With the nail-biting victory over their rivals last weekend, Fulham have all but put the relegation zone in their rear view mirror and will be looking to bolster their finishing position with some difficult fixtures on the horizon. April is busy for Fulham, who at one point were 2 games in hand on the Premier League table after just 5 matches in the last 2 months. They have some catching up to do in that department, and are on the road for the next two.
State of Fulham:
The Whites have gone on a tear in the recent weeks which has seen them only jump a few positions in the table, but they’ve narrowed the gap between 10th and 9th from 9 points all the way down to 1 and still have a game in hand. They are unbeaten in 5 matches, and are 5th in the form table. In fact, only Fulham and Manchester Untied are unbeaten in their last 5 matches. Even away matches haven’t given Fulham as much trouble as they usually do, having won 2 and drawn 2 in their last 5 matches on the road.
Fulham will be a little less than full strength this week with Steve Sidwell seeing red last week in the closing minutes of the QPR match. He lost his midweek appeal, so his 3-match ban begins this weekend. Injury-wise, the club has a few new additions to the list as well. Ashkan Dejagah’s sprained ankle needs another week according to Martin Jol. The Iranian suffered his knock in the first half of the win over Rangers. Candidates for his replacement include Urby Emanuelson or Kieran Richardson. You may see Damien Duff switch over to the right, as Richardson is typically a left winger. Emanuelson was horrid in his substitute appearance against QPR, being himself subbed off after Sidwell’s red card. Alex Kacaniklic would normally have seen a chance, but he’s been sent out on loan to Burnley. Mladen Petric has also picked up a hamstring injury and Jol said he’ll be out for a few weeks. Mahamadou Diarra and Neil Etheridge are out, both long-term absentees who’s names we’ve seen on the injury list for a while.
Jol said in his match preview this week that something Fulham need to really improve on is holding a lead, particularly the issue of not being able to exit their own half when under pressure. If they can pick up an early goal or two against Newcastle, expect this to be a point of concern for the club – keeping possession while being pressed.
State of Newcastle:
Much like the days leading up to the bigtime win at White Hart Lane, Fulham will head to St. James Park with their upcoming opponents having been pushed to the brink midweek in the Europa League. Spurs were brought to extra time by Inter in the Europa League just 2 days before our match, and here Newcastle were picked apart by Benfica. A 3-1 defeat on the road at the hands of high European competition just 3 days before could certainly have an impact on the club’s performance.
Their Premier League form hasn’t been much better. Newcastle found themselves 4-0 losers at the Etihad against Manchester City in their last League fixture, and have lost 3 of their last 4 overall. Not only that, but the club is just 3 points ahead of the drop zone – this being weeks after Alan Pardew declared Newcastle safe from relegation. One bright spot for Newcastle in this match is that they’ve been significantly better at home. The Magpies have won their last 3 home matches, and have secured 12 points in their last 6 home matches. Meanwhile, they’ve just won 1 of their last 6 road matches and only have 4 points in that stretch, losing their last 4 straight.
Injury news is mixed for the Magpies in this match. They will receive a boost at goalkeeper, as Tim Krul will stay in goal after returning in Lisbon against Benfica, and Davide Santon returned in the match from an injury absence as well. However, Frenchman Moussa Sissoko, who has burst onto the scene since moving to Newcastle in the winter, may have picked up an injury and is questionable for this weekend. James Perch is in the same boat as Sissoko, and Mathieu Debuchy and Cheick Tiote are both battling hamstring injuries, and are question marks as well. Hatem Ben Arfa, Fabricio Coloccini, Ryan Taylor, and Massadio Haidara are all long-term injury victims.
EA Sports Stats of the Match:
-25 of Newcastle’s 33 points this season have been secured at St. James Park.
-Yohan Cabaye is the only player on the Newcastle roster to register triple digits for both offensive and defensive contributions, according to the EA Sports Player Performance Index.
-Fulham have won 5 of the last 7 meetings between these clubs, with Newcastle registering just 1 win in that time. One draw was recorded as well.
-In addition, Fulham have won 3 and drawn 2 in their last 7 visits to St. James Park.
-Newcastle are second in the Premier League in two dubious categories. They’ve kept just 4 clean sheets in the league this year (2nd to Reading) and have conceeded 37 second-half goals (Aston Villa have 39).
-Fulham would be 5th in the Premier League table if matches ended at halftime.
888sport.com Lines of the Week:
-Dimitar Berbatov first goalscorer – 5/1
Why not? Berbatov has scored in his last 4 matches (5 goals in that span), and 4 of those 5 goals came in the first half. In fact, 10 of his 13 goals this year were scored in the first half of matches. One last nugget, Berba’s scored in 10 matches this year; Fulham have not lost any of those matches.
-Over 2.5 goals – 4/5
Not great odds, but considering Newcastle’s defensive issues recently, their injuries, and Fulham’s inability to hold leads late in games, you have to expect goals to come flying in at St. James Park. There are definitely goals to be scored in this match between Berbatov and Cisse, and I think asking 3 or more goals out of this match isn’t too much really.
-1st Half with more goals – 2/1
Fantastic odds, given Newcastle and Fulham have both been great starters and poor finishers. Especially since the second half is even, this is a way better purchase.
Prediction: Given the two clubs’ form, it’s hard not to expect Fulham to come out of this one with 3 points. They seem to have (temporarily, at least) put their dreadful away form in the trash can, and once again their opponent played outside of England just 3 days ago. Besides their good home form recently, Newcastle don’t have much going for them in this match, and they’ll have to be at their best to put the injuries and such behind them. Going for a hard-fought, physical 2-1 victory for Fulham, which finally allows Martin Jol to admit they’re safe to look ahead of them in the table rather than over their shoulder.