Rob Hutchison, our man of single word player assessments took a trip to the north bank of the Thames last night to take in a not so sneak preview of our F.A. Cup opponents. Here’s what he saw – little to fear for a Premier League side he thinks but as we all know too well, Sunderland is no ordinary Premier League side.
When my mate said he had a spare season ticket at Craven Cottage for their league game against Nottingham Forest last night, it struck me as the perfect opportunity to check out the opposition for our forthcoming Cup game on Saturday. So here in a couple of hundred words is a quick resume of what we can expect . . . .
Fulham lined up 4-4-2, with a Mag loving centre back by the name of Hutchinson holding the back line together, Scotty Parker and Ryan Tunnecliffe taking charge of the midfield and Rodallega and £10m danger man Ross McCormack as a front two. Fulham were up to the pace of the game far quicker than Forest, winning all the second balls and carving out dangerous opportunities at will while Forest sat back, seemingly still on the team coach. By the 31st minute they were 3-0 down, courtesy of a stunning Ross MacCormack hat-trick – the first a clean left footed strike from 25 yards. The second was a similar but right footed strike into the left hand corner from 20 yards and his third another right footed effort from a similar distance albeit with a big deflection. The game was over – home and hosed. Bring on Sunderland.
But it’s never that easy, is it? Although Forest were abject and I mean abject (think Sunderland but double it) schoolboy errors at the back by the home side helped to carve out a couple of opportunities for Forest and they pulled one back on the stroke of half time with a smart Henri Lansbury free kick. Pearce (black suit, brown shoes never a good combination) gambled and moved to 3-5-2 for the second half. The extra man in midfield caught Fulham cold, and they appeared completely unable to keep possession and re-create the silky smooth passing game wich had epitomised the first 45 minutes. Yet more defensive frailties were exploited and Forest deservedly scored a second from another Lansbury effort, again from outside the box. Fulham brought on Bryan Ruiz for Parker, and Cauley Woodrow for the ineffective Rodallega but the red tide kept swarming forward and the home team continued to look very shaky under pressure at the back. Ultimately it wasn’t enough for Forest and Fulham held on to secure a generally deserved win on the night.
So what do we have to deal with on Saturday? Well in a nutshell stop McCormack and you stop Fulham. He can go left or right, shoot at will with either foot from distance and while he doesn’t possess pace, he occasionally drops deep into the hole and can be very difficult to pick up. A midfield enforcer like Cattermole would you’d hope deal with any threats from Parker and Tunnecliffe. We need to come out of the traps and deny Fulham any time on the ball. Under pressure there’s and air of panic in their defence on occasions. They pass the ball neatly and patiently and are happy to build from the back, but there’s also limited pace in their side, so you’d hope Brown and O’Shea (or any of our centre back pairings) could deal with everything in front of them, without the fear of runners exploiting any gaps. No real threat to speak of from the wingers or wing backs, should also give Johnno & Giaccherini (if playing) the chances to weave some magic. It’s made for Van Arnholt and Defoe for me. Play the ball to them in the right areas and hopefully we’ll be OK, but of course it’s never easy with Sunderland.
So I guess to sum up – if Fulham play like they did in the first 45 minutes last night they should be play off certainties. If Forest do the same, Stuart Pearce will be next in line down the job centre.
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