Well, what a 2012 it has been so far for us NUFC supporters!
A hat-trick of victories including a sound whipping of Manchester United and safe passage to the 4th round of the FA Cup has been followed up by the surprise signing of prolific goal scoring machine and International team-mate of Demba Ba – Papiss Demba Cisse.
This weekend we travel to London hoping to continue our good fortunes with victory at Fulham’s home ground – Craven Cottage. Be prepared though, now that Michael Jackson has come back from the dead to take up the role of head gatekeeper, I have it on great authority that no NUFC fans will be allowed access unless they can pull off either a credible moondance or crotch grab. The choice is yours….
Martin Jol has an almost full compliment of players to chose from with the exception of Zdenek Grygera (cruciate ligament) and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer (back). Moussa Dembele suffered a knock against Blackburn recently and is touch and go.
Squad from: Stockdale, Etheridge, Kelly, Riise, Hangeland, Baird, Senderos, Hughes, Briggs, Sidwell, Kasami, Murphy, Gecov, Duff, Etuhu, Frei, Dempsey, Davies, Johnson, Sa, Ruiz, Zamora, Dembele.
Sammy Ameobi (knee) has joined fellow long term absentees Steven Taylor (achilles) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) on the sidelines. New signing Papiss Demba Cisse will not be available until Senegal get knocked out of, or win, the African Cup of Nations (ACON). The same applies to his Intenational teammate Demba Ba as well as Ivorian Cheick Tiote. Yohan Cabaye (ankle) is touch and go whilst questions remain over Peter Lovenkrands’ calf injury and length of time on the treatment table.
Squad from: Krul, Elliot, Perch, Santon, Ferguson R Taylor, Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson, Guthrie, Gutierrez, Smith, Abeid, Gosling, Cabaye, Obertan, Ben Arfa, Vuckic, Best, Shola Ameobi. (Yes, we are a bit thin on the ground at the minute!)
Shamrock’s top-10 really interesting stats and facts:
1 – Since Fulham joined the top flight in 2001, they have hosted Newcastle nine times. The Toon have only won three of those games, losing the other six. Our last victory at Craven Cottage was in 2007 thanks to an injury time penalty converted by Joey Barton.
2 – Yohan Cabaye has the 2nd most successful tackles in the Premier League this season with 77. Top spot goes to QPR’S Alejandro Faurlin with 90, whilst Wigan’s Mohamed Diame takes 3rd place with 76.
3 – Fulham (232) create more shots at goal than Newcastle (198) and have a higher percentage of shots on target than us by a good 5%. The difference is though, the Magpies need less than three chances to actually put one in the back of the net compared to the Cottagers, who need almost five. Total goals yielded: Toon (30), Fulham (23).
4 – Fulham are the Premier Leagues 8th best passers with 7558. Our boys are placed a fairly surprisingly poor 13th with 6063.
5 – Right a bit of betting now. Looking at Paddy Power and weirdly Fulham are hot favourites for this one with odds of 21/20 compared to Newcastle’s good value for 11/4. Now then, traditionally games between these two sides have been tight. Only one of the last ten games has been drawn and eight of those have been won by only one goal.
With our defence being pretty water tight at the minute and Leon Best bound to be in a confident mood after his sublime goal against QPR, a bet on a 1-0 Toon victory with Best netting the decider would fetch a tidy 45-1!
6 – Danny Murphy has five assists this season, that accounts for almost 25% of Fulham’s goals. He might be getting on a bit, but if Newcastle want something out of this game then Murphy has to be kept quiet.
7- A Newcastle United win will be a great early present for Captain Fabricio Coloccini – It’s his 30th birthday the following day.
8- Newcastle’s biggest league win over Fulham came in Division ONe back in August 1960. The game at St James’ Park finished 7-2. Perhaps the most exciting encounter between the two sides was a 5-4 win for the Toon whilst visiting Fulham in the 4th round of the FA Cup in 1956.
