The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs Fulham
Big bad Stoke bash up Championship-bound Fulham.
The general rule is that you don’t mess with Stoke on their own patch. Up until last weekend the Potters had been beaten just twice at the Britannia Stadium all season, while sending Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal all leaving with tails between legs.
- Stoke 0-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Chelsea 3-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Fulham 2-2 Hull (Prem)
- Spurs 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Fulham 1-3 Everton (Prem)
That was until Tottenham messed it all up. Tim Sherwood might not have showered himself in glory since taking the reins at White Hart Lane, but claiming a Stoke scalp at the Britannia is no mean feat. It didn’t help the hosts that Ryan Shawcross was sent off – perhaps harshly so – especially when already a goal down to Danny Rose’s first-half header. And that’s how it ended.
Now the Staffordshire side, who’ve taken 75% of their points at home this season, have a chance to get back on the horse. They’re only fighting for a top-half finish with Crystal Palace a point behind and Newcastle two ahead in ninth, but should they topple the Toon it’ll be their best-ever finish since joining the Premier League in 2008.
The chances are that they’ll have a good crack at doing it against Fulham this weekend. Felix Magath’s men looked good value for safety after beating Aston Villa and Norwich in back-to-back games, but defeat at Spurs and then throwing away a two-goal lead against Hull last weekend means relegation is the most likely scenario again.
The Cottagers might only be a point from salvation behind Sunderland, but the rejuvenated Black Cats have a game in hand and brag a vastly superior goal difference thanks to Fulham’s appalling season at the back. The west Londoners have shipped at least four goals six times this season and 79 in total, only 10 fewer than Derby’s hilarious campaign of 2007/08.
There’s still hope yet, though. Fulham’s all-or-nothing approach on the road this season has produced four wins and just two draws (forget the 12 defeats bit). A draw isn’t enough here; defeat unthinkable. Should they pull off a win against a Stoke side missing both first-choice centre-backs, their final-day visit of Palace offers a whopping opportunity to make this difficult task a reality.
And another thing: if only away points counted this season (why would they? Yeah, we know), Fulham would be outside the relegation zone on 14, while Stoke would be in it with just 11. Ain’t that a thing.
Shawcross serves his one-match ban for those two yellow cards, but other than that Mark Hughes is without only Robert Huth (knee) and Matty Etherington (back).
Fulham’s injury troubles aren’t too bad either; Damien Duff (hamstring) is spending the last days of his Fulham career sidelined but Steve Sidwell could return after limping off against Hull. January signing Kostas Mitroglou (anyone?) is… er, somewhere.
Player to watch: Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham)
The Iranian came off the bench at half-time to fire a brilliant second for Fulham against Hull last weekend, and that could be enough to earn him a start here. Magath’s variation of 3-5-2 has meant a place in the side is now harder to come by – but Fulham need goals now, and badly.
His goal record for the Cottagers might not be exceptional – now 5 in 20 – but in 13 starts that’s hardly awful either. It makes him Fulham’s second-top goalscorer behind Sidwell this season, and, taking his one-in-three average with Iran into consideration (actually it’s better: 4 in 11) it would be silly not to use the 27-year-old.
Against Aston Villa earlier in the season, Dejagah was the west Londoners’ best player. Nobody managed more attacking-third passes than he did (30/32), while his overall passing accuracy of 89% was impressive from the right wing. He created 3 chances from open play, meanwhile, 1 of which found Sidwell for Fulham’s opener.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Fulham 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Oct 13)
- Fulham 1-0 Stoke (Prem, Feb 13)
- Stoke 1-0 Fulham (Prem, Nov 12)
- Fulham 2-1 Stoke (Prem, Feb 12)
- Stoke 2-0 Fulham (Prem, Oct 11)
Hughes was disgruntled with the manner of his side’s defeat to Spurs, in which they failed to secure a club record fifth straight home win. The Welshman’s tutting was mainly reserved for referee Andre Marriner after Shawcross’s early bath. "We put in a great performance and got no reward unfortunately," he said. "I've been involved in games with Marriner for many seasons and he's a top referee, but I thought his performance was really poor. I just think maybe his confidence is a little bit low and it affected his performance." Nothing like a reassuring arm around the shoulder, Sparky.
Magath believes his team must win both of their last two games to stay up – and insists they can. "We lost two points [against Hull] and that was not what we wanted, but as long as there is a chance we have to take it," chimed the German. "Now everyone is clear that we have to win the next game. I'm sure we can get two wins."
Facts and figures
- Stoke have picked up just 1 point from the last 7 matches Ryan Shawcross has missed.
- 7 of the last 8 meetings between these teams have had fewer than 3 goals.
- 16 of Fulham’s last 23 away matches have had more goals in the second half than first.
- 10 of Stoke’s 19 home games vs bottom-half teams since start of last season have been goalless at HT.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A great big ‘sod it’ coming up from FFT… 2-1 Fulham*.
*(not really, sorry. Stoke to win 2-0.)