Tuesday night on the banks of the Thames
Burnley travel to Fulham tonight as we go back on the road this week in the Championship. We face a side who have not been regular opponents in recent years and this will be our first Football League visit since 2000.
The last time we played at Craven Cottage was back in 2010 when Roy Hodgson’s team beat us in the Premier League and that last league game came in their promotion season of 2000/01 when they beat us 3-1, aided and abetted by referee Trevor Parks.
Craven Cottage is not the best of grounds for Burnley. Having said that, it is far more generous to us than Turf Moor is to them, although the last time we won a league game there was in 1980 when goals from Brian Laws and Eric Potts gave us a 2-0 win in our first ever season outside the top two divisions.
That’s in the past. Tonight is very much about the present and about retaining and extending our lead at the top of the Championship if at all possible. Our outstanding run of form since Christmas has not just moved us back alongside the top group but, right now, sits us on top of it although it is very, very close between the top four with Middlesbrough able to pass us should they win their game in hand.
Even so, if you dare to look at the table as it was on Boxing Day it is quite remarkable to compare it with now. We were then nine points behind leaders Derby and eight points behind Middlesbrough who, as now, had a game in hand. We were only a point ahead of Ipswich and two ahead of Sheffield Wednesday.
It all counts for nothing though yet. It is all so dependent on the last eleven games of the season and how many points we might get. We know there are two crucial games to come against Middlesbrough and Brighton but the other nine games are just as important starting tonight at Fulham.
Michael Keane, who returned to the side after injury for the win against Blackburn. He and Ben Mee will be up against Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele. McCormack is the second highest goalscorer in the league this season, behind our own Andre Gray, and Dembele has netted eleven goals to add to that.
Keane said: “Fulham have a lot of good players, especially going forward, so we’ll have to be at our best to try and keep a clean sheet. They’ve got players who can hurt you but so have we so we need to go there and do what’s made us successful so far and hopefully we’ll come out with the right result.”
On being in first place, he added: “It’s brilliant to be top, and it’s not a position I’ve been in before personally so it’s different, but a lot of the lads have done it before. We need to keep going and we won’t let it affect how we play. We’ll just stick to the principles that have served us well to this point.”
I wasn’t surprised to see Keane come back in three days ago. Sean Dyche had hinted that would be the case a couple of days earlier. James Tarkowski had done really well in the three games in which he’d been involved but, as Dyche said, Keane had been performing well for longer.
There could be a change necessary tonight. David Jones went off just before the hour on Saturday with an achilles injury. I suspect he might have departed earlier but for concerns over Joey Barton.
He’s been described as touch and go by the manager for tonight’s game, this after he’d confirmed that Dean Marney would be in the squad. Fredrik Ulvestad replaced him on Saturday and I suspect he could get his first league start should Jones not make it; he’s previously just started the two FA Cup ties at Middlesbrough and Arsenal.
Marney came back for three games in December, having previously been used as a substitute, but a problematic calf has kept him out since other than one late substitute appearance in the 4-1 win against Derby.
It’s certainly fantastic news to see him available again and he joins a potential debutant in Lloyd Dyer. it seems an age since he signed but, as was the case with Joey Barton, he’s gone through a period of getting up to fitness before being included. I don’t expect him to start but he could be on the bench.
My thoughts are Jones could be ruled out and if so we could line up: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Joey Barton, Fredrik Ulvestad, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes, Andre Gray. Subs from: Paul Robinson, Tendayi Darikwa, James Tarkowski, Dean Marney, Matt Taylor, Michael Kightly, Lloyd Dyer, Rouwen Hennings.
Fulham are in their second season back in the Championship having suffered relegation under the management of Felix Magath in 2014. He was their third manager of that relegation season but was dismissed early last season after a disastrous start to life back in the Championship after 13 years as a top flight club.
Kit Symons, who was in caretaker charge, was given the job and he continued into this season but he too fell with former Watford boss Slavisa Jokanovic in charge.
They ended last season in 17th place with 52 points. That was a comfortable eleven points clear of the bottom three and twice as many points as bottom club Blackpool won. That was a good return in the end from a side that kicked off the season winning just one point from their first eight games.
