What was promised to be a straight shootout for sixth spot merely a few weeks ago has become something of a formality, as Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday fans appear to have the stage set for just one big playoff party game on Sunday at noon.
Academically, the Whites haven’t actually secured their playoff place, but considering there is a 3 point gap and a 13 goal swing to Leeds United in 7th, it would take record scores in pretty much both matches for the Elland Road outfit to usurp Fulham’s spot. It’s not impossible, of course, and we are dreading the idea of looking at our phones at Hillsborough to find Leeds 3-0 up within 10 minutes.
The big questions this week have surrounded whether both teams are going to ring the changes and rest key players, or try and keep the momentum up. That momentum is huge for the playoffs, and whilst Fulham haven’t lost in 5 games, Wednesday have won their last 5 and drawn the one before that, in an unbeaten run that stretches back to the last international break. There is little doubt that these two sides are the division’s form teams, and debates have raged in both camps as to whether this game should be taken at a canter or a trot.
Wednesday have a squad which would scare the life out of most teams in this division. Their striking options, in particular, contain absurd levels of strength in depth. Gary Hooper, Jordan Rhodes, Sam Winnall, Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri all compete for two starting berths, whilst Atdhe Nuhui remains a potent aerial threat off the bench. Throw into that mix that the Owls have Lucas Joao out on loan at Blackburn Rovers, surplus to requirements, and there is an attacking line which any Championship club would kill for.
In the middle, Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee run the shop, with a mixture of bite and panache – who can forget Bannan’s wondergoal against the Whites at Hillsborough in the FA Cup – whilst down the wings, Ross Wallace and Adam Reach offer yet more attacking options. Kieran Westwood is one of the most consistent performers in the Championship and the bank of four in front of him know exactly what their roles are – there’s a reason that Wednesday have conceded fewer than any team bar Brighton and Newcastle.
That said, Fulham know they’re a match for anyone on their day, and with the pressure slightly off for this one, should be able to relax a little and enjoy their football. A sell-out Hillsborough should be witness to an excellent game of football between two form teams, and celebrate the last game of the season which has nothing directly riding on it.
Their last 5 league results:
- W: Ipswich 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday
- W: Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Derby County
- W: Queens Park Rangers 1-2 Sheffield Wednesday
- W: Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Cardiff City
- W: Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle United
Fulhamish’s Starting Line-Up:
It’s probable that Slavisa is going to ring a few changes, and we’d imagine that our lineup is going to be slightly more experimental than the gaffer will eventually go for, but we’re quite concerned about fitness and injuries, and as such we’d really like to see a fair bit of squad rotation. Chris Martin comes straight back in for us, leading the line, in order to get him back to match sharpness and into form before the crucial games ahead.
We’re also giving Kebano, Piazon and Odoi the nod, and we’d like to see the inclusion of Dennis Adeniran and George Williams on the bench. If things are going smoothly, it’d be nice to give Adeniran a crack in Johansen’s midfield berth whilst giving the Norwegian a rest second half, and Williams has surely done enough in the PL2 squad to deserve a substitute appearance!
Steven Fletcher v Tim Ream
We’ve plumped for this one in a game where key battles are hard to predict because the lineups aren’t secure. That said, we think these two will start and Fletcher’s form and aerial ability will be a real test to see how far Tim Ream has progressed this season. We all know how good the American is with the ball at his feet, but when it comes to defending, there’s still some jitters amongst the Fulham faithful and this is a perfect opportunity for Fulham’s No13 to put ghosts to rest and set fans at ease.
It’s quite a hard one to gauge, as we’ve mooted, but we’re going for a great day out that ends 2-2. That would do nicely, we think. See you at Hillsborough!
Don’t forget to listen to Monday’s episode of Fulhamish for all the reaction to this game and a build-up to what we’re very much hoping is going to be a play-off semi-final.