So the end of the season looms, we`ve three matches left to play, the first of which is against Europa League rivals Aston Villa. If Europa League qualification is to be achieved then we need to get a result against a Villa side that have spluttered in recent weeks. It promises to be an enticing fixture.
What is it with this Villa lot? First Petrov praising us and now Martin O`Neill, have they got a secret agenda? Anyway here`s what the Irishman had to say ahead of the fixture about us,
‘Fulham have improved a lot this time around compared with last season. It’s been terrific for them this season and the manager has done wonderfully well there.”
‘They are going for a European spot – and that’s all you need to say really to see how far they have come.”
‘They were all but gone last season. You couldn’t have envisaged that kind of comeback – it was absolutely incredible.’
And some will say it all started with a Bullard free-kick in the corresponding fixture last season.
Fulham Team News:
Roy Hodgson will enter the fixture without the injured duo of Simon Davies and Andrew Johnson. Davies, after carrying a foot injury, is unlikely to play again this season whilst Johnson, who limped off in our last home fixture, is unlikely to be risked. Also on the doubtful list is Erik Nevland. After scoring two in two games, the Norwegian`s fitness remains clouded in mystery after he was substituted just after the half hour mark at Stamford Bridge last weekend.
If Nevland isn`t in contention then we expect Diomansy Kamara to start alongside Bobby Zamora with Zoltan Gera, once again, filling in for Davies in a starting eleven that, we believe, will look remarkably like that below,
Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky, Gera, Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey, Zamora and Kamara.
Player to watch: Clinton Dempsey
Our American midfielder / forward has re-established himself in the side after appearing to be nothing more than a squad player earlier in the season. A tireless worker who gets his fair share of goals and he`ll be looking for his aerial prowess to trouble Villa from set pieces.
Aston Villa Team News:
Aston Villa arrive in West London with Martin O`Neill have fresh concerns over three players. Carlos Cuellar has had a bout of flu (not swine we hope) whilst Ashley Young and Stiliyan Petrov both were withdrawn with niggles in the 1-0 victory over Hull in midweek.
Aston Villa (from): Friedel, L Young, Davies, Knight, Cuellar, Shorey, Milner, Barry, Petrov, A Young, Gardner, Reo-Coker, Agbonlahor, Carew, Heskey, Guzan, Sidwell, Delfouneso, Clark.
Player to watch: Ashley Young
People scoffed when Villa paid Watford what seemed like a colossal fee for his services but the youngster, recently voted PFA Young Player of the Year, has blossomed under the tuition of Martin O`Neill and his exceptional pace and finishing skills can trouble any defence.
Match Facts & Stats
So how do clashes between these two teams usually turn out when played on our turf?
Surprisingly Fulham appear to have the upper hand.
Delving into the history books we can see that, in Premier League fixtures only, the stats are – Fulham 2 wins, Aston Villa 1 win with 4 draws. Whereas in all League games they are – Fulham 12 wins, Aston Villa 3 wins with 9 draws.
In the corresponding fixture last year the game finished – Fulham 2 Aston Villa 1 with Jimmy Bullard scoring a sublime free kick late on to give Fulham all three points.
Up at Villa Park, earlier in the season we carved out one of our many 0-0 draws.
Looking to keep things neat and tidy on this occasion is none other than Mark Halsey.
Villa will be a difficult team to play. Martin O`Neill has turned them into a force to be reckoned with, they can rely on the raw power that John Carew brings them but they are also capable of some lightning counter attacks that utilise the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young. But, since the absence of Martin Laursen through injury, they`ve looked a little suspect defensively and Roy Hodgson will be looking to exploit that. Hopefully we can continue our good home form and nudge that little closer to our first European venture. I`ll be brave and go for a narrow 1-0 win!
As the 2008/2009 season approaches it`s conclusion, our penultimate game sees us take on relegation threatened Newcastle at St James Park.