This season they were in tenth place at the end of October but there has been a decline in fortunes since and they go into tonight’s game in 19th place with just a five point lead over Rotherham who occupy the highest of the relegation places.
They’ve won eight times, five of them at home and three away. The home wins have come against Blackburn, QPR, Reading, Rotherham and Charlton. They’ve done the double over three of those clubs – QPR, Reading and Rotherham.
Looking at their record, it is reminiscent of us under Eddie Howe prior to Sean Dyche’s arrival. They’ve scored 53 league goals this season and that total is bettered only by us and only by one goal. But, they’ve conceded 58 goals and only Rotherham and Charlton have conceded more.
There’s no doubt that the threat will come from Ross McCormack (17 league goals) and Moussa Dembele (11) whilst midfielder Tom Cairney is another to be watched. He’s scored seven times in the league since moving to Fulham from Blackburn last summer.
Fulham will be able to welcome back Richard Stearman who was serving a one match ban last Saturday when they drew 2-2 at Reading. They will still be without midfielder Lasse Christensen with a hamstring injury and whilst striker Cauley Woodrow is training again after recovering from a broken foot, the game will come too early for him.
Their team in the draw at Reading included two players who have previously played for the Clarets. Alex Kačaniklić was with us on loan three years ago, the first signing made by Sean Dyche whilst Chris Baird signed for us on a short term deal a year later. Both made their debuts for Burnley in wins against Charlton at The Valley.
The team for that game, when Dembele and McCormack scored the goals, was: Andy Lonergan, Jazz Richards, Michael Madl, Fernando Amorebieta, Luke Garbutt, Chris Baird, Jamie O’Hara, Ryan Fredericks, Tom Cairney, Ross McCormack, Moussa Dembele. Subs: Joe Lewis, Dan Burn, Emerson Hyndman, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Scott Parker, Alex Kačaniklić, Matt Smith.
LAST TIME WE WERE THERE
Chris Baird, who is expected to play tonight, was in the Fulham team last time we played them at Craven Cottage. The only other member of the two squads that night who are with the two clubs now is Michael Duff who was an unused substitute.
We’d beaten West Ham days earlier, our first win in 13 games and there were hopes that this could be the night when we got our first away win in the Premier League. We didn’t, we didn’t deserve to either having been outplayed from start to finish by a very organised Fulham side. We could not complain at the 3-0 scoreline.
That said, not one of the Fulham goals should have been allowed. The first two goals were so far offside it was ridiculous, but on both occasions there was no flag from assistant referee Mike Bull who, thankfully, is no longer on the list.
The third goal was down to substitute referee Steve Bennett who awarded a free kick to Fulham, which even baffled their players who were aware that it was our kick, and that’s how the third goal came.
Having said that, they’d have got the goals from somewhere because the gulf between the two sides that night was wider than the Grand Canyon.
Manager Brian Laws left out Robbie Blake. He pushed Danny Fox, who had made a goalscoring debut in the previous game, onto the left hand side of midfield with David Edgar coming in at left back.
Edgar was to have a nightmare. He struggled beyond belief against Damian Duff for the first half hour but an injury to Leon Cort then saw him move inside, Fox go back and Chris Eagles come on. Poor Edgar was even worse in the centre where he really couldn’t cope with Bobby Zamora.
All in all, not a good night and a 12th defeat in 13 away games that season.
The teams were;
Fulham: Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland, Nicky Shorey, Damien Duff (Bjorn Helge Riise 77), Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Simon Davies (Jonathan Greening 62), Bobby Zamora (Stefano Okaka 71), David Elm. Subs not used: Pascal Zuberbühler, Stephen Kelly, Chris Smalling, Erik Nevland.
Burnley: Brian Jensen, Tyrone Mears, Clarke Carlisle, Leon Cort (Chris Eagles 31), David Edgar, Wade Elliott (Jack Cork 56), Kevin McDonald, Andre Bikey, Danny Fox, David Nugent (Martin Paterson 76), Steven Fletcher. Subs not used: Nicky Weaver, Michael Duff, Robbie Blake, Steven Thompson.Share this page :