The first big top-of-the-table clash of the season takes place on Saturday lunchtime as Valérien Ismaël’s third-placed Baggies travel to Marco Silva’s second-placed Fulham. Albion met current leaders, Bournemouth, on the opening weekend of the season and pre-season promotion favourites, Sheffield United, a couple of weeks later, but this fixture eclipses those given the current state of play in the Championship table.
The Cottagers started the season superbly well winning four straight league games after an opening day draw at home to Middlesbrough to leave them ahead of Albion at the top of the table on goal difference. A shock defeat at newly-promoted Blackpool was the first in a run of just one win in four games saw them drop to fourth but four wins from the last five has seen them leapfrog the Baggies back into the top two.
However, the 4-1 defeat to Coventry City in the midst of that latest run was another shock result, particularly given its emphatic nature, and the fact that the Sky Blues had lost 5-0 to Luton a few days earlier. It’s a sign that the Championship remains an unpredictable league although Bournemouth have found a stunning run of form that has seen them take a five point lead at the top of the table.
As with Albion’s game with Swansea City, this match promises to be a clash of styles with Marco Silva’s team noted for their passing football although it is generally more effective than that of the Swans. Obviously, the Welsh side did beat Ismaël’s team last week but it was a performance that was well below par from the Baggies and I expect them to put up a much better fight on Saturday.
Fulham have one of the few squads that Albion can look at with real envy. Given the Baggies lack of a real number nine, the obvious place to start is Aleksandar Mitrović. While he has had mixed success in the Premier League, he is dynamite in England’s second tier. He already has 15 goals in 14 games for this campaign to lift his total to 57 in 96 regular season games at this level, although he has so far failed to find the net in any of the four play-off matches he has taken part in.
The Serb’s success is largely based on the players around him being able to provide the ammunition and, in Bobby Decordova-Reid, Neeskens Kebano and big money summer signing, Harry Wilson, the Cottagers have an excellent set of creative providers. Behind them, the “defensive” midfielders Tom Cairney and Jean Michaël Seri are hardly destroyers and make up Fulham’s very attacking front six.
Seri has had an interesting career at Craven Cottage, or should I say “not at Craven Cottage”. He joined in the summer of 2018 after Fulham had been promoted for a fee reported to be in the region of £25m but failed to impress in the Premier League as they fell back into the second tier. He spent the next two seasons out on loan, first at Galatasaray and then at Bordeaux, but has found himself back in favour at Fulham this season under new boss, Marco Silva.
Big Val will undoubtedly attempt to exploit Silva’s attacking philosophy by pressing hard and fast and the crux of the game will be whether Fulham’s players are good enough to play their way through the press. Another area of focus will be set pieces – Silva’s Premier League teams have historically been guilty at conceding too many set piece goals although, so far this season, they have only let in two. It is, however, one of the Baggies’ strengths with only Huddersfield (8) to have scored more than their six goals from set pieces in this Championship campaign.
The Baggies head coach has some decisions to make in central midfield. Having not had to make any changes there for the first dozen games of the season, he was forced into a complete change for the last match with neither of his first choice options available. While we still await news on whether Mowatt will be fit to play, Livermore will be available after his one game suspension but such was the performance of Molumby and Snodgrass against Bristol City, it would not be a surprise to see both of them retained in the starting line up.
In fact, Albion’s performance in the first half against the Robins was excellent and there is an easy argument to keep the same starting eleven. Fulham represent a much tougher test than the frankly poor opposition from last weekend, but confidence will be high amongst that eleven.
There is no doubt that the Baggies will need to be at their best to take anything from this match but I’m sure that Fulham fans will be feeling the same. It will be genuinely intriguing to see how this one plays out – will either head coach have any specific plans for the opposition and how will the players react in what is undoubtedly the biggest Championship season so far?
Fulham are currently enjoying a lengthy unbeaten run against Albion having not lost any of the last eleven meetings between the sides since the Baggies beat the Cottagers at the Hawthorns in October 2010.
The last time that Albion won at Craven Cottage was 3-2 in the League Cup in October 2005, a game made memorable by a wonderful goal from Junichi Inamoto. For the Throstles’ last league victory beside the Thames, we have to go back to October 1967 when goals from Tony Brown and Jeff Astle either side of a strike from Allan Clarke for the hosts gave them a 2-1 victory.
That was the last of eleven league victories for Albion at the Cottage having won on ten of their first sixteen visits – the first win was on their third match at the venue in September 1909 when goals from Billy Thompson and Fred Buck secured a 2-0 victory for the visitors, the only time the Baggies have won the fixture by more than one goal.
The period immediately following the Second World War saw Albion win on five successive visits to Fulham between March 1947 and November 1950 although the Baggies finished as runners up behind Fulham in Division Two in the 1948/49 season as both clubs were promoted back to the top flight.
Fulham’s record win over Albion is somewhat more recent and was the next visit after the Baggies’ last win. Bryan Robson took his team back to west London after the League Cup win for a Premier League fixture in February 2006 – by the time Kevin Campbell scored Albion’s consolation, Fulham were already 5-0 up and a further goal from Collins John, his second of the game, made the final score 6-1.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
30 Jan 2021 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Bartley, Pereira)
Fulham 2 (De Cordova-Reid, Cavaleiro)
Last meeting at Fulham
2 Nov 2020 – Premier League
Fulham 2 (De Cordova-Reid, Aina)
West Brom 0
23 Oct 2010 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Mulumbu, Fortuné)
Fulham 1 (Carson (o.g.))
Last win at Fulham
25 Oct 2005 – League Cup 3rd Round
Fulham 2 (Boa Morte, Helguson)
West Brom 3 (Earnshaw, Kanu, Inamoto)
Albion’s Record against Fulham
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