McCarthy's Blues Out for Third Craven Cottage Victory
Saturday, 8th Apr 2017 10:10
Town visit Fulham on Saturday looking to continue their winning run at Craven Cottage under Mick McCarthy and chasing back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Since the West London side were relegated from the Premier League in 2014, the Blues have won both their away games against Fulham 2-1.
In addition, they are unbeaten at Craven Cottage since Boxing Day 1963 when the Whites recorded their famous 10-1 Boxing Day win over Jackie Milburn’s Town side.
Town got last season’s game got off to the perfect start when Freddie Sears netted after only 16 seconds.
“It was very early, very quick,” McCarthy recalled. “We’ve played well there on both occasions in the last two seasons and probably deserved to win.
“But it’ll be a completely different end to the game this time. I seem to remember Matt Smith coming on and they were putting balls into the box and I don’t think that’ll happen. They’re very much a different team now.”
McCarthy admits that the Blues will be far better than they were in the 2-0 Boxing Day defeat to Slavisa Jokanovic’s men at Portman Road.
“We were hopeless, let’s just clear that up,” he admitted. “It’s a lot easier when you’re a good team playing against a hopeless team on the day. It certainly helps.
“We never got after them and maybe that was down to my tactics, the way we played that day. I don’t know. Maybe we’d all had a good Christmas.
“They were very good and they are a very good team and if you let them play they can really hurt you. So we won’t be letting them play on Saturday.”
The Town boss was particularly impressed with midfield trio Kevin McDonald, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney during that game.
“Those three were brilliant, they were outstanding but equally Sone Aluko was as well. They were very, very good. But we didn’t put up a great deal of resistance. They are a good team but the [true] gap between us and them is not what showed that day.”
Fulham, who are seventh, 10 places and 15 points ahead of the Blues, are only two points off the play-offs. What does McCarthy believe is behind their progress this season having finished 20th last year?
“I think they’ve got some good players, first and foremost, which you pretty much have to have to play like that,” he said.
“I think the manager’s good, he got promoted with Watford with a lot of players that were brought in from Italy, but he still got promoted.
“They’ve invested in that team, they were in the Premier League three seasons ago, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”
Town's recent games at Fulham have seen big Town followings travel to West London with more than 2,400 fans - including two boatloads - set to make the trip this time around.
“Amazing, they’ve been really good performances and the crowd there behind the goal is fantastic,” McCarthy added.
“Our support has been great, it’s been terrific. They are the real diehards the ones that travel away, there’s no doubt about that. But I’ve no problem with the support at all, home or away.”
McCarthy, whose side could stick with his 3-5-2 system and essentially the same team - aside from Tommy Smith replacing the injured Steven Taylor - which beat Wigan.
Alternatively, he may look to switch to 4-4-2 with Fulham operating with a lone striker, having made a similar change against Birmingham and their single attacker system last week.
That would probably see skipper Luke Chambers and Christophe Berra at the heart of the defence and Jordan Spence at Myles Kenlock the full-backs with Bartosz Bialkowski again in goal.
In midfield, Emyr Huws and Toumani Diagouraga would be in the centre with Grant Ward on the right. The change of formation would allow Tom Lawrence, who is over his groin injury, to come in on the left and David McGoldrick and Freddie Sears to continue up front having netted once and twice respectively against the Latics.
For Fulham, Beccles-born ex-Canary Chris Martin is available again having missed Tuesday’s 4-2 defeat away against his parent club Derby County, while former England midfielder Scott Parker returns after a back injury. Full-back Denis Odoi is the Cottagers' only injury absentee.
Fulham boss Jokanovic says his side need have the self-belief to play their natural game: “We must be brave and play with confidence. If you believe our solution is to start playing long ball and not use midfield players, I don't believe it's our best solution.
“This situation is a legal part of football. We must choose and interpret this moment and what we must do.
“It's not a question of plan A, plan B or C. It's a question about what solution you can find in a different moment. If I believe plan B is not better than plan A we'll find a way for victory with plan A.”
On Boxing Day, goals from Martin and Ragnar Sigurdsson saw Fulham to a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Blues at Portman Road, their first win against Town for precisely 53 years.
Martin opened the scoring with a freekick on 36, then sub Sigurdsson headed home a corner in the 78th minute but the margin of victory should have been wider.
Last time at Craven Cottage, in December 2015, Sears and Brett Pitman were on target as Town beat Fulham 2-1 to win a fourth away league game on the trot for first time in more than 11 years.
Sears netted after just 16 seconds as the Blues made an explosive start, before Cottagers’ skipper Ross McCormack equalised with a freekick in the 14th minute, but Pitman secured the points when he turned in Sears’s cross on 57.
Historically, the Blues have been victorious on nine occasions (six in the league), Fulham on nine (eight) and with eight (six) games ending in draws.
Ex-Town loanee Ryan Tunnicliffe, who is currently on loan at Wigan, joined the Cottagers in January 2014 from Manchester United after ending his spell at Portman Road early, while former midfielder Brian Talbot is the chief scout at Craven Cottage, where he briefly played late on in his career.
Another ex-Blues loanee, Richard Stearman, remains a Fulham player but is on loan back with his former club Wolves for the season.
Town keeper-coach Malcolm Webster was a Fulham player between 1970 and 1974.
Saturday’s referee is Geoff Eltringham from County Durham, who has shown 99 yellow cards and five red in 35 games so far this season.
Eltringham’s most recent Town match was the 2-2 draw with Reading at Portman Road in February in which he booked Jonas Knudsen and two of the visitors.
He was also in charge of the 0-0 draw at Blackburn in October last year in which he booked only one home player.
Prior to that he refereed the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in April 2013 when he kept his cards in his pockets throughout.
His only other Blues match was the 3-1 defeat at Leeds in January 2012 in which he red-carded on-loan Town keeper Alex McCarthy for handling outside the area thereby denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, booked Luke Hyam and one home player.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Chambers (c), Kenlock, Emmanuel, Spence, Berra, T Smith, Digby, Huws, Diagouraga, Douglas, Bru, Williams, Ward, Rowe, McGoldrick, Lawrence, Sears, Pitman, Samuel, Moore.
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