Writer: Andrew Joyce
Date:Thursday August 14 2008
The much anticipated 2008-2009 Premier League season kicks off this Saturday. Fulham, after performing a 'great escape` from the clutches of relegation last season, open their campaign with a tricky trip to Hull.
Hull are commencing their first ever spell in top flight football after local hero, Dean Windass, gave them a dramatic play-off win last May. Their arrival in the top flight signalled the end of an unwanted record, until this Saturday, Hull held the distinction of being the largest city never to have played top flight football in Western Europe.
The first impression on hearing that Hull would be our first opponents of the new season would have been relief. Unfortunately, upon reflection, we could have probably wished for better opposition. Not in terms of ability but in terms of a team not being so fired up to win, not fired up to ensure the population of the KC Stadium get their first ever top flight campaign off to a winning start.
Our new signing, Zoltan Gera, has already sounded the alarm bells by remarking about Hull City,
"I played them twice last season when I was with West Brom. They`re a strong side, very physical in their approach but with some skilful players as well."
It looks like we`ll have to enter Humberside with our attitude and aptitude at their peak levels.
Besides it makes a pleasant change form starting away at either Arsenal or Manchester United as has been the case in the past two seasons!
We`ll not try and forecast the Hull City side as we have no real idea as to how their manager, Phil Brown, will play things. Since gaining promotion Brown has brought in a multitude of players - Peter Halmosi (Plymouth, £2m), George Boateng (Middlesbrough, £1m), Tony Warner (Fulham, free), Bernard Mendy (Paris St Germain, free), Geovanni (Manchester City, free), Craig Fagan (Derby, £750,000), Anthony Gardner (Tottenham, £2,5m), Marlon King (Wigan, loan) - in the hope of keeping 'The Tigers` in the top flight.
The line -up he fields is sure to be different to the one that gained promotion but we have a sneaking suspicion that our ex-keeper, Tony Warner, will be on the bench and that local hero and veteran, Dean Windass, may well make the starting eleven.
I was tempted to say them all; after all they`ll all be keen to make their mark in the Premier League. But, common sense has prevailed and I`ve gone for recent signing Marlon King. The striker was linked to Fulham last season but eventually moved to Wigan where he was never really a success. The loan spell he`s currently on at Hull could give the striker that much needed impetus to kick-start his career again and what better way to do so than making a good impression in your first game and scoring.
Fulham travel to Humberside with a little disappointment in the air, after the fanfare that surrounded signing Andy Johnson we`ve learned that our new striker will not be available for selection due to injury. Therefore Roy Hodgson may still be deciding how to compensate for his absence. Does he go for a lone striker and pack the midfield or does he go for two strikers and call on the services of Erik Nevland? A tricky call!
Whatever happened we`re fairly certain that we can predict the nucleus of the side.
Mark Schwarzer will make his Fulham Premier League debut behind a probably back four of Stoor, Hangeland, Hughes and Konchesky. Bullard and Murphy will hold the centre of midfield with Davies and Gera providing width either side.
Now here comes the bit we`re yet to finalise.
If Roy plays two up front we`ll go for Zamora alongside Nevland, but if he decides to be cautious and pack the midfield we could well see Andreason playing between the back four and the central midfield duo of Bullard and Murphy.
Therefore we predict Fulham will line up as follows
Schwarzer, Stoor, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Gera, Bullard, Murphy (c), Davies, Nevland, Zamora
Schwarzer, Stoor, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Andreasen, Bullard, Murphy (c), Gera, Davies, Zamora.
In the first game of the season we`ve just got to go with one of the new boys. Purely at random we`ve selected Fredrik Stoor. The Swedish international is still a bit of an unknown in this country so let`s all get behind him and hope he gets off to a good start and has a good game.
With Hull never having played in the Premier League there are off course no statistics available for fixtures between the two sides at this level. But in the other divisions the history books are as follows:
Hull 19 wins, Fulham 8 wins, Draws 11
It`s about time we started to address this imbalance then isn`t it?
Mr Walton of Northamptonshire will be the man in charge and the one hoping that the recent Football Association campaign whereby officials get more respect gets off to a good start.
Now this fixture could go one of two ways. Hull could come out really fired up and backed by a partisan crowd roll over us or Fulham could weather the early storm and emerge victors. A little something tells me that this fixture will not end in a draw, that come Saturday night there will be a winner. As it`s the first game of the season, I`ll be bold, I`ll be brash and I`ll go for a continuation of that away form that saw us win the last three away games of last season after going a millions years without previously winning at all. The score will be 2-1 to Fulham.
If I`ve gauged it right then Arsenal, at Craven Cottage, will be our next fixture seeing as Manchester United are more interested in trying to win the meaningless European Super Cup against Zenit St Petersburg!
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Date:Thursday August 14 2008
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