Stay of execution in SW6
In this turbulent season, the travelling Fulham supporters saluted three priceless points at Aston Villa last weekend -- a result that may yet save the club’s Premier League status. The odds on the Cottagers avoiding relegation are long but they remain the last side to achieve safety with just 24 points after 32 games (2008) and there’s no doubt Norwich are now feeling the heat after last weekend’s matches.
Chris Hughton has been sacked at a critical juncture and guess who they face next? How those poor Canaries fans must have wished for any fixture right now except a meeting with a rejuvenated Fulham. Trips to the Cottage are the stuff of nightmares for Norfolk folk -- they have been hammered 6-0 and 5-0 in recent years -- and they were also dumped out of the FA Cup by Rene Meulensteen’s men earlier this year.
As many have posted elsewhere, Fulham are effectively playing five more cup finals before the season ends. The vastly experienced Felix Magath has seen it all before in football and he will no doubt remind the squad the battling win at Villa counts for nothing if the side don’t follow it up by beating Norwich.
- Phil Mison: Spirit of 2008 needed
Sunderland also remain in trouble and there will be much gnashing of teeth and nail-biting before the season delivers its final victims. Right now, all Fulham can do is keep winning. Magath says belief is back. What were the key points from Villa Park and Fulham’s fourth away win of the season? Never underestimate the value of wingers who can shoot. Both Ashkan Dejagah and Kieran Richardson must start on Saturday in genuinely offensive roles.
The remaining games will test both the resolve of the players picked and their mental toughness. As my preview hinted in calling for the spirit of 2008, big characters are needed with nerves of steel for the challenge ahead. That means somebody has to take the striker role off the slight shoulders of Cauley Woodrow or Moussa Dembele. Could that man be Hugo Rodallega? He’s no stranger to a relegation scrap, as his career at Wigan showed. Fulham have lacked aerial menace in the box all season. Hugo provides it.
Let’s debate the striker role as the week builds. At the back Magath seems to like a back four of Sascha Riether, Johnny Heitinga, Brede Hangeland and Fernando Amorebieta while in midfield he is well served with options.
Fulham can do without the ephemeral talents of Pajtim Kasami and Alex Kacaniklic for the next five weeks, though I know this divides opinion, and as for relying on teenagers to do a man’s job, I’ve stated my case.
One final point in this madcap season: How utterly Fulhamish for this club, among all the rest, to have two of the tightest goal-line clearances you will ever see go against them in the space of one month.
Hold on tight, everyone – there will be plenty more blood, sweat and tears to endure between now and May 11.