Writer: Andrew Joyce
Date:Friday February 8 2008
After the excitement of our win, against Aston Villa, last weekend, the buoyant squad takes the high road north to the chemical wasteland that is Middlesbrough. Hopefully, our gallant side, looking to win their second successive game, will be cheered on by an increased level of away support thanks to the cut-price rail travel organised by the club. Come on lads, let`s cheer ourselves hoarse, this game could be the one that makes the difference as we seek to preserve our Premier League status.
Okay, okay, it`s now five days since we beat Aston Villa, I know we shouldn`t keep harping on about it but, like me, you probably realise just how much it meant to savour the sweet taste of victory again.
Therefore, before we become embroiled in another relegation battle up in 'Smog City` take one last chance to savour that win, pop along to Vital Villa and read some of the comments left by the Villa fans after they were beaten.
They`ll sure beat any quotes I`ll find appertaining to the fixture tomorrow.
I`ve always considered Middlesbrough a strange club! Whilst admiring their chairman, I can`t help but feel that he`s made some rough appointments over the years and that he`s been almost too loyal. After suffering Bryan Robson and Steve McClaren he`s now given the job of turning Middlesbrough into a football giant to the relatively inexperienced Gareth Southgate.
Whether Southgate will eventually make a success of it remains to be seen. However, whilst admitting he has some good players in his squad, namely Huth, Downing, Tuncay and the emerging talent of Wheater and Cattermole, he`s got some right old chaff as well. What an earth persuaded him to sign Mido?
Unfortunately, we`ll be spared any glimpses of Mido as he has a groin injury. Also absent will be Tuncay with a hamstring problem whilst the new record signing, Alfonso Alves, hasn`t played for five weeks and is only likely to be considered for a place on the bench.
This powerful German defender used to play for the lot just down the road from us. Since moving to 'Chemical City` he`s suffered from one injury after another. However, he`s recently returned to action and his no-nonsense defending, robust style and sheer powerful physique could see Erik Nevland having a rude introduction to life on the Premiership road. We`ll also have to be aware of his shooting ability. I seem to remember some rocket like free-kicks whilst he wore the blue of Chelsea. Perhaps we`d better ensure we don`t give him any opportunity to try his luck.
Fulham travel north with a relatively complete squad, we believe that only Bouazza is missing through injury. However, we`ll have to do without the services of our influential wide player Simon Davies. The Welshman picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Aston Villa, last Sunday, and will serve the obligatory one game ban.
Despite Brian McBride now having regained full fitness, it seems likely that Roy Hodgson will stick with Erik Nevland in the lone strikers roll as our manager attempts to keep things tight. As has become the norm in recent weeks, Roy will string five players across the middle hoping to frustrate the opposition and do a containing job. Who`ll come in for the suspended Simon Davies remains a point of discussion; we believe that Smertin or Volz may well be given the chance to fill the hole.
Elsewhere, Hodgson will be looking towards Hangeland and Andreasen to continue their fine introduction into life in the Premier League whilst the energy and bubbly personality of Jimmy Bullard will be essential in providing any attacking spark needed to steal the three points.
Therefore, we here at Vital Fulham suspect that Hodgson will start with the following eleven,
Niemi, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Andreasen, Bullard, Murphy, Volz, Dempsey, Nevland.
Could we really select anyone else? He`s only been back a matter of weeks and already he`s started accumulating man-of-the-match awards. If Hodgson gives him the usual license to roam, Jimmy could well be the difference between success and failure on Saturday. Hopefully, at 16:50, we`ll see that trademark grin that signifies everything was alright on the night!
Last season we travelled all the way to 'Smog City` only to suffer a humiliating 3-1 defeat. On that day in May, two goals from Mark Viduka and one from Wheater put us to the sword with Simon Davies replying for us.
Already this season, Middlesbrough have beaten us at Craven Cottage 2-1. On that occasion although Brian McBride opened the scoring goals from Mido and Catermole ensured we were once again left well beaten.
Overall, our record against Middlesbrough, in fixtures on their patch, doesn`t make pretty reading. In the Premier League we`ve been beaten 4 times by Boro and we`ve drawn on 2 occasions. As for victories, we`re still waiting for our first success.
In all league matches featuring the two sides, on their patch, the record is slightly better, Middlesbrough have recorded 15 wins, Fulham 7 wins with 4 draws.
Phil Dowd of Stoke-on-Trent, pretty adjacent to Alton Towers, will be the man in charge as we seek to make it two wins on the trot.
I feel a touch like 'Mystic Meg` after intimating that last weekend would be the game whereby we`d pick up our first three points in three months, perhaps I should have had a flutter on the lottery as well. However, whether we`re good enough to win two on the trot remains to be seen. Middlesbrough, like ourselves; are flirting with relegation, they tend to blow hot and cold but also tend to be stronger at home than on the road. Nevertheless, we`ve every reason to be optimistic. We`ve drawn at Bolton; we`ve beaten Aston Villa so surely Middlesbrough shouldn`t present too many problems, should they? I watched them struggle against Mansfield in the FA Cup and believe me, they are there for the taking. Therefore, I`m going to be bold, I`m going to be brash and suggest come Saturday evening we could well be out of the relegation zone! 1-0 to Fulham!
Our next fixture sees us participate in a London derby, whereby by east meets west, in a Premier League fixture against West Ham United at Craven Cottage.
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Date:Friday February 8 2008
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