Fulham V West Brom – Saturday, 15 September 2012 (Kick-Off: 15:00)
Betting Selection: Both Teams to Score @ 8/11 (Bet365)
On the opening day of the season, Fulham looked awesome as they consummately swept aside the challenge from Norwich at Craven Cottage. Martin Jol’s men were given rave reviews in the national newspapers the following morning, all of which were justified following an emphatic 5-0 win. Since then, however, the Cottagers have been anything but impressive – which is the very word I would use to describe the start opponents West Brom have made to the new term. So it’s easy to find a case for the visitors here, who will appeal to some at 3/1.
On the back of their thumping opening day victory over the Canaries came a couple of away defeats for Fulham, at Manchester United and West Ham. Hardly surprising considering the West London club have never been particular positive on the road. The 3-2 reverse at Old Trafford was slightly harsh on them I felt, but they got precisely what they deserved for an abject display against West Ham in their final league game before the international break, with a comprehensive 3-0 loss occurring less than 24 hours after the club completed the sales of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey to London rivals Tottenham. A coincidence? Certainly not.
I had predicted that Fulham would struggle to maintain the high standards they had previously set in the first two weeks of the season without arguably their two greatest assets. Both Dempsey and Dembele have been fantastic servants in recent seasons; Dempsey was Fulham’s leading marksmen last season, while Dembele possessed a real touch of class in the middle of the park. The team will recover, of that I am confident, but there are concerns that the Cottagers may fall back into their mould of being heavily reliant on results at home now – the 3-0 loss to West Ham, who were devoid of attacking threat in their first two matches, possibly an ominous indication of what might be to come away from home this season.
Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction to losing two influential figures, the poor performance at West Ham? I’m inclined to think it was, as there is a nice balance to this Fulham team. For me, the loss of Dempsey isn’t too detrimental. I mean, it isn’t as though the club are short of forwards. Bryan Ruiz, Hugo Rodellega, Mladen Petric and Dimitar Berbatov will all contribute this season. The loss of Dembele, however, will more than likely be felt for a long time.
There isn’t a ready-made replacement for the Belgian midfielder currently on the Fulham books, a player who was supremely confident on the ball; not only could he retain possession so well, his distribution was outstanding. Therefore without him, there is every chance Fulham will struggle to retain possession this season. And when you don’t have the ball, you’re vulnerable to attacks yourselves. Their defence is decent on paper though, without jumping out the page at you, so it could be a mixed campaign once again on the clean sheet front for Mark Schwarzer.
Inform West Brom will be the first team to put my theory to the test, and they are a team – as we’ve seen in their first three games under their new chief tactician – that can make full use of the ball. Manager Steve Clarke is already being lauded for the early work he has done at The Hawthorns, where both his team’s two victories have been earned so far – beating Merseyside duo Everton (2-0) and Liverpool (3-0) in impressive fashion – yet it was possibly the point registered at White Hart Lane which impressed me the most.
I thought the Baggies were exceptional against Tottenham. The home side bossed possession yet it was West Brom who created the better opportunities, ruthlessly counter-attacking their hosts only to be confronted by an inspired Brad Friedel in goal. The draw, which was earned via a stoppage-time equaliser from James Morrison, was the very least they deserved. We have every right to expect more of the same at another London ground, Craven Cottage, where they had lost on all five visits before a 1-1 draw there last season. I’m anticipating a few more goals this time around, although the final outcome may well be the same.
Prediction: Fulham 2-2 West Brom (16/1 with WilliamHill)
Match Odds: Fulham 21/20; Draw 5/2; West Brom 3/1 (Odds with BetVictor)