Fulham-West Brom Preview
LONDON (SE) - Not all is lost with one loss for West Bromwich Albion, who try to regroup and complete their busy holiday stretch with three wins in four matches on New Year's Day when they host Fulham at The Hawthorns.
The Baggies (10-3-7) were on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline at Old Trafford versus front-running Manchester United, conceding an early own goal by Gareth McAuley and a 90th-minute strike by Robin van Persie. Despite the defeat, manager Steve Clarke found some positives in the second 45 minutes of play from his side as it carried the run of play for stretches.
"I'm not going to say we deserved to win the game but I think if we'd come away from here with a draw nobody would have complained," he told the team's official website. "We'll stay focused on reaching our 40-point target. When we get there, we'll reassess and give ourselves another target."
West Brom have many key players trying to get match fit for this encounter, most notably defender Jonas Olsson and midfielders Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, who were all sidelined with hamstring injuries. Fellow midfielder Steven Reid is trying to overcome a shin injury that has kept him out of action more than three weeks.
The Baggies are tied with Arsenal and Everton on 33 points but trail both of them on goal differential and enter this match seventh. They have claimed points in eight of their 10 home matches, conceding only seven goals, but have posted only one clean sheet in their previous 10 games.
Fulham (5-6-9) are out to salvage some holiday cheer and end a four-match winless streak that has seen them pick up only one point. The Cottagers, who have claimed just six road points in 10 matches, lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City on Saturday, with 'keeper David Stockdale struggling on both goals conceded and Bryan Ruiz accounting for their lone goal despite nine shots on frame and 23 attempts overall.
"The only one who didn't have the best day was my goalkeeper and he is a very good goalkeeper," Fulham manager Martin Jol said of Stockdale, whom he gave his first start of the season to. "I won't blame him but you could see that he gave them the two goals.
"I feel for the boy but I feel more for us, for the team."
Mark Schwarzer likely will make his return between the sticks for Fulham, who are only four points above the drop but also only four points from the top half of the table with 21. The veteran Aussie has yielded 11 goals in his last five matches since blanking Chelsea on Nov. 28.
The Cottagers stormed to a 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage on Sept. 15 as Dimitar Berbatov scored a pair of goals in a 13-minute span late in the first half. Steven Sidwell added a late third for Fulham, who have claimed points in the last four matches (2-2-0) between the teams since a 2-1 defeat Oct. 23, 2010.
The Baggies, though, are 3-3-0 at The Hawthorns versus Fulham in their last six in the top flight.