Sunday, April 12, 2009
City of Manchester Stadium, Kick Off: 16.10
THE home game against relegation threatened Fulham on April 26th last marked the lowest point in 2008 for me. Worse than the 8-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, worse than Sven’s sacking, worse than blowing a two goal lead at home to Liverpool., and worse even than being dumped out of the FA Cup by Nottingham fucking Forest. The collapse from a seemingly unassailable lead to defeat was simply depressing, summing up how horrible we had been post-January (derby at Old Trafford aside of course). It was when things under Sven really started to go tits up and once again high hopes had be cruelly dashed.
Despite such a horrible backline, City raced into a two goal lead thanks to Stephen Ireland and Benjani, and looked to be heading for three points. But as City tend to do, they conspired to throw it all away, conceding a third goal in the 92nd to turn three points into none.
The long term affects have yet to wear off – I still wake up every so often in a cold sweat at the thought of Elano and Sun Jihai as our full backs with Michael Ball at centre half.
Fast forward twelve months and Fulham are no longer involved in a battle to avoid the drop. In fact, Roy Hodgson’s men are quite a tricky prospect with a team built on a solid backline. Mark Schwarzer has, in my opinion, been the goalkeeper of the season, while Brede Hangeland has brought stability to the back four. Danny Murphy continues to make things happen in midfield, while Clint Dempsey adds a touch of quality in wide positions. The American has scored a number of important goals this season, ably assisting the experienced front two of Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora.
Hodgson is relishing the game and feels his side have what it takes to upset their hosts, but knows it will be a difficult task. “We’re facing a team which has one player that costs more than all of our team put together so we have to work hard to restrict their time and space,” he says.
City boss Mark Hughes still believes his side can qualify for Europe through the league for next season, despite currently sitting in 11th spot with only seven games remaining.
“We are still very much in the mix for the chase for the Europa League places and Sunday is a very important game in that regard,” he says. “We will be looking to continue our cracking home form that has seen us win six times in succession. Preparation will not be easy because of the quick turn around.”
After a disappointing midweek humbling by Hamburg in the Uefa Cup, City need to pick themselves up and put in a good performance. A number of players have come in for criticism over recent weeks, most notably Robinho, who is still without a goal in 2009.
Match Fact –
Manchester City are defending their best home winning sequence of the Premier League season; they are looking for a seventh successive victory at Eastlands. In Fulham, they are facing a club with one of the worst away records in this league.
Team News –
Manchester City – Martin Petrov could be in line for a return to first team action having been out injured since August. Benjani has been ruled out for the rest of the season following a midweek injury, while Vincent Kompany and Wayne Bridge will also miss out. Shaun Wright-Phillips is a doubt but both Nigel De Jong and Valeri Bojinov come back into contention having been unavailable for the Uefa Cup game.
Fulham – The visitors have doubts over Zoltan Gera, who is struggling with a foot injury, and Tony Kallio, who has not yet recovered from a virus. Manager Roy Hodgson has an otherwise full squad to choose from for the game. City old boy Dickson Etuhu will face his former club.
Key Man –
City – Nigel De Jong – Danny Murphy has been playing well recently and, despite not being a world beater, he is still more than capable of running a game. De Jong has proven himself to be a tough and fearless tackler so far and more of that will be needed to shackle Fulham’s playmaker. If Murphy doesn’t get time on the ball then Fulham lose all central creativity as Etuhu is shit.
Fulham – Danny Murphy – As said above, he makes Fulham tick. Good from a dead ball and a real eye for a pass, Murphy is the heartbeat of the team. If given space and time he could have a field day at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Head to Head –
Of the six previous Premier League meetings between these clubs on Manchester City turf, each side have won twice and drawn twice. City need to score once to total 100 league goals against Fulham.
Home and away
League (inc PL): Man City 21 wins, Fulham 14, Draws 12
Prem: Man City 4 wins, Fulham 3, Draws 6
At Man City only
League (inc PL): Man City 14 wins, Fulham 5, Draws 4
Prem: Man City 2 wins, Fulham 2, Draws 2
Prediction – I’d love to predict a home win, I really would, but I just don’t see it happening. Fulham are a good side, built around a solid defence, and will cause any team problems. City’s backline is fragile to see the least, especially on set pieces, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Hangeland get on the scoresheet after heading in a Murphy set piece.
Having Martin Petrov back is great news. We have lacked an out-and-out left winger all season, if only to provide an alternative to Robinho. Petrov is quick, direct and capable of putting in great crosses. His delivery from dead balls is quality and that is something we’ve lacked in our attack.
I can see us scoring midway through the first half but then conceding an equaliser around the 70th minute.
Score – 1-1