The domestic calendar is back in full swing and Mark Hughes and his army of Rovers will be hoping that the early season momentum that was curtailed at Old Trafford last time out can be re-ignited at Craven Cottage.
Rovers have become worryingly notorious for a sluggishly slow start after an international break however, this season many things that have been holding the club back in the past, have been squeezed out. We are now winning games we should be winning and also coming away with victories at venues where we shouldn`t really be allowed to.
Sunday once again presents the Rovers with one such challenge. Fulham are a team we would expect to beat, even though we are away. However, whether or not the players will be up to speed is another matter.
An least we forget this isn`t all about Blackburn, because Fulham have their desires on this game too. They too will perhaps see this fixture as winnable and their home form has been their saving grace this season. Alas, with £25million spent in the summer they are expecting more.
Last season saw Rovers dominate an end of season, weary Fulham side but the outcome was a 1-1 draw; a vats difference from the penchant for high scoring games between the two sides at Craven Cottage. In recent years Rovers have twice gone to Fulham and emerged with four goals and three points. A similar story to ensue on Sunday? It could be. And what a way to cap an excellent week for Rovers and Hughes if he were to collect his 50th win in charge of Rovers.
Just as a final closing footnote, we mustn`t forget about the flying Finn, Shefki Kuqi who was a popular player during his one year with Rovers. He will be keen to remind Rovers fans about THAT celebration. I think we have seen it enough thanks Shefki!
Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez on a frustrating start: ‘It is a strange season.
‘If a game ended at half-time we would be top, if it was 80 minutes we would be sixth or seventh and we are 13th after 90 minutes. Once we have learned to cope with those last 10 minutes we will be where I would like us to be.‘
Mark Hughes on an early season evaluation: ‘Obviously, when I took over confidence was low because we were nearer the bottom of the table than the top.
‘That needed changing and we’ve been able to do that. I’m very excited about the squad we’ve got this year. We’ve made a fantastic start to the season and we want to see how far we can go.‘
Fulham Team News:
Fulham continue to struggle with a number of first team absentees but Lawrie Sanchez has no fresh injury concerns.
Anti Niemi is likely to continue in goal with Kasey Keller still recovering from injury. Sanchez is boosted by the return of Paul Konchesky and Elliot Omozusi, both of whom have recently served suspensions.
Fulham from: Niemi, Warner, Baird, Hughes, Stefanovic, Bocanegra, Konchesky, Davies, Davis, Murphy, Dempsey, Kamara, Kuqi, Healy, Bouazza, Smertin, Leijer, Seol, Omozusi, Volz.
Player to watch: Fulham Strikers
Fulham have three strikers who could all influence this game in a big way and will cause the Rovers defence a number of differing problems. Record-breaking goal scorer, David Healy will be keen to add to his exceptional displays with Northern Ireland for club. However, he is notorious for struggling to make the same impact at club level. Then there is Diomansy Kamarra who had a terrific year last season but again is a striker who has, to date, failed in the English footballs top-flight. Finally there is big Shefki, we know what he can do. All pose potential problems but let`s hope that they cause each more problems than they cause the Rovers defence.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Surprisingly Robbie Savage is back up to speed after his injury that was supposed to keep him out for six weeks. Well three weeks premature the fiery Welshman is back. He could slot straight back into the starting eleven because of suspension to David Dunn following his unfair red card at Old Trafford.
Matt Derbyshire is the only other concern for Rovers, he will have a late fitness test.
Rovers from: Friedel, Brown, Emerton, Nelsen, Samba, Ooijer, Warnock, Berner, Bentley, Pedersen, Santa Cruz, McCarthy, Derbyshire, Tugay, Mokoena, Rigters, Khizanishvili, Treacy.
Player to watch: Morten Gamst Pedersen
This is the day that the player formally known as Pedersen returns. Gamst has had a bad season and has paid the price after losing his place in the team. However, he is now back and smiling so expect to see the performances improving too. I`m even going to stick my neck out and say he will score one of those tantalising free-kicks today.
Match Facts & Stats
Mark Hughes has won 49 games in his time at Rovers so he will be keen to make it a half century on Sunday.
Blackburn have fielded the least amount of players so far this season, using just 18 whereas Fulham have used 26 to date.
Fulham have led more games at half time than anyone else but have conceded more goals in the last ten minutes.
Fulham have a 33% win rate in the Premier League against Blackburn (four of 12).
The 1-1 draw in this corresponding fixture last season was the first time these clubs had finished level in a dozen Premier League fixtures.
Mike Dean is Sunday`s referee. He has taken charge of one Rovers match to date and he ludicrously sent off Tugay. He also dismissed Richard Dunne in the same game. They form half of the amount of red cards he has issued to date – four, in his nine games.
The key to a Rovers win here will be the second half. Fulham start games strongly but then whimper out. If Rovers can contain their threat early on and then look to maximise their superior fitness levels then three points could be wrapped up.
Fulham`s defence has looked a little suspect when dealing with balls into the box so Gamst and David Bentley will need to be on song, especially with the heading prowess of Roque Santa Cruz.
If the game is level around the hour mark I fancy Rovers to go on and win. I`m also going to predict a few goals so 3-1 or 3-2 to Rovers.
Aston Villa come to Ewood on Wednesday night.