Of all the games to follow up a nervy and grim defeat up north to Burton Albion, playing recently relegated Middlesbrough, on an all-competitions five-game unbeaten streak, and with probably the best strike force in the league, is one you’d probably want to avoid.
Yet that is the task facing the Whites as they attempt to claim back-to-back home victories and kickstart the season into gear on Saturday afternoon.
There can be no doubt that this is going to be an arduous task, with Boro’s side starting to find their own groove and a travelling fanbase who will be expecting to see their side bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Fulham, on the other hand, are coming off the back of not only a loss, but a dismal performance away at Burton Albion, and with talisman Tom Cairney out for an indefinite amount of time, are still coming to terms with life without their skipper.
Any team would struggle without a player of Cairney’s talents, but with Fulham’s intricate interplay so often coming through their No10, it is very much a case of learning how to walk again for a still undoubtedly highly-talented Fulham squad.
Boro haven’t quite started in the emphatic fashion that the fans at the Riverside might have hoped, but there are serious signs that they are now starting to hit form, and the timing of the game will be a concern for Fulham.
Britt Assombalonga has 5 goals already since returning from an early season injury, and even without the injured Martin Braithwaite and Rudy Gestede, Boro have serious firepower with Patrick Bamford and Ashley Fletcher in tow.
That said, our neighbours in Shepherd’s Bush put Boro under the cosh last week and scored two in scrappy fashion, so the potential to break them down and score goals is there, and if we’re honest, it’s going to be a case of outscoring the Teessiders rather than shutting them out, if Fulham are to take all three points.
Last 5 Championship Results:
- W: Middlesbrough 3-2 Queens Park Rangers
- D: Aston Villa 0-0 Middlesbrough
- W: Bolton Wanderers 0-3 Middlesbrough
- D: Middlesbrough 0-0 Preston North End
- L: Nottingham Forest 2-1 Middlesbrough
Fulhamish’s Starting Line-Up:
We think that Rui Fonte is going to come back in, which would be a welcome sight; and he slots straight into the spearhead of our attack, to try and convert some of the chances that have been going so heavily to waste over the last few games.
The midfield three should stay the same, as we don’t think that Slavisa has any real reason to bring in the physicality of Ibrahima Cisse, and the only places we feel the debates will lie is in the front three.
Sessegnon will drop back into left back, and we’d imagine that Kebano and Ayité will get the nod from the gaffer, but if it was up to us, we’d love to see Yohan Mollo out on the right hand side, allowing him to build on that excellent performance against Cardiff and the ensuing cameo versus Hull.
Tim Ream v Britt Assombalonga
Fulham’s American centre-half is enjoying his best spell of form in a Fulham shirt, but there’s always the nagging feeling that a brilliant offensive performance could get the better of him. He looks far more assured with Tomas Kalas next to him, but this season it has been Ream who has been the standout between the two.
That said, he’ll face his biggest test this year when the hulking, lightning quick Assombalonga comes to town. Scoring goals for fun in a struggling Nottingham Forest side, Assombalonga has been given a huge chance to spearhead a promotion campaign, and so far has taken that chance with both hands, banging in five goals for Boro already. When we consider that no Fulham player has more than one goal to their name, it’s a big start from the No9.
Ream has experience at this level, however, and has faced Assombalonga before. If he can keep the striker in his back pocket, then Fulham’s chances of winning the game will quickly become far more clear cut.
It would be decidedly Fulhamish to lose to Burton Albion before beating league favourites Boro, so we’re going to bet on it. We’ll say a 3-1 Fulham win, with a late goal as Boro search for an equaliser.
Don’t forget to listen to Monday’s episode of Fulhamish for all the reaction to this game and Saturday’s trip to Burton Albion, and make sure that you’re subscribed on one of the following platforms.