Eight weeks ago to the day, we were battered 3-0 at Brighton and looked every bit a relegation side. The result left us just two clear of Fulham heading into a tough set of fixtures.
I won’t have been the only one who thought we were as good as gone at that point and needed to sack Steve Bruce to have any hope of staying up.
While our current head coach is anything but the answer moving forward, I’m happy to say he’s proved me wrong in terms of his ability to keep us in the Premier League this season – not that this should ever have been on the cards with the squad at his disposal.
OK, Fulham have tailed off far more than most of us anticipated – they’ve picked up just TWO points since we lost to Brighton back in March – but the fact we’ve gained 14 in that time, winning four and taking big points off Spurs and Liverpool, is a brilliant effort regardless of what those below have done.
Does that mean we should be heading to Craven Cottage celebrating Premier League survival? No. Does that mean Bruce is now the answer? Again, no. But I am happy to be eating a small slice of humble pie heading into a final day game that I honestly expected to have so much more riding on it.
Instead, we arrive in London knowing a win could see us better last season’s points tally and end the season as high as 12th if all results go our way. That’s not exactly progress based on the squad at Bruce’s disposal, but it’s a damn sight better than I was expecting back in March.
It’ll be our first away game where fans are back and a chance to play with the shackles off and perhaps hand rare minutes to a few rarely-seen youngsters. Let’s hope we can take inspiration from the last time we went to Craven Cottage (a 4-0 win under Rafa) and end the season in style.
- Allan Saint-Maximin – Nothing serious after limping of on Wednesday night, but Bruce said he’ll only play in this one if he came through training on Friday.
- Martin Dubrakva – Was holding his hamstring in midweek and has since been called up to the Slovakia squad. Bruce was hopeful he’d be fine for Fulham, but is it really worth risking him?
- Fabian Schar – Back from suspension after a three-match ban.
- Elliot Anderson – Missed out in the midweek. Let’s hope his hip is OK so he can make is PL debut from the bench at Fulham!
- Callum Wilson – Ruled out a hamstring injury.
- Isaac Hayden – Back in light training after a serious knee injury but unlikely to be risked.
- Ryan Fraser – See above. Has been back on the grass, however it seems he won’t be involved.
- Karl Darlow – Still recovering from a minor knee operation and will be forced to sit this one out.
- Jamaal Lascelles – Not needed now we’re safe, so no need to rush him back from a stress fracture in his foot.
(5-3-2): Gillespie – Murphy, Schar, Fernandez, Dummett, Ritchie – Willock, Shelvey (c), Almiron – Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.
Dubravka may well make it, but I see no point in risking a player who clearly tweaked his hamstring just a few days ago. One goal kick struck slightly wrong and he’s out of the Euros, so let’s give former Academy graduate Mark Gillespie his Premier League debut?
Darlow is injured and Woodman is excelling on loan at Swansea, so this may be one of very few occasions Bruce feels able to hand him a start.
In defence, Krafth has actually done little wrong since coming in, helping us to a clean sheet in midweek and scoring against City, however he’s not a centre-back and one of our best ones is available again in Fabian Schar. He’d been out for a while before his ban and will want minutes before the Euros – not to mention the fact he’s well suited to a five-man defence and still playing for his future at NUFC.
Elsewhere, it sounds like ASM will be ok to play – a player we can’t really do without when Wilson is missing – however it remains to be seen if Elliot Anderson will feature. It would be nice to see our best U23 get his Premier League debut – especially when Bruce denied him a Championship loan move to give him exactly that!
If he’s not involved, hopefully we see a glimpse of forgotten man Matty Longstaff for the first time since January, with him being another local lad in need of game time.
I fancy this to be a fairly open game with a few goals in it.
I’ve been surprised just how flat and dejected Scott Parker’s side have looked, not only since they were officially relegated but in the weeks leading up to it when they still had a chance, however they will be keen to end a bad season on a high in front of their fans and attempt to build a bit of momentum ahead of another big season in the Championship.
That said, a lot of their best players are loanees who won’t be around for 2021/22 and those who will are a level below the likes of Lookman, Andersen and Lemina, so I don’t see us losing – and SportsBettingDime.com appear to agree based on the latest odds!
Saint-Maximin and Shelvey to score in a 2-2 draw that’ll see us end the season in 14th – on the basis that Burnley will win at Sheffield United (and remain below us on goal difference), Brighton pick up a point at Arsenal and Southampton lose at West Ham.
Prediction: Fulham 2-2 Newcastle