Fulham v Cardiff – perhaps this time the sound and fury will signify promotion



Action from Fulham’s 1-0 win over Cardiff last season
Photo: Fulham FC

On April 27 2019, Fulham and Cardiff City last met at Craven Cottage. Much has happened both in and out of football in the 14 months since then. Both sides being relegated seems to be one of the least earth shattering.

Fulham won a dismal match 1-0 but were already relegated before kick off. Amazingly however, it was the Cottagers’ third straight win since their relegation was confirmed. Those nine points were earned all without conceding a goal.

The Bluebirds still had a chance of avoiding the drop, but were breathtakingly unambitious until Ryan Babel scored the game’s only goal in the 79th minute after great work by substitute Cyrus Christie. Babel left for Galatasaray in Turkey after relegation and is now on loan at Ajax.

Fulham 1 : 0 Cardiff – A lot of sound and fury signifying relegation – [opens in new window]

Only after Babel’s goal did Cardiff wake up.

The Welsh side nearly equalised quickly but Sergio Rico was equal to a Danny Ward header which he tipped over, and Junior Hoilett hit the crossbar in the 89th minute. Rico made three further last gasp saves from Joe Bennett, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Sean Morrison headers, but it was all too late. Cardiff would be relegated the following Saturday.

All five of those Cardiff players are still at the club and have made 118 league starts between them this season. Ward then as now, most likely to be introduced off the bench.

Despite Cardiff’s desperate need for points, Neil Warnock’s side were the tamer with City keeper Neil Etheridge far busier than his counterpart 100 yards away Sergio Rico.

Etheridge, a Philippines international keeper has largely watched from the bench this year due to a hamstring injury, with England U-21 capped Alex Smithies taking over. Smithies made his debut four months after the clubs met at Craven Cottage in a 2–1 win over Luton Town on August 10, 2019.

Sergio Rico was only ever at Fulham on loan and is now in Paris, though still technically a Sevilla player. Slovakian Marek Rodák is the main man between the sticks now.

The sides that day were:

Fulham: Rico; Odoi (Christie 22′), Chambers, Ream, Le Marchand, Bryan, Anguissa, Cairney, Sessegnon (Alfie Mawson 84′), Mitrovic, Babel (Ayite 89′)

Cardiff: Etheridge; Peltier, Bennett, Morrison, Manga, Bacuna, Gunnarsson (De Cordova-Reid 87′), Mendez-Lang Camarasa (Healey 72′), Niasse (Ward 60′), Hoilett

Warnock left the club last November after a poor start to the season which yielded just 21 points from 16 games, and the South Wales club poached Neil Harris who had left Millwall earlier that season. The appointment was not universally welcomed by the Cardiff fans.

Just one place separated the sides when former Millwall boss Neil Harris took over at Cardiff City

City had lost 1-0 at home to Severn rivals Bristol City in Warnock’s last game. They’d also lost to Swansea, not the fans’ most favourite conquerors in the Welsh capital.

Harris soon won them over with ten points from his first four matches. He took over 21 games into the Bluebirds’ season, where they have accrued 28 points. Now he is 21 games in, where they have accured 36 points.

Harris is deservedly in contention for June Championship Manager of the Month, where he is competing against Lee Bowyer (Charlton Athletic), Paul Cook (Wigan Athletic) and Thomas Frank (Brentford).

July hasn’t been so kind with three points thrown away against Blackburn, after being in a winning position earlier this week. It was their first loss since since February 25.

Harris told the media after the final whistle:

“First and foremost, we’re frustrated of course. The first two goals were avoidable and disappointing goals. That little bit of the rub of the green that we’ve in recent games wasn’t quite there.

“But I’ve said to the players, we have to learn from that. I look at myself, my players and the performance.

“We then have to look at the positives of ten points from five games. Now is not the time for over-analysing or berating players. Not at all. It’s about moving on to Friday.

“There’s no time for regret or disappointment. I’ll review that, look at where we need to be better, then we have to respond on Friday night in a really tough game at Fulham.”

One upside was the continuing goal scoring of Bavarian striker Robert Glatzel. At 6’4″, he is able to take care of himself and could pose a goal threat to Fulham.

Still, those three goals and three points lost will burn City, and their chance of automatic promotion has now disappeared. With Derby, Swansea and Millwall just a smidgeon behind them, they cannot afford too many more mistakes.

Fulham, on the other hand, look be to be assured of a play off place and a win on Friday will make it mathematically certain.

Just like last year, Fulham go into the home game with Cardiff on the back of three wins. They were all by one goal and only four goals were scored. The only goal conceded was to QPR’s Jordan Hugill in the opening minute of that match so they have played 269 minutes without conceding a goal.

A superb win at another promotion rival Nottingham Forest earlier this week was lauded by a ‘delighted’ manager Scott Parker:

“We came out of lockdown with a couple of defeats. But we have quickly bounced back and have won three in a row which is massive for us.

“Tonight for me it was not vintage us by any means. We didn’t show our dominance with the ball. But saying that there have been many times this season where we have played some fantastic stuff and still lost the match.

“Tonight my team showed another side to them. I often talk about what great teams have and that is a certain mentality. Sometimes you have to dig in deep and show a desperation to get the three points. 

“A desperation to not let a 1-0 win slip away and I felt to a man my team showed that. I give them full credit. 

“At this stage of the season you need to keep ticking along and win football matches. When you are playing against your closest rivals its pleasing to pick up the win.  We need to keep performing and that will put us in good stead. 

“We want to keep picking up momentum. Overall I am delighted that my team have showed another side tonight.”

They will have been disappointed with Leeds United’s 5-0 win over Stoke last night which now leaves them seven points off the second automatic promotion slot currently occupied by West Brom.

Leeds’ 5-0 win over Stoke on Thursday opened their lead over Fulham to eight points

But the hard fact of the matter is that promotion is still very much in their own hands.

A win on Friday, will see them 180 minutes from Wembley and a play-off final. Two years ago, the overcame Aston Villa in that venue. When the Stadium played “London Calling”, it almost felt like a home match for them.

Of course, Wembley is actually in Middlesex.

Now what other team still calls Middlesex their home? None other than Brentford, a very probable play-off opponent on July 30th in what would be a most enthralling derby.

Still, as the table above shoes, both South Wales and the East Midlands will have something to say about that.

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