9- Danny Murphy scored his 100th Career goal against the Toon at Craven Cottage during a 2-1 win for the hosts in 2008. Andy Johnson and Shola Ameobi grabbed the other goals. Murphy and Johnson are both available for this weekend’s game. Lets hope lightning does not strike twice eh?
10- Last up – Alan Pardew has taken charge of four games against Fulham during his managerial career. He has won three of those and lost one. Meanwhile, Martin Jol has been in charge against Newcastle seven times. He has won two and lost five.
Tactical thoughts and ponderings:
Right, I have been pretty ignorant of the last two teams we faced in terms of tactics (There were good reasons as explained though!). This week we can resume normal service as we face a club with a settled manager, players and formation. They have a few decent options at their disposal both on the wings and up front, meaning predicting exact personnel is a tad difficult however, Fulham will play a 4-4-2 with scope to change to a 4-1-4-1 and close games down later on.
As the passing stats above show, the Cottagers are good on the ball and like to keep it on the ground. Having a Dutch manager with Spurs as one of his previous clubs, Fulham were always going to try to get as close to the ‘Total Football’ style of play that personnel and practicality would allow with Jol at the helm.
Jol will have dedicated full backs, and central midfielders with a good understanding of keeping one back for protection and distribution, with one looking to get involved in linking up the middle of the park with the forwards. His wingers will have no problems drifting in-field, meaning our defence is likely to be pulled all over the park and opened up unless they can keep their shape. Good job they can then eh?!
Fulham have started each of their last three games with a settled back five consisting of Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Hangeland and Riise. Former Toon star Aaron Hughes has been out of the side, but can come in and do well too, so they have options. This is a pretty solid defensive line with experience at all levels. Hangeland in particular is a big threat to us from corners and I can see Williamson and Coloccini struggling with this as they are not quite on Steven Taylor’s level when it comes to aerial prowess. Senderos does not really like the physical side of the game. He will pass the ball out of defence and set up counter attacks, but as a defender he is not actually that impressive. It’s a shame Ba is not about to bully him out of the game.
We all know Riise has an absolute cannon of a left foot, so free kicks around our box and giving him time and space from 30 yards or closer to our goal is an absolute no-no. Danny Simpson will have to keep a sharp eye on him and direct the likes of Danny Guthrie over to assist him when Riise and Dempsey team up. We don’t want Simmo being exposed by trying to stop Riise getting into striking range, only to have Dempsey take advantage of the exposed space behind him.
Dempsey normally plays on the left wing, but he will cut inside with ease and takes a lot of shots on goal. He also has a good header on him so will be a threat for defensive set plays. On his day he is unplayable, but like Laurent Robert used to be he is not the most consistent of players. Hopefully we’ll catch him on an off day, but he has been in the press crowing about beating us – so he’s motivated for this match… Dempsey’s crossing stats are not great, so if he does sneak past Simpson to the by-line, we should not be too concerned. However, he can use that space to cut inside and shoot on goal (average of a shot on target every 55 or so minutes).
Moving on to the right and it will either be Ruiz as an advanced winger or Damien Duff. Again, both have the ability to cut inside and cause havoc with trickery and pace so it’s a good job we have the very capable Davide Santon to marshal that threat with pace and composure on the ball to play us out of trouble.
Danny Murphy will sit deep and spray the ball about. He can get forward though and when he shoots, he tends to find the target more often than not. He is very experienced and knows how to find that killer pass. He is Fulham’s heart and has five assists as well as a couple of goals this season. Keeping him quiet will invariably keep Fulham quiet. We could do with Yohan Cabaye being fit for this game, as he is intelligent enough to recognise what Murphy is trying to do and can dictate to those around him how best to counter it. I’m not sure anybody else in our available squad has what it takes to take Murphy on. Guthrie is not a bad option mind, if Gosling or Abeid cover the defensive role…
There are questions over Dembele’s fitness at the minute and he is touch and go for the Toon game. If he plays, he will drop very deep to bulk up the midfield numbers and can be quite physical. The downside for him, is that he is not prolific by any means in front of goal (1 goal in 20 odd Premier League appearances). Furthermore, he does not assist too many either, with two this season. Martin Jol likes to have a ‘little and large’ type of partnership up front, i.e one player to do the hard graft (Dembele) and one to do the finishing (Zamora).
