Preview: Fulham vs. Sunderland
SUNDERLAND HEAD to west London this Sunday to take on the continually impressive Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The Cottagers sit ninth at present after a 1-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday at Anfield.
A Martin Skrtel own-goal was enough to hand the Whites their first ever victory at Anfield, the perfect present for boss Martin Jol who has been unable to take charge of his side`s last two games following illness.
The former Hamburg, Ajax and Spurs boss has improved the Cottagers once again after a good showing last year under Mark Hughes. A run which has seen his side win seven from their last 12 games has powered Fulham up the Premier League to the point seventh-placed Everton and a potential Europa League spot might not be a million miles off despite a three-point gap.
With just four home defeats this season from 18 games, Fulham will be a tricky proposition for Martin O`Neill`s tired side.
Two men have been critical to Fulham`s impressive post-January showing, Pavel Pogrebnyak, on-loan from Stuttgart and star man, Clint Dempsey.
American Dempsey has scored an incredible 22 league and cup goals in 44 appearances for the Whites. An even more impressive 16 of those goals have come in the Premier League - a feat which has left Fulham struggling to keep hold of the former New England Revolution playmaker.
The versatile 29 year-old`s form this season has seen him become the highest-scoring American in Premier League history with 49 goals in 156 league starts for the west London outfit. Dempsey is out of contract at Craven Cottage next summer, and as he approaches 30, you wouldn`t be surprised to see the Texan schemer make the step up to a bigger side.
Loanee Pogrebnyak has been in equally inspired form this season. Having signed on loan in January from the Bundlesliga outfit, the big Russian has netted six goals in just 10 starts for his temporary side. Three of those came against Wolves in a 5-0 humping of the Black Country side earlier this year.
Despite a slightly disappointing spell with Stuttgart, Pogrebnyak`s overall career strike rate makes enviable reading with 66 league goals in just 132 starts.
Should the Moscow-born forward finish his loan spell as impressively as it`s started, a permanent move come the summer beckons.
It`s not all about goal-scorers for Jol`s side though, giant centre-half Brede Hangeland is a rock at the heart of the White`s defence. Now 30, the former FC Copenhagen and Viking centre-half has been a regular fixture at back, usually partnered by Northern Ireland international, Aaron Hughes.
At 6`4" and 14 stone, the Norwegian centre-back made 53 appearances in all competitions for the Cottagers this season, helping him to break the 150 league starts mark for the club he was brought to by new England boss Roy Hodgson.
Jol will be without Zdenik Grygera (knee) and Bryan Ruiz (metatarsal) whilst Steve Sidwell and Andy Johnson are doubts.
O`Neill will be without the services of Sebastian Larsson and Kieran Richardson (both groin), whilst Titus Bramble, Wes Brown and Connor Wickham are doubts.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Kelly, Hangeland, Hughes, Riise; Duff, Dempsey, Murhpy (c), Kacaniklic; Dembele; Pogrebnyak.
Sunderland: Gordon; Bardsley, Turner, Kilgallon, O`Shea; Sessegon, Colback, Cattermole (c), McClean; Campbell; Bendtner.