Fulham booked their place in the Championship play-off final for the second time in three seasons with a 3-2 aggregate win over Cardiff. What did you make of their performance over the two legs?
It was a tale of two legs. Fulham were brilliant in the first, dominating the ball and scoring two brilliant goals. The second leg wasn’t pretty, but they showed a different side to their game – one they’re not necessarily associated with – of grit, determination and bravery to get over the line. It was nervy stuff, but they got the job done.
This, of course, set up a winner-takes-all West London derby at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday. How much do you think that will spur Scott Parker’s men on?
If you can’t get up for a play-off final, then you’re in the wrong game. And then there’s the added incentive of beating your local rivals. The majority of the Fulham squad know all about winning promotion this way, having done so two years ago and will be leaning heavily on that experience.
How big an achievement would it be for Parker to achieve promotion in his first full season in charge of the Cottagers?
It’s easy to look at the Fulham squad and think they should have raced away with the Championship. But Parker had to change the mentality of a squad that was used to losing most weeks in the Premier League. He also needed to stamp his own style of play on his team. It’s been a work-in-progress and there have been times when they seem to be playing with the handbrake on. But when they’re on song, they’re very hard to beat and to finish two points off automatic promotion is good going. Not going up wouldn’t be a disaster, but speculation over the futures of their best players would intensify.
The absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic in the semi-final has set tongues wagging about whether or not he’ll be available for the final. Fulham coped without him, but how significant a blow would it be if he was ruled out of this one, too?
Obviously, you want your best players available and they don’t come much better at this level than Mitrovic, but Fulham have actually done really well when he has been absent this season. The defeat to Cardiff in the second leg was the first game they’ve lost when they’ve had to make do without the 26-goal striker. It would be a shame for him to miss out on the Wembley showpiece as he brings so much to the team, particularly if the in-form Neeskens Kebano (pictured above) is also ruled out after limping off against Cardiff.
How is Parker likely to set up his side at Wembley?
A variation of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 is Parker’s favoured way of thinking. I imagine the goalkeeper and back four will stay the same, and Harrison Reed and Josh Onomah have cemented their starting places in the middle of the park after impressive displays post-lockdown. They’ll be joined by the skipper Tom Cairney, who scored the play-off final winner against Aston Villa two years ago. The attacking roles are harder to call depending on who’s fit but there are plenty of options available to Parker and the recent return from injury of the powerful Aboubakar Kamara could be timely.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
It’s so tough to call and Brentford have been a bit of a bogey side for Fulham in recent years. I can’t see either team running away with it and it will definitely be close. There will be goals, but I have to go for an edgy 2-1 win for Fulham.