Fresh off a much needed 3 points against Newcastle, Fulham travel the two plus miles to Loftus Road in what promises to be a pulsating West London Derby on Saturday. While many were hoping QPR and then manager Mark Hughes (aka 'Mr. Ambition' to Whites fans) would get relegated last season, there were quite a few supporters happy to see them stay up because it meant the chance to watch two derby matches, which beats having to play Birmingham twice a year. While taking the scalp of big brother over at Stamford Bridge is what both sets of supporters cherish, the fact is Chelski and their spoiled supporters don't view either club as much more than another 'inferior' opponent. Fulham versus QPR is a true rivalry that should be celebrated.
Starting with the proximity of the clubs, it's natural for two to be heated rivals. Let's face it, they compete in essentially the same neighborhood for fans. At one time there was talk of the clubs merging (Fulham Park Rangers), and briefly shared Loftus Road while Craven Cottage was being refurbished. Any time neighbors, family, friends, and co-workers split allegiance you know that bragging rights are hugely important. To Ranger supporters we are Foolham, while to the Fulham faithful they are QPHaha.
The last time the teams played was last February at Loftus Road. Pavel Pogrebynak cemented his cult status with an early goal in front of the away support (hard to forget Pog celebrating with the fans) in the 'School End' of LR, and Fulham was able to make it stand for a 1-0 victory to finish off the season sweep. It marked the return of Bobby Zamora against his old mates and a memorable 'handshake' post match between Mark Hughes and Martin Jol. Hughes will not be on the touchline since after spending a ton of money in the summer, was unable to guide them off the bottom of the table in the Premier League.
Harry Redknapp is now in charge and the first order of business will be to try and fix what has to be a mess of a locker room, and get everyone rowing in the same direction. There is little doubt he has the talent to get out of the mess they find themselves in. It's hard to imagine a squad with Djbril Cisse, Adel Tarrabt, Shaun Wright Phillips, Zamora, and the hard working Jamie Mackie having a difficult time finding the back of the net, but QPR has failed to win a league match, managing only 7 draws out of 16 Premiership contests.
Prediction; One piece of positive news for Fulham is the fact Dimitar Berbatov is due to score, and don't be surprised if it's Saturday. However, Mark Schwartzer has not been at his best this season, amid concerns that his age has caught up with him. QPR isn't going to go much longer without a win, and it would be all the sweeter for them if it comes at the expense of Fulham. The atmosphere will be electric, with the intensity ratcheted up a few notches due do it being a 'true' derby and something fans of both sides will be sky high for. The match will ebb and flow, so it would not be shocking to see a late goal deny a team all three points...2-2 final with Berba and Duff scoring for the Mighty Whites.
Fulham will look to break their recent streak of draws (some good/some bad) as they take on Martin O'Neill's Sunderland FC at Craven Cottage on Sunday. Martin Jol's squad have slipped down to 9th in the current Premier League standings mostly because of 4 consecutive splitting of the points. The upcoming opponent is currently sitting in 16th, so anything short of 3 points will be disappointing.
Sunderland are winless on their road travels in league play. However, they have been able to draw 4 of their 6 matches. Adam Johnson was able to get the Black Cats ahead of Everton last week at Goodison, but 2 goals within the 76th and 79th minutes doomed them to defeat. The one player Fulham better know where he is at all times is Stephen Fletcher who leads Sunderland with 5 goals. Another player of concern (especially since he hasn't scored this season) coming off the bench is former Fulham great Louis Saha, who always seems to score against his former club.
Prediction: Fulham supporters have been treated to some tremendous entertainment this season. That said, this will probably not a match that contains a ton of goals. Sunderland is making their 3rd trip to London, and thus far have come away with a 0-0 result with Arsenal, and a 1-1 draw with West Ham. I'll go with a grind it out 1-0 win, with Berbatov finding the back of the net. COYW!!
The only thing that doesn't change is change itself. As the Premier League season comes to a close and Fulham's final home match is upon us, we know the squad could look quite different come fall. No other player on the team is more likely to leave (not including the dead wood) than Clint Dempsey.
Our Texas import will wait and see what interest is out there for his services this summer. If Champion's League football is something he HAS to have on his resume then he's probably gone. However, only Clint knows what price he'd pay to make that happen. Would he move to France? Germany? Not sure, but if a certain club in North London with a french manager makes a bid, he'll leave, plain and simple.
