IT WAS anything but a Super Sunday for Fulham last weekend . . . as they were left counting the cost of their appearance under the Sky Sports spotlight.
What was an occasion when Martin Jol’s side could have shown a live television audience why they have made such a promising start to the season turned into something of a nightmare as they not only lost to Sunderland, but also lost several key figures.
The outcome of the game hinged on the first red card of captain Brede Hangeland’s Fulham career after he was adjudged to have made a two-footed challenge, but to make matters worse for the Cottagers, they also suffered a number of injury setbacks.
Swedish international Alexander Kacaniklic, Greek national skipper Giorgos Karagounis and Costa Rican star Bryan Ruiz limped out of the action with injuries, while goalscorer Mladen Petric’s gashed leg meant they were reduced to nine men for a time.
It was therefore a day to forget for Jol and his players after an encouraging start to the Barclays Premier League campaign in which a more recent unbeaten run stretching to five matches had left them sitting comfortably in the top half of the table.
Fulham had drawn four of those five games, the latest of which was a six-goal thriller in the London derby at the Emirates Stadium, whilst they also claimed a point from each of their trips to newly-promoted pair Reading and Southampton in that run.
Indeed, in the visits to both the Madejski Stadium and St Marys, it took last-minute equalisers from the home side to prevent the Cottagers claiming all three points, but on the other hand they were relieved that Mikel Arteta had a late penalty well saved by Mark Schwarzer when Arsenal were all set up to snatch a thrilling 4-3 victory a fortnight ago.
Fulham’s away form has not been their strong point in recent seasons, but they have shown a distinct improvement since suffering a 3-0 defeat at the beginning of September when they made the short trip across the capital to West Ham United.
That upturn in fortunes on their travels began with Colombian international Hugo Rodallega scoring his first goal for the club on his return to the DW Stadium to help them claim their first away win of the season over Wigan Athletic later that same month.
Full name: Fulham Football Club
Stadium: Craven Cottage
Owner: Mohamed Al-Fayed
Chairman: Mohamed Al-Fayed
Manager: Martin Jol
2011/12: Premier League (9th), FA Cup (Fourth Round), League Cup (Third Round).
Record transfer fee paid: £11.5m for Steve Marlet to Lyon, (August 2001).
Record transfer fee received: £15m for Moussa Dembele from Tottenham Hotspur (August 2012).
Introducing the Gaffer
MARTIN JOL was handed the opportunity to take care of “unfinished business” when Fulham appointed him as successor to Mark Hughes last year.
The Dutchman jumped at the chance to return to the English game where his three years in charge of Tottenham Hotspur were characterised by good football and significant strides forward even though he was eventually replaced by Juande Ramos.
Jol enjoyed successful spells at Bundesliga club Hamburg and Dutch giants Ajax following his departure from White Hart Lane and that put him on Fulham’s radar when they were initially seeking a replacement for Roy Hodgson in the summer of 2010.
Ajax, who had won the Dutch Cup and finished a point behind FC Twente in the League as Luis Suarez scored 45 goals for them in that season, put the block on their coach returning to England when approached by the Cottagers at that particular point.
But after resigning from his post six months later, the former Spurs boss then became the favourite to take over from the outgoing Hughes in June 2011.
He had a successful first season at the club, leading them to ninth place in the Premier League and collecting 52 points, which was one off the Cottagers record tally in the top-flight.
Despite a proven track record in management, most notably with successful spells at Tottenham, Hamburg and Ajax, Jol would no doubt have liked to have won more honours, with just two Dutch Cup triumphs -Roda JC in 1996 and Ajax in 2009 -to his name.
Jol is perhaps best described as the nearly man of English football. In his first season as Spurs manager, a UEFA Cup spot eluded them by two points after a final day draw against Blackburn. Then, it was a similar story as Spurs held a Champions League spot until the final day, eventually finishing fifth, where they also finished in the following season.
TONY PULIS says Ryan Shotton is in with a shout of starting at full-back against Fulham on Saturday… after the defender proved his worth to the City with his substitute appearance against West Ham United on Monday.
The 24-year-old replaced the injured Andy Wilkinson midway through the first-half of the 1-1 draw at Upton Park, and impressed sufficiently to put him at the forefront of Pulis’ thoughts ahead of the game against Martin Jol’s Cottagers.
“Ryan Shotton came on and did really well on Monday, so he’ll be in the frame,” said Pulis at his pre-match press conference on Thursday morning.
The Potters manager also hinted at additional changes as he contends with three Barclays Premier League games in eight days, with matches against Newcastle United and Aston Villa following on from Saturday.
Kenwyne Jones is one who could earn a start, while fellow forward Cameron Jerome is also chomping at the bit for a chance to impress.
This weekend comes too soon for Michael Owen, though, as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, with the visit of his former employers next Wednesday a much more likely proposition.
Rory Delap will also be absent as he continues rehabilitation from a hernia operation, while Marc Wilson (broken leg) won’t be involved in any first-team action until after Christmas.
Sunderland v West Bromwich Albion (12:45)
Everton v Norwich City
Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers
STOKE CITY v FULHAM
Wigan Athletic v Reading
Aston Villa v Arsenal (17:30)
Swansea City v Liverpool (Sunday, 13:30)
Southampton v Newcastle United (Sunday, 15:00)
Chelsea v Manchester City (Sunday, 16:00)
Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United (Sunday, 16:00)
All games kick-off at 15:00 on Saturday unless otherwise stated.
League: 25 Stoke City wins; 28 Fulham wins; 15 draws
FA Cup: 0 Stoke City wins; 1 Fulham win; 0 draws
League Cup: 2 Stoke City wins; 1 Fulham win; 0 draws
TOTAL: 27 Stoke City wins; 30 Fulham wins; 15 draws
Last Five Encounters
Fulham 2-1 Stoke City (Premier League) – 11/02/2012
Stoke City 2-0 Fulham (Premier League) – 15/10/2011
Fulham 2-0 Stoke City (Premier League) – 22/01/2011
Stoke City 0-2 Fulham (Premier League) – 28/12/2010
Stoke City 2-0 Fulham (League Cup) – 21/09/2010
Stoke City win 6/5; Fulham win 13/5; draw 23/10
Referee – Michael Oliver
MICHAEL OLIVER has refereed both Stoke City and Fulham once this season… and the Cottagers will be hoping he brings them the luck that he did on the opening day of the season.
The Northumbrian official oversaw their 5-0 thrashing of Norwich City at Craven Cottage, while he was in charge at Stamford Bridge for the Potters’ late 1-0 defeat to Chelsea.
His most recent fixture was West Brom 2-1 victory over Chelsea at the Hawthorns last weekend – a game that proved to be Roberto di Matteo’s last Premier League game in charge.
In total, he has officiated 11 games this season, dishing out 24 yellow cards and one red.