Derby…this really is a MUST WIN game

Apologies for the lack of posts this week. Our house is having major surgery which means I’ve been unable to get online as much as normal, and even more annoyingly, this is putting my trip to Derby in serious jeopardy. Aaarrrggh!

My ticket has been purchased, the seat has been booked on the coach from CC and the itinerary for the long haul up from the south coast has been planned. Whether or not I’m there at kick-off, however, remains to be seen.

Thankfully, there will be plenty of us there even if I don’t make it as we’ve sold out our allocation and that is fantastic news. It just goes to prove how a crisis brings everyone together. And it needs to because tomorrow really is a MUST WIN game if we want to stand any chance of retaining our Premier League status. This really is the most important match of our season.

Derby may only have 10 points on the board but they are no push-overs – as they proved with their draw against us earlier in the season (which they were unlucky not to win) and even against title chasing Manchester United a couple of weeks ago.

Good luck everyone…we’ll need it

Preview: Sunderland v Fulham

Facing Roy Keane on a football pitch must have been one of the scariest prospects imaginable. But how will coming up against his team compare? Well, our boys will find out later today when they travel to the Stadium of Light to take on Premier League ‘new boys’ Sunderland.

On paper it certainly doesn’t seem a great match for a neutral to watch. The home side have lost their last three games while we haven’t won away on the road in 21 matches. Yes, that’s right, 21 matches! Unbelievable isn’t it?

The only potential postive (and I’m really clutching at straws here) is that our last victory away from the Cottage came in this neck of the woods when we beat Newcastle – but even that was soured by the injury sustained to Jimmy Bullard.

Sunderland currently lie three places below us at 16th in the league but have exactly the same number of points: eight. They have two wins so far, both coming at home, scoring 11 goals and conceding 19.

Today we go into the match without the suspended Konchesky, while Hameur Bouazza is out with a shoulder injury – a bit of a weakness it seems. Most of the rest are fit, including a rejuvenated Antti Niemi whose awe-inspiring display last weekend helped push us up to 13th in the table.

Bizarrely I actually fancy us to get something out of today’s game. However, while a point would be okay, a win could really kickstart a turnaround in fortunes for the team. The confidence boost that three points away from home provides would be very welcome.

Preview: Fulham v Derby

Tomorrow is Judgment Day for Lawrie Sanchez. That might sound a bit dramatic considering it’s still only October but quite frankly our match against Derby is the most important game of the season so far.

It’s all very well getting the players stirred up to face Chelsea at the Bridge, but it’s making sure they’re in the right frame of mind to play the teams closer to us in the league that will provide Sanchez with a stiffer test. How they respond will tell us a lot about his management qualities.

Win tomorrow and we will be set up nicely for next week’s trip to Sunderland and the following week’s visit of Reading. Lose and the proverbial storm clouds will be gathering above the Cottage. If we can’t beat the team at the bottom of the table, where else will we score points?

Derby have had a pretty torrid time so far this season. Their sole victory – at home to Newcastle – has been the only highlight of a miserable campaign and they are already being installed as the red hot favourites for a swift return to the Championship.

They have accumulated just five points (the aforementioned win against the Geordies, as well as home draws against Bolton and Portsmouth) from their nine league games and have only found the back of the net five times, while conceding a whopping 22 goals.

Their away form has been particularly dire: Liverpool thrashed them 6-0; Arsenal put five past them and even Spurs ran out 4-0 winners.

However, there is no reason for us to feel smug.

Although we haven’t been on the end of such drubbings we have still only scored two more points and when statistics such as Derby not having scored a point or a goal away from home start getting quoted it makes me very nervous. Wouldn’t it be Fulhamish to let them break at least one of those ducks tomorrow?

Our record this year is pretty woeful which is why we’re also marooned in the bottom three. We have only scored two more points than Derby – by virtue of two extra home draws – and although our goal difference is still in negative territory it does at least look a bit healthier. The back of the net has been found 12 times by us – against 16 conceded – even though our shooting boots haven’t been packed for the last two games against Pompey and Chelsea.