The other player frequently mentioned leaving is Moussa Dembele. In my opinion this would be a MAJOR mistake on his part. The Belgian would be better served in staying another season and improving his game. Not sure who has his ear, but if it's someone who works on a commission then his best interests aren't being looked after. It would would painful to watch him go to a 'big' club, and find him mired on the bench. If Dempsey were to leave, Moose could slide into his spot, and really see his game take off.
As for the match itself, let's hope for open play. A win would put Fulham one shy of it's best ever Premiership point total (53 in the 08/09 season). Sunderland comes into the match in 11th place on 45 points. The teams met on November 19th in a very forgettable 0-0 draw. Mark Schwartzer denied the Black Cats leading scorer Stephane Sessgnon in second half stoppage time with perhaps his best save of the season. Sessgnon is tied in goals with the injured Sebastian Larsson. Nicklas Bendtner thinks more of himself then his game warrants, but still can find the back of the net.
Prediction; Sunderland comes into the match with the identical away record as Fulham (4 wins, 5 draws, and 9 losses). I like the Mighty Whites to win 3-1. Dempsey will notch his 50th Premier League goal in a Fulham kit in what sadly could be his Cottage (as a Fulham player) swan song.
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For Fulham fans there are three certainties in life; death, taxes, and losing at Goodison Park in league competition. Eighteen straight league matches have all ended with a loss. On Saturday, the Whites will have the opportunity to break the streak (they were meant to be broken right?) on Merseyside. At stake are the top ten positions and the extra money (about a million a pop) that goes to each higher spot. Everton currently sits in 7th on 48 points, 2 points ahead of 9th place Fulham.
Everton is coming into the match after scoring twice in the final 10 minutes at Old Trafford for a 4-4 draw, thus throwing the title race up for grabs between the two Manchester teams. David Moyes (as usual) has guided his team to improvement throughout the season and the Toffees are hitting on all cylinders. Nikica Jelavic had a brace at ManU and since his January arrival from Rangers has proven he can score in this league. Marouane Fellani, he of the huge hair, has the ability to control a match no matter who he is lining up against.
Fulham and Everton have already met twice this campaign. Back in October at Craven Cottage the Toffees won 3-1 in a deceiving scoreline. Tied at 1-1 late on (thru Bryan Ruiz's beautiful chip), Bobby Zamora rounded keeper Tim Howard and somehow missed an open net. Former Fulham standout Louis Saha rubbed salt in the wound as he scored in stoppage time (Rodwell added the third on basically the final kick of the match). The squads also met in late January in the 4th round of the FA Cup at Goodison. Danny Murphy converted from the spot to give the Whites the early lead. However, Landon Donovan spearheaded the comeback and assisted on both goals (Fellani scored the game winner in the 75th) in the 2-1 final.
The majority of Fulham fans have a lot of respect and a soft spot for Everton (unlike their obnoxious red neighbors, whom the Whites travel to on Tuesday). It would be remiss not to mention on a US based site the opportunity given to Americans by the Toffees. Besides Tim Howard; Joe Max Moore, Brian McBride, and Donovan have all pulled on the blue jersey and made contributions.
Prediction; If Fulham have any hopes of finishing 7th then somehow they will need to get a result at Goodison. A point would be a tremendous result and not something that this team isn't capable of. However, until proven otherwise I will have to go with a 2-1 win for the homeside.
Fulham take on Red Hot Wigan at the Cottage
Once thought to be a relatively easy three points at home has turned into a difficult assignment as the Whites host the hottest team in the Premier League at Craven Cottage. Wigan has transformed their season that once appeared to be doomed to the point where survival looks to be inevitable.
Wigan sat on 22 points the morning of March 24th. A glance at the schedule and it was easy to see why they looked like they wouldn't escape the drop this time around (the Latics left it to the final day last season). However, they won at Liverpool that afternoon and it sparked a terrific run of play. The next four matches following the win at Anfield included a home win versus Stoke, a controversial one goal loss at Chelsea, a clean sheet win over Manchester United, and Monday night's away win at Arsenal. Those 12 points in 5 matches have the Latics clicking on the heels of Aston Villa for 15th place in the Premier League table.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has to be given a huge amount of credit for keeping a team that isn't well supported at the gates (the rugby team is a much bigger draw) or funded (Chairman Dave Whelan has publicly stated that the long term health of the club is more important than overspending to stay up). However, the Latics are not devoid of talent by any means. Gary Caldwell anchors the defense and is a tough customer. James McArthur is Wigan's Danny Murphy and drives the engine. Victor Moses tortured Arsenal's Sagna all night and is a handful. Jordi Gomez and Franco DiSanto scored the goals at the Emirates and will be looking to do the same at the Cottage.