A PAIR OF CHRISTMAS CRACKERS
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Another chance blown, another opportunity snatched from us. Usually at Christmas a little fat man gives gifts, but on Monday night Phil Dowd did the complete opposite for us. The portly fella in green (who began to resemble something we all hate, a sprout) frustrated the life out of us against Everton and in the end we were lucky to escape with a point. The chance to avenge that draw however comes soon enough, with a Boxing Day game against West Brom at the Bridge before a trip down the road to Fulham’s Craven Cottage just two days after. Two games in three days over Christmas? So that’s why JT got himself red-carded! Up there for thinking, eh skipper.
West Brom have had a disastrous season so far, and sit rock bottom of the table. They may have drawn parallels with Derby of last year had they not already reached and overtaken the Rams pathetic total of 11 points in the entire season, as Tony Mowbray’s side currently have 15, just three behind 19th placed Blackburn Rovers. Mowbray has also ensured that the Baggies won’t give up without a fight, or a bit of style, as he continues to play in the way which won his side promotion from the Championship last season.
At the time of writing, West Brom have only three injury doubts to contend with ahead of their trip to Chelsea. Playmaker Jonathan Greening, striker Ishmael Miller and Neil Clement, brother of Blues’ reserve team boss Paul, are all likely to be ruled out.
Mowbray’s Baggies have only managed one away win so far this season, a 1-0 at Middlesbrough back in September. The last time West Brom played Chelsea was as far back as, er, mid-November. We travelled to the Hawthorns and secured all three points by the end of the first-half, with a long-range José Bosingwa opener added to by a Nicolas Anelka brace inside 45 minutes. We haven’t lost to West Brom in the last sixteen games, and the last defeat at the Bridge came back in the 1983/84 season when the Midlands side won 1-0 in a League Cup encounter.
A word of warning for this season’s game though, Rob Styles is referee. No further comment necessary.
The trip to Fulham on the 28th will hopefully be on the back of a rare home win, although it seems that nowadays that is surprisingly easier said than done. It is away where we have garnered the majority of our league points, and up until Monday’s draw at Everton, we had a perfect record on our travels. As it is, we are still unbeaten and have only conceded a solitary away goal – Robinho’s free-kick in September the only blot on the copybook.
Fulham meanwhile have a decent defensive record of their own, but theirs is – unfortunately for us – at Craven Cottage. In nine games they have only shipped six goals, the same as us and Liverpool at home and only joint second to Manchester United’s miserly defence at Old Trafford, which has only conceded four goals in seven games.
After a disappointing start to the season for Roy Hodgson’s Fulham, a recent upturn in fortunes has elevated the Cottagers up to eight place in the table. With a seven game unbeaten record currently under Hodgson’s belt, they are looking a solid outfit rather than a sinking ship. With only Seol Ki-Hyeon, Andranik Teymourian and Diomansay Kamara out injured, Fulham should be at their strongest.
We last faced Fulham at the Cottage around the holiday period last season, albeit on New Years’ Day. Danny Murphy opened the scoring for the home side with a tenth minute penalty, but Chelsea rallied after the break and after Salomon Kalou equalised nine minutes into the second-half, Michael Ballack converted the second penalty of the game just after the hour mark to ensure Chelsea bagged all three points and began 2008 with a win.
Fulham were victorious back in March 2006 however, in a highly charged encounter. It was the last time our West London neighbours got the better of us, and it was their only win in a nineteen game streak dating back to 1977, when Fulham won 3-1. On the 2006 occasion, Luis Boa Morte scored in the 17th minute and it all fell apart from their for the Blues. José Mourinho hauled off wingers Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips after just 26 minutes and swapped Robert Huth for Ricardo Carvalho at the start of the second-half, leaving no subs left for the last 45. Drogba had a goal disallowed and William Gallas was sent-off before a mass pitch invasion from the Fulham fans at the final whistle sparked ugly scenes.
There could be ugly scenes at the Bridge on Friday and again at the Cottage on Sunday if the Blues don’t pick up points however. The aforementioned captain not-very-sensible John Terry misses both games while Ricardo Carvalho could be in line for a comeback. Worryingly though, the website physioroom.com, which compiles Premier League injuries, states that the Portuguese centre-back is out until 1st February. Let’s hope its just a website glitch!
The squad will no doubt be rotated – aside from Mr 90 minutes Deco obviously – and players will be given chances to prove themselves and fight for their place in the starting XI in games to come. We need a bit of fight at the moment to end the year on a high, and hopefully the Christmas cheer will extend to Boxing Day and the 28th, with six points available, scores to settle and reputations on the line.