Maybe I’m being too gloomy, but I now see every match we play in ‘nightmare scenario’ terms. The sooner we get another win under our belts the better. Come on Lawrie, make us believe.

Preview: Fulham v Portsmouth

I’ve said it before virtually every match this season and I’ll say it again: tomorrow is going to be a very tough game. If we manage to get a 1-1 draw – which is my prediction – then that would be an achievement, even though we badly need to get some wins under our belt.

Pompey have had a good start to the season and are currently lying in 6th spot with 12 points from their first eight games. This includes three wins – at home against Bolton and Reading, and away at Blackburn, and three draws – away at Derby and at home to Manchester United and Liverpool. Their two losses have both been on the road, at Chelsea and Arsenal.

They have bagged 15 goals – making them the second highest scoring team behind Arsenal on 16 – although it’s worth bearing in mind that a whopping seven of those came last weekend in their thrilling 7-4 home win over Reading. On the downside they have conceded 12 goals.

Their top scorer is Benjani Mwaruwari with five (three of which came last weekend), while Kanu and Utaka have each netted twice. Taylor, Davis, Muntari, Kranjcar and Hreidarsson all have one goal to their names.

Last season both our matches ended in 1-1 draws. Zat Knight (remember him?) got our goal down at Fratton Park in November, while an injured Ian Pearce scored our equaliser at the Cottage in March.

So what’s likely to unfold tomorrow?

Well, as Rich on CCN points out, we can virtually guarantee that big Papa – as Cookie used to call him – will score an absolute thunderbolt. We know what he’s capable of but, as Portsmouth will eventually find out (probably after he returns from the African Nations Cup) you only get to see glimpses of his genius. Most of the time he is very mediocre at best. I, for one, am glad we got shot of him in the summer and that’s not a case of sour grapes. When he was good, he was very good. It’s just those times were few and far between.

Tomorrow also sees the return of another son – Sean Davis. Now Seany is a different matter entirely. He will, predictably, be given abuse tomorrow but I won’t be joining in. I like him and am grateful for the part he played in our rise up the divisions. I still maintain that he would have become an established part of the England set-up and our club captain if he’d stayed with us but there you go. Sad all round really.

Enjoy the match and let’s keep our fingers crossed for all three points – and if you haven’t already picked up your copy of the Fulham Review then Rich and the boys will be selling them tomorrow at the ground.

Preview: Chelsea v Fulham

On paper it certainly doesn’t look much of a contest. Chelsea’s multi-million pound superstars of world football against our battling side which has been put together for a fraction of the cost, but there are some factors which could swing the advantage in our favour.

Firstly is the upheaval that’s happened in recent weeks with the departure of the ‘Special One’ and the installation of the hitherto virtually unknown Avram Grant to the manager’s chair. It’s a bizarre situation and unsettling – as their lacklustre showing against Man Utd illustrated.

Secondly, it is being reported that Roberto Carvalho and Frank Lampard won’t be fit to play tomorrow which is good news – although Didier Drogba is poised to make a shock return to the side which is worrying, considering the damage that he can inflict.

Thirdly, we know they’re not invincible.

Don’t forget we turned them over at the Cottage (come on, who could forget that afternoon!!!) on March 19th last year when, arguably, they were at the very peak of their powers under Mourinho and en-route to their second successive Premier League title.

Both teams have had troubled starts to this season, although the Blues are certainly in a healthier position at present.

So far they are 6th with 11 points on the back of three wins, two draws and two defeats. Victories have been recorded against Birmingham and Portsmouth at the Bridge, and Reading away, while they drew 0-0 at home against Blackburn and 1-1 at Liverpool. The two defeats – both 0-2 reversals – were suffered on the road at Aston Villa and Manchester United.

In the league they have scored seven goals and conceded eight. Their leading scorer so far is Frank Lampard with three, while Drogba, Pizarro, Malouda and Essien have all chipped in with one-a-piece. However, they have failed to score in their last three league games.

