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Matchday 5: Fulham at Blackburn

17 September 2010

In a classic case of a totally movable object meeting an irresistable force, Fulham takes its 20-match Premier League road winless streak to one of the league’s toughest venues: Ewood Park.

That’s not an exaggeration. This isn’t a trip to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, but Blackburn has been really nasty at home under Sam Allardyce, losing just five of their 32 matches at Ewood under his Route 1 control. Throw in that Fulham has been shut out in nine of its last 11 away matches (despite the recent 2-2 draw at Blackburn), has beaten Blackburn just once in the clubs’ last eight encounters and that this is the first match with a rejiggered lineup after Bobby Zamora’s injury, and a point would be a very credible result.

Fulham will look to new boy Moussa Dembele to fill Bobby Zamora's shoes ... and opponent's nets.

With Damien Duff expected to be available, Mark Hughes will have a full slate of midfield options with which to fill out his front six, assuming he’s not going to start Eddie Johnson or David Elm up top. The pairing of Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey played 52 minutes together against Wolves after Zamora’s injury, but that may not be the direction Hughes goes. Dempsey definitely provides the better physical presence up top in a match that may feature a lot of aerial action, but Dempsey provides more flexibility than Zoltan Gera coming off the bench, so perhaps Gera gets the nod with Dembele as Fulham aims for more creativity than direct play. If Duff has been available, he’s been in the starting XI, so I’d guess he and Davies will be the outside midfielders.

Fulham may not have a ton of offensive pop in this one as they adjust to a life without Zamora’s rugged holdup play, so the back four could be the key to the Cottagers salvaging anything from this trip. Given John Pantsil’s terrible run of form, it could lead to Chris Baird replacing him at right back. Or, if Hughes decided to give Mexican international and tranny-hugger Carlos Salcido his first appearance at left back, Stephen Kelly could flop from left to his more preferred role on the right.

From Blackburn, expect a ton of direct, long-ball play up the central channels, but they do have a pretty skilled option to go to in Nikola Kalinic, although both of Kalinic’s goals this season have come off of horrible goalkeeper blunders. Blackburn’s only win so far this campaign was due to the first of those — Tim Howard’s embarrassing drop in the season opener — so Rovers will be pretty eager to take advantage of a home match against one of the league most punchless away sides. Mark Hughes has had some decent success against Big Sam, despite Allardyce’s claim that he’s more suited to manage Real Madrid than a Blackburn or Bolton, where he first started boring the crap out of Prem fans, but this is a tough spot for Fulham.

Prediction: Blackburn 1, Fulham 0

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