I don’t understand all this transfer talk about Zamora leaving Fulham. He is probably their best striker, although if you believe the press then he and Jol do not see eye to eye. Personally I don’t believe this story – simply because Zamora is starting games (25 this season). If Jol did not like the lad, he would not be in his team? Zamora is intelligent. He will hang off the shoulder of the last defender and time his runs well. He can shoot from outside the area with power and accuracy and he is physically strong enough to avoid being bullied out of the game. On his day, he is unplayable, but again not the most consistent of players.
Elsewhere in midfield, Fulham could chose any of several options. They could chose to play Sidwell with Murphy for possession and attacking threat, Ruiz as an advanced attacking midfielder/striker and leave Murphy sat deep, or play Etuhu as the anchorman and let Murphy concentrate on setting up attacks with his supreme passing ability and footballing intelligence.
Overall, Fulham are very good with the ball at their feet. They create plenty of chances by going narrow and have a decent defensive unit. Luckily for us, their forwards have a history this season of not burying their chances but we should not be fooled. It only takes one chance to finish a game, so we will have to work hard for the points.
There have been a few calling for Hatem Ben Arfa to start on the right. I can’t see that happening for this one and imagine Gabriel Obertan will get a chance to build up his reputation and confidence away from the unforgiving cauldron that is St James’ Park. The away supporters generally seem a bit more clued up and supportive of the lads and are more likely to give him an opportunity to show his ahem… ability. Personally I’m not convinced by him at all as a regular starter, but have decided to wait until the end of the season before my judgement is passed.
The reason I can see Obertan starting, is because I expect Ben Arfa to start behind one main striker (Leon Best). Hangeland is fairly solid, but not the fastest and has been shown to make mistakes when put under pressure by speedy attackers. I can see us having success with Best physically attacking Senderos and Benny running at Hangeland. If we have Gutierrez and Obertan doing what they naturally tend to do – cut inside – then there should be plenty of opportunity for link up play with Ben Arfa and plenty of free kicks won around the Fulham penalty area with Hangeland being drawn into fouls. With this approach, I think the lads will find a way through.
Touch wood Cabaye is available, because I think Abeid is not ready for this kind of battle yet and Gosling is not cut out for the kind of defensive work we will require from our central midfielders. Ryan Taylor may be an option, as we will need somebody on the pitch who can take free kicks – but I’m not sure he is intelligent enough to take on the likes of Murphy. If Andy Johnson starts due to Dembele being injured, we should step our defensive line up a bit higher – because he is a fox in the box and will jump on the smallest mistake. Simpson and Santon should have the pace to recover if the line gets broken..
The man in the middle for this one is Lee Mason, or ‘Fat Head’ as I like to think of him as. He’s 40-years-old and from Bolton. His brother used to play for Bolton and Lee himself still lives in the area. He has been a Top Flight Referee for five years and has a long history of being a linesman before that. Other than that, not a lot to report. No International or European experience, no big Cup Finals. This season he has taken charge of our draw with Swansea and the Cup win over Nottingham Forest. All in all, he has been in charge of us ten times with a very average three wins and four draws to show for the Toon.
A quick word from Danny Guthrie:
“It’s a tough place to go, Fulham, and they’re a good side at home so we’re expecting a hard game. But we’re going into every game really confident, because we are where we are because we do well.
“We’ve won all three games in 2012, and three home wins as well. Everyone knows how important your home form is, so we want to take that into our first away game of the year.”
Fulham V Newcastle United
Venue: Craven Cottage, Fulham
Date:Saturday 21st January 2012
Kick Off: 15:00
Howay the lads!