This form is in stark contrast to this time last season at which point they had won five out of their first six games and were topping the league with 15 points.

As for us, we have now slipped to a miserable 17th with just six points having been notched up so far. The results table shows one win, three draws and three defeats. Our home record shows a win against Bolton, draws against Spurs and Manchester City, and defeat at the hands of Boro. A draw at Wigan and defeats at Aston Villa and Arsenal illustrate the fact we haven’t won on the road for more than a year. That is woeful in anybody’s book.

We certainly don’t appear to have a problem scoring. Twelve goals have been netted so far in the league, with Dempsey topping the charts with three and Healy and Smertin bagging two each. Kamara, Bouazza, Murphy, McBride and Davies have all got one. However, we have let in a whopping fourteen goals – six in the last two home matches alone.

At this point last season we were sitting in 11th position with eight points, having won twice, drawn twice and lost twice.

So what’s going to happen at Stamford Bridge tomorrow?

I believe we have every chance of scoring goals this weekend; my biggest fear is how many we’re going to concede. Our defence has, to put it politely, been rather fragile of late and that’s not a great way to go into a crunch game.

While it pains me to return to the familiar discussion point of Chris Baird – I’m starting to feel like we’re part of a gang bullying this lad – I think for his sake he needs to be rested this weekend as things just aren’t going his way and Volz brought back into the right back position.

However, that is unlikely to happen. On his icons.com blog, Volzy reveals he’s been spending time on the treatment table so we’ll have to get behind Baird and hopefully help him to deliver the kind of performance of which he is capable.

Elsewhere I believe that Sanchez will stick with the familiar line-up in midfield and attack that we’ve seen of late with Smertin being restored to the side after having been rested for Wednesday’s disastrous outing against Bolton. Bouazza will probably return as well, with Seol on the sidelines, poised to cause mayhem in the last 20 minutes if necessary.

Healy will probably be given his starting berth back, although I would definitely like to see Kamara test himself against the likes of Terry & Co at some stage. As far as goalkeepers are concerned, I really don’t know what’s best as I am yet to see Keller first-hand. I presume Sanchez will stick with Niemi – let’s just hope he’s got his form back.

To see a full breakdown of our recent record at Stamford Bridge click here.

Our record at Stamford Bridge

As part of our pre-match coverage, we have gone through the record books to analyse our record at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League…Although most of the games were superb, the statistics don’t exactly make for pleasant reading.

In the six encounters since we won promotion, we have drawn twice and lost on the other four occasions. We have scored nine goals and conceded 14, although two of those were own goals. Here is the full breakdown:

2006/07 season.
December 30th, 2006
Chelsea 2 – 2 Fulham
Rosenior (og), DrogbaVolz, Bocanegra

2005/06 season
December 26th, 2005
Chelsea 3 – 2 Fulham
Gallas, Lampard, Crespo – McBride, Helguson

2004/05 season
April 23rd, 2005
Chelsea 3 – 1 Fulham
Cole, Lampard, Gudjohnsen – John

2003/04 season
March 20th, 2004
Chelsea 2 – 1 Fulham
Gudjohnsen, Duff – Pembridge

2002/03 season
April 26th, 2003
Chelsea 1 – 1 Fulham
Goma (og) – Boa Morte

2001/02 season
March 6th, 2002
Chelsea 3 – 2 Fulham
Melchiot, Gudjohnsen, ForssellSaha (2)

Preview: Fulham v Bolton (cup)

Crystal ball time…..Right, how are we all feeling about tonight then? I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that it will be a fairly drab 1-1 affair, then we’ll run out 3-1 winners after extra time. Well, you’ve got to have confidence eh? I suggest (and this won’t be a surprise) that Volz comes in for Baird, Keller for Niemi and perhaps Murphy for Smertin as our Russian dynamo has looked tired of late. The rest of the team should stay as it is with Bouazza on for the first hour then Seol coming on for some extra spice. Annoyingly, other commitments mean i wont be at the Cottage tonight but fingers will be firmly crossed all evening. Good luck everyone.