Fulham FC and former posh shop owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed must be overjoyed that his Cottagers are offering their fans a Harrods style luxury experience with 24 Premier League goals scored already this season. However, spare a thought for the poor Mackems who had to wait nearly nine hours for Sunderland to score only their seventh goal – very much a Primark style experience.
London’s oldest established football team are enjoying their 11th consecutive season in the top-flight despite Fulham never winning a major honour. However, things are looking up and their win against Sunderland in their last home game of the 2011-12 season meant they finished just one point short of equalling their largest ever points haul in the Premiership. Under Martin Jol’s astute management (unbeaten in 67% of his 67 games) this progress continues and Fulham are defending a five game unbeaten run and have spent all season in the top-10. This is in stark contrast to Sunderland, with only one victory in ten attempts and spending the majority of the season in the bottom-10.
Egyptian billionaire businessman, Mohamed Al-Fayed may have bought Fulham FC for a bargain basement £6.25 million in 1997, however he has since invested £187 million in the form of interest free loans. Despite this vast expenditure on a club that struggles to fill its 25,700 stadium – Craven Cottage is arguably the most antiquated, unimpressive, yet intimidating ground in the Premiership due to its compact design. But if their ground is sad, the crowd is glad, as they are the second highest goal scorers this season.
This success is attributable to Fulham’s 4-4-2 offensive minded formation that has a strong spine running down the team. This consists of the reliable Schwarzer (Arsenal penalty saving hero) in goal, man mountain Hangeland in defence, bright young Swedish-sensation Kacaniklic in midfield and their crown jewel, Berbatov (Arsenal penalty scoring hero) in attack with five goals in six starts. There is also the added interest of ex-Black Cat Kieran Richardson and Newcastle cast-offs Damien Duff and Aaron Hughes to make up the numbers and give Sunderland’s Red & White Army something to ‘jeer and boo’ in true panto-villan style; well it is nearly Christmas if we believe the retail sector.
Martin O’Neill must have run over a veritable cattery of black cats and broken numerous mirrors in his time. Sunderland suffered awful luck with several fluffed goal attempts, injuries and the criminal booking of Danny Rose in their last game and ultimately came unstuck late on against the Toffees. However, it did give us something to chew on as after four hundred and forty-four fruitless feckless minutes Sunderland actually scored and produced a performance that offers some hope for the coming weeks. But its important that we retain some perspective, as I ‘scored’ more often as a spotty teenager after drinking 8 pints of fizzy burp-inducing lager; okay, make that 2 pints of shandy then!
As I usually submit my match previews each Wednesday, discussing the Black Cats team tactics can prove problematic with injury doubts hanging over Clatter-mole, Bardsley, Fletcher, McFadden and a clutch of players on international duty. This is compounded further by Gardner’s suspension and leaves O’Neill with a difficult decision regarding the right back position. O’Shea could be moved across with either Bramble or Kilgallon taking the centre back slot, or alternatively Larsson has shown this season that he can cover as an emergency full back. One sure bet is that Sunderland will retain their 4-4-1-1 formation and the midfield will be made up of the rejuvenated Johnson, the increasingly controversial McClean, the ginger-ninja Colback and the card crazy Cattermole – if fit.
Following this long preamble, my result prediction rationale is really quite simple. With Fulham drawing their last three games and Sunderland the divisions draw specialists with six – I predict a DRAW. So to quote U2; roll on – “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
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