When ten-man Fulham held off Aston Villa to win the Championship Play-Off final barely nine months ago thanks to a first half goal from their captain Tom Cairney, I suspect that they did not believe that they would be in this predicament now. Promotion was gained in what many believe is the most exciting way, and there were high hopes that they could consolidate a position in the Premier League. The owner spent a not inconsiderable amount in the transfer market, and like Wolves, it was felt that they had given themselves a good shot at steering clear of the relegation places. They were certainly more fancied than Cardiff to retain their top flight status.
However after an horrific start the owner lost his nerve after a dozen games, sacked Jokanovic, and brought in Claudio Ranieri, hopefully to recreate the magic of his achievements at Leicester. It hasn’t improved much since then, and now Fulham, with an horrendous goal difference (-33), are effectively 9 points adrift of safety with just a dozen games to go. To achieve an average of a point a game by the end of the campaign, they would need to collect 21 points in their final 12 games, a tall order when you consider they have amassed just 17 points to date from 26 games.
Those 17 points have been won from just four wins and five draws, with their only victories coming over fellow strugglers in the bottom eight who are involved in the relegation dogfight, namely Burnley, Southampton, Huddersfield and Brighton. All of those wins have come at Craven Cottage, highlighting that their form away from home has been particularly miserable, with just two points gained from draws at Newcastle and Brighton. As a seasoned West Ham fan that is a worrying statistic.
As the season begins to approach its climax we sit in the top half in tenth place, in the pack of six clubs chasing seventh place, or perhaps being champions of the unofficial Premier League Division Two. Wolves and Watford lead that particular competition at the moment, but they can be caught by any of the four teams immediately below them, (Everton, ourselves, Bournemouth and Leicester) with a good run to the end of the season.
Certainly our six remaining home games against Fulham, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Everton, Leicester and Southampton are eminently winnable games, although I suspect (but hope otherwise) that we will pick up far fewer points on our travels, where, apart from Cardiff, the other five games are against teams in the top eight, with only Arsenal and Wolves from that octet having to wait until next season to meet us again.
It seems that our awful injury list is diminishing, and more players are available for this game. We have quite an array of (fit) attacking talent at our disposal, and I wonder how the manager will piece together four offensive players from this list: (a hopefully interested) Arnautavic, Chicarito, Carroll, Anderson, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Nasri, Antonio, Perez, Diangana, and Silva. This assumes that Fabianski, Zabaleta (or Fredericks), Cresswell, Diop, Ogbonna (or Balbuena), Noble and Rice will form the remainder of the team.
In order to provide a mixture of width and guile, and based upon recent form, I fully expect Antonio, Nasri, and Anderson to line up behind Arnautavic or Chicarito. I expect Lanzini to be eased back gently, and would see him playing a part from the bench. Who fills the other places waiting to come on later in the game is anyone’s guess but (apparently) Perez is out of favour, and Diangana, Silva, and possibly even Carroll may not make the 18. In addition to one of the right backs, and one of the centre backs, plus Adrian and Obiang, then Lanzini, Snodgrass and one of Arnautavic or Chicarito will probably make up the squad, unless there are any further questions re fitness.
Perhaps Carroll will be in the 18 to provide another attacking option in place of one of the more defensive minded options. Masuaku is another I haven’t mentioned, and his versatility could get him a squad place, although he would not be my choice. It may be a shame for Diangana and Silva to miss out, but their turn will come next season I’m sure. They have been in and around the squad in recent times and will benefit from the experience gained, and will get further opportunities once injuries start to kick in again!
Looking at the odds offered by leading bookmakers, they seem to believe that Fulham have a better chance in this game than form (ours at home, and theirs away) would suggest. We are only slightly odds on to win the game (around 5/6) and Fulham are quoted at around 11/4. Now if this wasn’t West Ham we were talking about then I would say there was easy money to made here. Will we see a performance like against Wimbledon or one that was so unlucky not to beat Liverpool? In view of the competition for places (and putting Fulham’s poor away form aside – it’s amazing how teams with records like this bring poor runs to an end against us!), I fully expect us to take them apart under the lights, and further condemn them in their (vain) battle to remain a Premier League team. It’s about time we had a five or six goal romp, and 6-0 is quoted at 125/1. The bookies aren’t particularly generous are they? When did we last win a game 6-0? Even Fulham are quoted at a paltry 150/1 to beat us 6-0! Now that wouldn’t be worth a bet at 150,000/1!