Premier League | Craven Cottage | Sat 26 Apr | 3pm
Fulham have three games to save their lives. Well, not literally – they won't be summarily shot upon relegation – but extending their 13-year top-flight spell depends on this, next week's trip to Stoke and the last-day duel with Palace.
- Spurs 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
- Man City 5-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Hull 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Hull 5-3 Sheffield Utd (FAC)
- Hull 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- West Ham 2-1 Hull (Prem)
If Fulham don't fancy a derby with Brentford next season (not to mention Millwall, Charlton and possibly Orient and QPR) they'll need points, fast. Like QPR avoiding the drop in 2011/12 by winning their last five Loftus Road fixtures, Fulham may be saved by their home games. The Cottagers have the division's second-lowest home points haul, having lost 11 and shipped 34, but Felix Magath has been turning around that tanker.
His team have beaten both Norwich and Newcastle 1-0, with understandable 3-1 losses to Everton and Chelsea. The German, who first mentioned in March that Fulham's form at the Cottage could make or break their season, measured most of his words carefully this week when he said: "We have to win our home games and if we make six points it could be enough. We will stay up. Maybe we have the chance of a point at Stoke."
Two home wins would take Fulham to 36 points, which is where Hull sit. Like Fulham, the Tigers have scored 20 at home but have only conceded 19 to the Cottagers' 34, meaning they have gathered 25 points to Fulham's 16; those nine points would hoist Fulham to 12th. But if your auntie was your uncle, she'd have knackers and a 'tache.
Hull have been solid against teams in the bottom half, gaining 28 points in the 16 games they've played against teams 11th and lower. Although Wembley hovers on the horizon (Are you sure? – Geography & Physics Eds), Steve Bruce won't let his side's minds wander.
"I'm not really interested in Wembley just yet," he said after defeat at Arsenal. "We've got to stay in this league and let Wembley look after itself in four weeks." Bruce is determined to ensure safety as soon as possible, preferably against Fulham and Villa, considering their the final two games are at Old Trafford and at home to Everton.
The first goal is never irrelevant but you get the feeling it will matter more than usual here. Of Hull's 16 league games since that Boxing Day ding-dong with Manchester United, only three have featured goals from both sides, and the Tigers haven't won any of them. Only Palace have a worse record than Hull after conceding first: the Tigers have lost 17 of the 18 games in which they've conceded the initiative. (Fulham have won 3 of 24!)
Hull have failed to score on 15 occasions: only Cardiff and Palace have drawn more blanks. Even since harnessing Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long, they've misfired on five of 12 occasions, so Fulham's defence – in which Magath has notably preferred experience, as opposed to the youthful enthusiasm he has attempted to tap further forward – has a chance of taming the Tigers. It's also worth noting Hull have conceded three in each of their last two games, and that there hasn't been a 0-0 at the Cottage since August 2011.
Both teams have won three and lost five of the last eight games, but Fulham's goal difference in that time is 10 to Hull's 3. Magath might not mind as long as he gets enough wins to survive.
Hull might have the full complement of strikers to throw at Fulham. Long (calf) and Sone Aluko (hammy) face Friday fitness tests but can expect to pack their overnight bags, while Yannick Sagbo can also browse a London tourist brochure after the FA decided a £15,000 fine sufficed as punishment for that whole Anelka-quenelle "Legend" tweet thing. Add in Jelavic and Matty Fryatt, and Bruce could opt to play an old-fashioned 2-3-5 formation. But won't.
Should they do so, Hull might have a fair few defensive options back. Magath gave positive, if weirdly worded, reports on left-back Kieran Richardson ("muscle problems"), right-back Sascha Riether ("throat, headache"), and midfielders Mahamadou Diarra ("knee problem") and Scott Parker ("kick on the muscle").
Player to watch: Hugo Rodallega (Fulham)
Cometh the hour, cometh the man? Not always – someone has to be relegated, usually with a full complement of coming men – but if Fulham are to find a hero it could be the Colombian. After starting 2 of Fulham's first 33 league games (including the 6-0 loss at Hull), and presumably watching bemused as Magath initially turned to kids like Cauley Woodrow and Patrick Roberts, Rodallega got the nod against Norwich and scored a crucial winner, one of a match-leading 5 shots.
Retained at Tottenham, he was sent clean through but his shot was closer to the linesman than Hugo Lloris – but he was dominant in the air, winning 8 of his 11 aerial duels, having won only 3 of 11 against Norwich.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 6-0 Fulham (Prem, Dec 13)
- Hull 2-0 Fulham (Prem, Mar 10)
- Fulham 2-0 Hull (Prem, Oct 09)
- Fulham 0-1 Hull (Prem, Mar 09)
- Hull 2-1 Fulham (Prem, Aug 08)
Steve Bruce, born in 1960, is 53. Felix Magath, born in 1953, is 60. Ain't maths wonderful?
Facts and figures
- 8 of Hull’s last 10 away matches have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Fulham have scored in 18 of their last 19 home matches.
- 9 of Fulham’s last 12 home games have had more goals in the second half than the first.
- Hull have lost 1-0 or 2-0 in half their 16 away matches this season.
Hull are the better team but Fulham have the bigger need, and it's late April. Another 1-0 to the Cottagers.