Premier League | Cardiff City Stadium | Sat 8 Mar | 3pm
The worst two defences in the division go head-to-head in south Wales on Saturday, and while it’s likely Cardiff and Fulham will both be departing the Premier League come the end of the season, winning this particular basement battle could prove the catalyst for a dramatic escape.
- Spurs 1-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-4 Hull (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Cardiff 0-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Swansea 3-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 2-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 0-1e Sheffield Utd (FAC)
Fulham made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting how to defend against league leaders Chelsea last time out having performed admirably for 45 minutes, which may explain why they've conceded a whopping 62 goals this term.
"If we play well for 90 minutes next week we will win," reassured the club’s third manager of the campaign, Felix Magath. Good news, then, although the chances of that happening are slim. There has already been talk of the German’s demanding regime taking its toll on the players, which could partly be why Fulham’s performance levels have fallen away in Magath’s two games against West Brom and Chelsea.
He has at least got Jose Mourinho’s backing, though – the Portuguese saying: "Magath is the man, a man with big experience, a man that has no fear of these big situations because he always has big situations."
A man with less “big experience” is counterpart Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who wants five wins from the Bluebirds’ final 10 games to secure survival; an optimistic ask considering Cardiff have only won five of their previous 28 league outings in 2013/14.
Not even a team-talk from owner Vincent Tan could prevent them slumping at Spurs last Sunday, although the Norwegian was at least encouraged by his side’s display in defeat at White Hart Lane.
Goals are the order of the day if Cardiff are to avoid an immediate return to the second tier – a fact not lost on defender Ben Turner who says his side “need clean sheets and also need goals”. Simple, really.
“We need something to light us up," he said. "If that is a one-yard tap-in from a knock-down, then so be it. Everyone has to try and make it happen, whether that be defenders going up for free-kicks - someone has to get on the end of something and spark us off.”
Mark Hudson is hamstrung, but Cardiff will hope Andrew Taylor and Craig Noone are available after knocks.
For Fulham, the knee-knacked Damien Duff's season is over, while the Cottagers will hope to have captain Brede Hangeland back after the defender banged heads with team-mate Kieran Richardson against Chelsea. Record signing Kostas Mitroglou played for Greece in midweek but doubts over his fitness remain.
Key battle: Gary Medel vs Scott Parker
Cardiff’s summer signing from Sevilla has been at the heart of their better displays this season, and the Chilean’s recent absence through injury proved costly in the home defeat to Hull. Medel returned at Spurs last weekend and was his usual metronomic self in midfield, completing 59 of his 69 passes – bettered only by Spurs’ Kyle Naughton – as well as making a game-high 11 ball recoveries and 4 interceptions.
Attempting to keep the contest flowing in Fulham’s favour alongside Steve Sidwell will be Parker, who isn’t concerned about winning plaudits in Wales, just points. “When you get to this point in the season and you have two teams down there fighting for their lives, I don't think you're going to get a classic game. You're going to get one full of energy and desire, I don't know how much quality. The most important thing is winning.”
Parker was fired up against former club Chelsea last weekend, ending the first half with the most attacking-third passes and ball recoveries for his current employers. The 33-year-old was equally efficient in Magath’s first match at West Brom, making a game-high 11 ball recoveries on top of a 100% tackle success rate (7/7).
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 1-2 Cardiff (Prem, Sep 13)
- Cardiff 1-2 Fulham (LC, Aug 98)
- Fulham 2-1 Cardiff (LC, Aug 98)
- Fulham 1-4 Cardiff (Div 3, Jan 97)
- Cardiff 1-2 Fulham (Div 3, Nov 96)
Solskjaer never lost to Fulham as a player, winning five and drawing one of his six appearances for Manchester United, scoring twice and assisting two more goals. He is confident Cardiff have the character to beat the drop, saying: "I believe in these lads. I see them every day in training and I see them out there on the pitch as well. We’ve just got to keep believing, that’s all you can do when you’re at this end of the table, and with 10 games to go, it’ll be an exam for us in these last two months. There’s enough character to stay in the race.”
Magath revealed Fulham’s players “will be having defensive training sessions this week” after their collapse against Chelsea, but he is confident the Cottagers are improving step by step. “We are better than we were last week, we are on the right way,” he said. “We have to work more at defending. Do you remember the first goal? Andre Schurrle - he takes the ball at the throw-in, near the Chelsea goal, and he goes 90 metres without any contact with our team. He goes, he goes, he runs, he runs – and then he scores, and nobody was there.”
Facts and figures
- Cardiff have failed to score at home 7 times this season – the joint worst in the league.
- Fulham have won only 1 of their last 11 trips to bottom-six teams with 5 matches finishing level.
- 5 of Fulham’s last 7 away matches against bottom-six teams have had fewer than 3 goals.
- All 4 of Cardiff’s home games this season against current bottom-eight sides have had more goals in the second half than the first.
Best Bet: Zero Goals Scored In First Half @ 7/4`
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Five of the last six meetings have ended 2-1, and who are FFT to go against history? Fulham to avenge Jordon Mutch’s Craven Cottage heartbreaker in September with a stoppage-time stinger of their own. 1-2.