Writer: Andrew Joyce
Date:Friday March 7 2008
It`s that time of the season when every game matters, mind you in our position every game is now akin to a cup final. We make the long journey to the north-west knowing that a failure to take anything from the visit to Blackburn Rovers will see yet another nail hammered into our relegation coffin. Interestingly, the trip sees Roy Hodgson returning to Ewood Park for the first time since being dismissed. Is there a better way to get revenge than by taking all three points?
There`s no doubting that this, like all those which are to follow, is now our most important game of the season. We`re at the stage whereby each defeat sees that relegation trap door shut a little firmer. Therefore, it`s interesting to hear Leon Andreasen remarking with regards the situation that his team mates must keep their,
"Heads screwed on"
I say interestingly because wasn`t it Leon who let his emotions take over when Solano netted that controversial winner for West Ham, a winner that saw Andreasen red-carded for dissent? I guess, it`s a case of do as I say rather than do as I do!
Mark Hughes will be hoping that his top scorer, the splendidly named Rocque Santa Cruz, will be able to trouble a Fulham defence that has looked far from secure this season. However, who`ll partner Santa Cruz is debatable. Hughes could opt for Benni McCarthy or he could select last weeks match-winner, Matt Derbyshire. On the flanks, it is highly likely that Bentley and Pedersen will feature whilst he`ll be looking for the midfield artistry of David Dunn to open up the Fulham defence.
In goal, Brad Freidel will continue and also continue a remarkable record that has seen him play every minute of every Blackburn Premeir League and Cup games this season. Who needs rotation?
Arsenal must be ruing the day they let this talented youngster leave Highbury! After becoming something of a target for abuse after letting the U21 side down last summer, Bentley has let his football do the talking and has elbowed aside David Beckham and is strongly challenging Shaun Wright-Phillips as automatic choice for the right wing slot in the England squad. However, he`s more than just a winger and if Fulham are to go on and steal the three points on offer they`ll need to track his runs and Niemi will need to be fully aware of the danger Bentley presents from free kicks on or just outside the penalty area.
Roy Hodgson, on his return to Blackburn Rovers, will have his midfield signing, Leon Andreasen, available again for selection after he served the one game suspension received for his recent red card against West Ham.
It`ll be interesting to see what approach Roy takes this weekend. Will he be brave and go with two forwards or will he pack the midfield and play a lone striker? My personal opinion is that we`re fast reaching the stage whereby we have to be brave, we have to go for all three points, one point isn`t going to close the gap between us and safety is it!
If Roy goes for one, we have a suspicion it`ll be Brian McBride, if he goes for two, our bet is that he`ll go for McBride and Erik Nevland.
One player who will be looking for a recall is Clint Dempsey. The American, one of our top scorers this season, was surprisingly dropped for the fixture against Manchester United last weekend.
Another who has been in and out of favour in recent weeks, Alexei Smertin, has joined Phiippe Christanval and Jari Litmanen on the treatment tables.
With Roy Hodgson having already expressed his desire earlier this week to be more clinical in the final third of the field, it`s essential that we don`t give away any chances to a Blackburn forward line that, on its day, is capable of giving the best teams in the land a hard time. Niemi, who has had a relatively good season, will need to be at his sharpest if we are to take anything from the game, however, you get the feeling that when the pressure is on, the likeable Finn can deliver the performance required.
Both clubs are in their seventh successive season in the Premier League but Blackburn hold the advantage when it comes to fixtures at Ewood Park. The current standing for Premier League fixtures is Blackburn 4 wins, Fulham 2 wins with 0 draws.
In all League fixtures between the two clubs the gap is even wider with Blackburn registering 21 wins to a meagre 8 for Fulham with the honours even on 5 occasions.
Last season, goals from McCarthy and Nonda were enough to give Rovers all three points whilst in the reciprocating fixture at Craven Cottage this season the honours were shared in a thrilling 2-2 encounter in which Murphy and Kamara scored for us with Emerton and Warnock replying for Mark Hughes` team.
Mike Riley of Leeds, in Yorkshire, will officiate!
After going so long without an away win in the Premier League, it`s been since September 2006, it`s hard to gather any enthusiasm when it comes to actually forecasting a Fulham win. However, our dire circumstances dictate that if we are to survive this season they we need, with six away games out of the ten games remaining, to break that hoodoo. Could Blackburn be the arena in which we do it? There`s no doubting that Mark Hughes has built a good side and nine times out of ten we`d not expect to get anything more than a draw, however, this could be that one occasion where we spring a surprise. Therefore, always one to fly the Fulham flag, I`m going to stick with my liking for predicting a Fulham win simply because, as we all know, one day it will happen and Saturday will, mark my words, be that day!
After the trials and tribulations of needing to get something from our visit to Ewood Park, our next fixture will see us entertain another team in the top half of the Premier League in Everton!
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Date:Friday March 7 2008
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Fulham v Villa - Starting XI`s (Sunday December 8 2013)
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