Time is rapidly running out on Fulham’s status as a Premier League club, as the Cottagers could be relegated as soon as this weekend should they lose to Watford on Tuesday at Vicarage Road coupled with other results around them.
Fulham (4-5-23) have long known the trap door to the Championship has been beneath them, but this weekend it opened more than a crack. The Cottagers were punished for their possession errors in their own third in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to reigning champions Manchester City, giving up both goals in the first half-hour.
“We obviously knew and understood the challenge we faced before kick-off and it proved that way. At times it was very difficult, in the first-half I felt we started a little bit nervy for the first 10 minutes,” Cottagers coach Scott Parker told the club’s official website. “We wanted to stamp our way on the game, making sure everyone understood the way we set-up and how we wanted the team to play and that there was risk which we recognised.
“I thought the lads were brave certainly in the first-half, 1-0 down after five minutes you can fold, but overall it was a difficult afternoon.”
Compounding Fulham’s woes, though, was almost every result in other matches directly tied to their fate went against them. Southampton and Burnley won Saturday, giving both clubs a 16-point advantage over Fulham with six matches remaining. Fulham did catch a break Sunday when Chelsea rallied to defeat Cardiff City, but they are still 11 points behind the Bluebirds – at the top of the drop – and the Wales side have a match in hand.
The results mean if Fulham lose this match, they will be scoreboard watching starting with Brighton and Hove Albion’s match Wednesday versus Chelsea. Southampton and Burnley – also on 33 points – face Liverpool and Bournemouth, respectively, on Friday and Saturday.
“In terms of me personally it is what it is, I want to talk about the team, I want the team to show what they can do,” Parker said about the team and their likely fate. “At times this season we’ve shown glimpses, and we’ve shown glimpses in the past three games, albeit three tough games.
“I think it’s cliche, it’s true there’s six games left but it’s still mathematically possible (to stay up), but being realistic we need to look ahead at where we lie and it’s a tough ask of course. The main focus is the remaining games and we push and end the season on a positive, obviously this season has been a difficult campaign.”
It is unsure if Parker will have the services of centre-forward Aleksander Mitrovic, who appeared to have picked up a knock on international duty with Serbia and could not play Saturday. Mitrovic, who has scored all four of Fulham’s match-winners and leads the team with 10 overall, has gone seven matches without a goal since bagging a brace against Brighton and Hove Albion on Jan. 29.
Watford (12-7-12) slipped to 10th in the table following their 2-1 loss at Manchester United on Saturday. The Hornets were hit out twice against the promising run of play they had created on either side of halftime, and Abdoulaye Doucoure’s 90th-minute marker was not enough to prevent a sixth consecutive pointless trip to Old Trafford in the top flight.
“Of course we feel disappointed we have not got more from the game,” striker Troy Deeney told Watford’s official website. “I am past the whole ‘learning curve’ and ‘we’re grateful to play here’ kind of thing – we deserved to win. We should have definitely taken something from the game. We created 20 chances at Old Trafford and not many teams will do that.
“It is about growing. You look at where we have come in the last three years and it is monumental. We are a completely different outfit and we are being taken seriously by teams.”
That last part is definitely true considering Watford will be playing Wolverhampton for a spot in the FA Cup finals Sunday at Wembley. To their credit, the Hornets were not caught out by United looking ahead to that match, and Deeney is adamant the team will not look past Fulham either.
“We won’t sit there and moan (after Saturday),” Deeney said. “We have a big week coming up and we can go back to seventh on Tuesday if we can beat Fulham. If we do that, everyone starts talking about what a great season it has been again. We have only got to look at Tuesday. Nothing other than a win in that game really matters. If we play horrible and win 1-0, I don’t really care.
“Soon as that game is out the way, then it is all about the build-up and the razzmatazz ahead of Wembley. We knew this week would be tough but we are ready to go.”
The teams split the points at Craven Cottage in September, with Mitrovic’s goal on 78 minutes canceling out Andre Gray’s second-minute marker. Watford are unbeaten in their last four (2-2-0) at Vicarage Road and have played Fulham to three draws in their three top-flight meetings.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Fulham 0, Watford 1.
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(Gerard Deulofeu photo courtesy Watford FC official Twitter account)