangeland is fully fit from his achillies soreness. That’s a dangerous injury that nobody in sports wants to mess around with, so to hear he’s ready to go is great news. Steve Sidwell will also be returning from his short stint on the sidelines with a knee strain, and Kieran Richardson’s longer absence will also come to an end. It will be interesting to see, with so many injured players returning as well as the loanees all ready to go, who Martin Jol selects. The big question is will Dimitar Berbatov be ready to go after his hamstring injury. The only absentees are long-term injuries for Mahamadou Diarra and Kerim Frei.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one of Urby Emanuelson or Emannuel Frimpong in the starting lineup, although I said that for the Manchester United match as well and neither materialized. The buildup surrounding Emanuelson has been pretty intense, so I would imagine Jol would want to throw someone of his quality out there sooner rather than let him sit on the bench.
State of Norwich:
Last time Fulham saw the Canaries, it was a 5-0 thrashing at Craven Cottage that saw Chris Hughton shaking his head and calling for his team to wake up and start the season already. This time around it will probably be much different. First off, it’s not at Craven Cottage, and that always means Fulham have a big mountain to climb, plus Norwich have shocked both Manchester United and Arsenal at Carrow Road this season. In addition, Hughton’s side have woken up from that day, and only trail Fulham in the table on goal differential. Like Fulham, Norwich are looking for as many points as possible to keep themselves from ending up in the relegation vortex, and though it looks likely that neither side will be much bothered by the drop, 3 points would be just as vital to Norwich as it would for us.
Another interesting storyline in the buildup to this match, Chris Hughton is a former assistant of Jol’s from his days at White Hart Lane, and said he considers learning from Martin Jol to be an integral part of his managerial career.
A key for this match could be the injury of Anthony Pilkington, who will miss out thanks to a hamstring injury he picked up in the 0-0 draw with QPR.
EA Sports Stats of the Match:
-Norwich hasn’t won a single match in their last 8
-Norwich have never beaten Fulham in a top-flight game. The last time Norwich defeated Fulham was a second-division match in March of 1986. Norwich have 1 win in their last 11 league matches against London opposition
-Robert Snodgrass has delivered the most crosses in the Premier League, becoming the first to 100 crosses, 1 more than Leighton Baines.
888sport.com Lines of the Match:
Under 2.5 goals: 5/6
Norwich City have shored up their defense mightily since Fulham last saw them in the beginning of the year, but have struggled to score. In fact, Norwich have netted more than 1 goal just 5 times all season. With their improved defense, the possibility on Berbatov missing out, and Norwich’s lack of goals, I’m tipping very few goals in this one.
Hugo Rodallega to score first: 15/2
Hugo’s scored only 3 goals this season, but they’ve all been important. Also, Dimitar Berbatov has a good chance of playing again, and the two of them have developed a bit of a positive on-the-pitch relationship. Look for Hugo to start improving.
Prediction: This team has been on a hot streak. But, they need to prove they can keep up the great play and not let it fizzle out. They need to validate that the last two matches weren’t a fluke. Until then, I won’t believe they can do it. Neither team gets what they were looking for in a 1-1 draw.