No team has ever been relegated from the Premier League after having a total of 22 points or more at Christmas. Stoke City currently sit thirteenth in the table, with nineteen points and with two games coming up before Christmas, Fulham at home tomorrow, before a trip to struggling Blackburn next week it seems very possible that the Potters will achieve this total. Given the facts that our away form is not great, so we are unlikely to claim all three points at Blackburn, and Fulham are also poor away from home, we should target a sixth home league win of the season tomorrow to take us to the 22 point mark.
Fulham have enjoyed a similar start to the season to Stoke. Their home form has been excellent while their away form, minus the occasional stoic point has been far from good. Their highlights of the season have, like Stoke come in a home win over Arsenal and a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Liverpool. Roy Hodgson has built a side that are very hard to break down, the Cottagers recently adding a creditable goalless away draw at high-flying Aston Villa to their list of good results this season, which includes wins over Bolton, Newcastle, Wigan and Tottenham. The West Londoners have been helped to these results by having one of the meanest defences in the division, conceding just twelve goals from fifteen Premier League matches, in stark contrast to Stoke’s 27.
Veteran ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer provides the last line of a solid defence
They have though had problems at the other end of the pitch, with goals being hard to come by. New signing Andy Johnson has recently hit some decent form, scoring four times so far this term, but he looks like the only goal threat in a team that includes Bobby Zamora and Jimmy Bullard, both of whom have struggled for goals of late. Going on that, a draw may seem the likely outcome, and a 0-0 scoreline is likely to be a popular prediction. That may be the case, but if one side does nick the game, which I see as being a close one, it will most likely be by a 1-0 scoreline.
Stoke will be again without Dave Kitson and defender Ryan Shawcross with knee and back injuries receptively, while captain Andy Griffin is a doubt with an ankle injury and long throw specialist Rory Delapmay be ruled out with a shoulder injury that has been hampering his performances in recent weeks. If Delap does not play, expect Ibrahima Sonko to retain his place in central defence alongside squeaky-voiced hero Abdoulaye Faye as he proved against Newcastle that he can chuck it a fair distance too. We await a decision on the fitness of midfielder Salif Diao after he limped off at Newcastle with a calf problem. In contrast to Stoke’s long injured list, Hodgson is likely to name an unchanged side from the team that drew 1-1 with Manchester City six days ago as long term absentees Diomansy Kamara and Andranik Teymourian are the only players likely to miss the match through injury.
Mark Schwarzer (36), Pascal Zuberbuhler (37)
Brede Hangeland (27), John Pantsil (27), Paul Konchesky (27), Aaron Hughes (29), Fredrik Stoor (24), Toni Kallio (30), Chris Baird (26), Adrian Leijer (22)
Zoltan Gera (29), Jimmy Bullard (30), Danny Murphy (31), Clint Dempsey (25), Simon Davies (29), Andranik Teymourian (25), Seol Ki-Hyeon (29), Leon Andreasen (25), Wayne Brown (20), Dickson Etuhu (26), Julian Gray (29)
Andy Johnson (27), Bobby Zamora (27), Erik Nevland (31), Diomansy Kamara (28)
Star Man: Jimmy Bullard
The popular midfielder, who is said to be both better than Steve Gerrard and thinner than Frank Lampard, joined Fulham from Wigan Athletic for £2 million in the summer of 2006. After some good initial performances for the club, which prompted then manager Chris Coleman to describe the former Gravesend trainee as ”the best £2 million ever spent”, Bullard suffered a horrific knee injury which kept him out of action until January 2008. He showed flashes of the excellent form he displayed at Wigan in their debut Premier League year in the latter part of last season but has yet to really hit fifth gear this time round. He is still a very dangerous creative midfielder, lethal with a dead ball, though, and he reminded us of his talents with a very well taken goal against Manchester City last weekend.
Mamady Sidbe v Brede Hangeland
This promises to be a clash not for the squeamish as two of the Premier Leagues giants face up. If the Norweigan can stop the Malian winning his usual flick-ons, he will greatly inhibit Stoke’s style of play and neutralise a lot of our attacking threat.
Amdy Faye v Jimmy Bullard
With Salif Diao likely to miss the game injured, much of the dirty work in the Stoke midfield will be the responsibility of Faye, no small part of it being keeping Bullard from bossing the game the way he can and allowing the Fulham playmaker little time on the ball, a tactic that worked so well in the second half against Newcastle.
Glenn Whelan v Danny Murphy
In the absence of Diao, Whelan will most likely be given a rare start and will figure in a battle that is the reverse of the Faye/Bullard clash, with Murphy looking to stop Whelan, arguably Stoke’s most creative player, having too much influence on the game.
Comparative Club Stats:
League Position: 13th 9th
Games Played: 20 17
Goals Scored: 24 16
Goals Conceded: 32 15
Home Record: (W,D,L) 6,2,3 6,2,1
Away Record: (W,D,L) 1,3,5 0,3,5
Clean Sheets: 5 5
Blanks Drawn: 6 7
Disciplinary: (Y,R) 32,1 16,1
Form: D,L,D,W,L,D D,D,D,W,W,L
Top Scorers: Fuller (6), Sidibe (4) Johnson (4), Murphy (3)
A view of Fulham’s Craven Cottage home