Everything you need to know as Fulham defend their unbeaten Championship record against Gary Rowett’s side.
Having witnessed the Cottagers finish a dismal 2015/16 season in 20th place, before losing key attacking duo Moussa Dembele and Ross McCormack to Celtic and Aston Villa respectively during the summer transfer window, few would have expected Fulham to be one of just two unbeaten Championship sides as we enter the second month of the season.
Yet Slavisa Jokanovic, promoted with Watford just 16 months ago before his shock departure, has finally moulded a balanced Whites side capable of competing at the right end of the Championship this season. Championship player-of-the-month nominee Tom Cairney has starred for Jokanovic’s side, with two goals to his name already, while new arrival Sone Aluko has relished playing alongside Matt Smith, who, entrusted with the task of leading the Whites’ attack, has looked a player reborn in the season’s early weeks. New loan signing Chris Martin, scorer of 52 league goals in three seasons at Derby County, should further strengthen Jokanovic’s side as Fulham look to right the wrongs of Khan’s first three seasons as owner by challenging for a return to the promised land.
Birmingham City have begun in a more inconsistent fashion than their hosts, with their last two league games seeing Gary Rowett’s side respond to a disappointing home collapse to rivals Wolves with a crushing 3-0 victory over promotion favourites Norwich City.
That impressive win was their first at home in any competition since March, with the Blues possessing the sixth best away record in the division last term, a record that was boosted by a terrific 5-2 victory at Craven Cottage in this fixture last November, a result the hosts will no doubt be keen to avenge on Saturday.
Fulham could hand debuts to deadline day loan signings Chris Martin and Lucas Piazon, as well as Norwegian international Stefan Johansen, signed from Celtic last month for an undisclosed fee. Defender Ragnar Sigurdsson, scorer of Iceland’s first goal in their 2-1 win over England at Euro 2016, may also make his first appearance for the Cottagers having joined the club from Kuban Krasnodar last month.
Birmingham City boss Gary Rowett must decide whether to change a winning team for the trip to the Thames, with Burnley loanee Lukas Jutkiewicz deemed fit to start if selected. However, Clayton Donaldson’s brace in the win over Norwich should ensure that he gets the nod to continue as Rowett’s lone striker. Left-back Rhoys Wiggins, loaned in from Premier League side Bournemouth, will not feature, and is also doubtful for Blues’ trip to Reading on Tuesday night. Stephen Gleeson returns to contention having recovered from injury, but Jack Storer remains suspended following his dismissal in the 3-1 loss to Wolves last month.
- Including last season’s final-day win over Bolton, Fulham are unbeaten in 6 league matches, making this their longest unbeaten run since the opening 7 games of the 2010-11 Premier League season, though 6 of those were draws.
- The Cottagers have lost just one of their last 6 home league meetings with Birmingham, a 5-2 loss last season which bought about the end of Kit Symon’s reign as manager.
- Despite this, City have not lost a second-tier meeting at Craven Cottage since December 1968, an unbeaten run of 7 matches.
- The Blues have lost just 1 of their last 9 Championship matches, though 6 of these have been draws.
- According to whoscored.com, Fulham have attempted more passes than any other championship team this season (2717), with Saturday’s opponents Birmingham City having attempted the fewest (1434).
Tony Harrington will take charge of Saturday’s game, having issued 14 yellow cards and no red cards in his three Championship matches this season.
Sky Bet unsurprisingly make Fulham 5/6 favourites to take the three points, with the Blues 13/5 to take a point and 16/5 to be the team to halt their hosts’ unbeaten start to the season. Fulham pair Chris Martin and Matt Smith can both be backed to score first at 9/2, or at 13/8 to score in 90 minutes. City striker Clayton Donaldson, scorer of a brace in his side’s last match before the international break, is 11/1 to net twice again this weekend.
Fulham are the only club in the division to have scored first in all of their games so far this season, and are 5/1 to get off to the perfect start by scoring within the first 10 minutes, or 4/1 to score two or more in the first half, which could be particularly good bets should proven second-tier goalscorer Chris Martin make his first Fulham start on Saturday afternoon.