Fulham vs Cardiff City
Venue: Craven Cottage
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Cardiff travel to already-relegated Fulham this weekend knowing that, if they were to slip up, their already-relegated rivals could put the final nail in their Championship themed coffin.
Cardiff’s closest competitors for that final relegation spot, Brighton, host Newcastle later in the day, and the Bluebirds know that they could end the day above the Seagulls if everything goes their way.
Fulham, suddenly buoyed by the relieved pressure that relegation has brought, are unlikely to be in a generous mood. It is two wins and two clean sheets in a row for the side under Scott Parker’s stewardship, and suddenly after miserably overseeing a meek relegation confirmation, the interim manager is surprisingly making a decent case for getting the position full-time.
There is almost a sense of what-if about Fulham’s sudden burst into form, especially in the performances of some of those players that have either been displaying an unwelcome attitude or those that were frozen out by previous managers.
In particular, fan-favourite Tom Cairney has endured a frustrating season due to lack of game-time or arguably lack of trust placed in him by two managers, but Parker’s faith has already yielded positive results. It brings to mind that same question that has plagued Fulham for a few months now; if they had kept that promotion winning team exactly as they were, would they have survived?
It is an unanswerable question, and the more pressing question on the lips of Cardiff fans is how seriously Parker will decide to take this game. Rumours have circled for weeks now that he is determined to give a chance to academy prospects in place of some of the clubs biggest earners; will this be the game in which those changes are made? Brighton will certainly be hoping it is not.
Cardiff know that they have the easier run-in as opposed to Brighton, they know that at the end of Saturday the fight to stay up could be entirely in their hands; yet nerves must be jangling after Fulham’s sudden and unexpected upturn in form and attitude. What looked like almost an inevitable win at Craven Cottage for Cardiff has been debunked by the last two performances of Scott Parker’s side, and it now would not be a surprise if Fulham mustered another win, their third in a row.
Cardiff have spirit and were unlucky at times in their defeat to Liverpool in their last game (how Sean Morrison missed that open goal I will never, ever know) but have still consistently struggled to find the goals required to pick up the vital points.
Even in their precious win over Brighton a few weeks ago, the two goalscorers in that victory were a midfielder with a wonder-goal and a defender with a header from a set-piece. Those are not situations that you can rely on every week and if they do go down, Cardiff are likely to rue their lack of a proper striker as the main symptom behind their downfall.
These next two games, first against Fulham and then against Crystal Palace, are going to define Cardiff’s season. Nobody can deny they’ve given it a fantastic go, really defied many people’s expectations as a typical ‘Warnock Team’, but it may all still end in tears. Two weeks ago Cardiff would have been licking their lips at the prospect of fighting Fulham – now, with everything on the line, who knows? They might just take a draw.
The signs are positive that Alfie Mawson, the much-forgotten summer signing from Swansea, will finally make his comeback back from injury and be involved in Fulham’s first-team plans once again.
After two promising seasons with Swansea he was seen as an excellent signing by Fulham, in a summer full of extremely bad signings for the club; injury has curtailed his season and prospects of impressing the fans, but it would still be a boost for the team if he was to add another option. Tom Cairney, absent recently thanks to the birth of his child, is back in contention.
Sol Bamba and Callum Paterson are still out with injuries, and will likely be for the rest of the season; a huge blow to Warnock’s side. It will be interesting to see if Oumar Niasse will get his first goal for the club on Saturday; the striker, on loan from Everton, has added pace and intelligence to Cardiff’s attack but is yet to hit the back of the net.
Predicted Starting XIs
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Rico; Bryan, Ream, Le Marchand, Fosu-Mensah; Chambers, Anguissa; Sessegnon, Cairney, Babel; Mitrovic.
Cardiff (4-2-3-1): Etheridge; Bennett, Morrisson, Manga, Peltier; Ralls, Gunnarsson; Hoilett, Camarasa, Mendez-Laing; Niasse.
Score Prediction: Fulham 1 – Cardiff City 1
So much is at stake for exactly one team in this match, and consequently the other team will probably be more confident about winning it; however, it is easy to see the tension and doggedness of the game leading to both sides sharing a point each.
Whether that will be enough for Cardiff is unknowable at this point; regardless of what they do in their last three games, they are still totally reliant on Brighton dropping points along the way as well. All Cardiff can do is hope, pray and fight – all that Fulham can do is enjoy the opportunity to bring somebody down to their already-relegated level.