Opinion: If anyone can stop the Fulham juggernaut, it's Blackpool - and it's not just wild optimism

If any team can stop the Fulham juggernaut, it’s Blackpool.

By Matt Scrafton
Friday, 28th January 2022, 11:00 am

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That might seem like quite an outlandish claim on the face of it but, I can assure you, it isn’t based on wild optimism.

For a start, the Seasiders have already beaten the runaway league leaders this season – claiming a 1-0 win courtesy of Josh Bowler’s solo effort back in September, which handed Neil Critchley’s men their first three points of the campaign.

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Aside from Blackpool, only Reading, Coventry City and Sheffield United have emerged victorious in the league against the Cottagers this season.

What, perhaps, is more impressive is that Blackpool are one of only three sides to stop Marco Silva’s men from scoring.

Derby County, who boast an excellent defensive record despite their woes, and the Blades are the other two.

Keeping a clean sheet on Saturday will be a tall order for Pool given Fulham have taken their scoring to new heights in 2022, netting 22 goals in their last four games alone – giving them a current average of 5.5 goals a game.

Fulham have scored a ridiculous 73 goals this season

Silva’s side, who have 73 goals for the season, hit Reading for seven, while also recording six in the dominant wins against Bristol City and Birmingham City.

They only managed a relatively paltry three in their narrow victory against Stoke City last weekend, but, in their defence, they were without their leading goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic.

The Serb, quite remarkably, has 27 goals for the season, one fewer than Blackpool’s overall scoring record.

It’s understood the striker was missing through illness at Stoke last week, although it’s unknown whether he will be back available to face the Seasiders on Saturday.

The Cottagers are already without a host of names including former Liverpool man Harry Wilson, who was brought to the club from Anfield for a fee of £12m.

Jean Michel Seri has been away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast, while Antonee Robinson (USA) and Bobby Decordova Reid (Jamaica) have also received recent call-ups.

That takes Fulham to the three-player threshold clubs are required to reach in order to request a postponement, which was mooted at one point.

However, the leaders opted to carry on – and why wouldn’t they?

They’re free-scoring at the minute and have won all five games they’ve played in 2022.

If anyone in the Championship can deal with a few players out, it’s Fulham.

Don’t feel too much sympathy for them, their current absences mean they might be forced to bring Anthony Knockaert in from the cold – a player signed for £15m from Brighton in 2020, having initially joined on loan.

The 30-year-old might have only made five appearances this season, but he isn’t exactly a bad player to have in reserve is he?

It would have been highly frustrating for Blackpool had the game been called off, which Fulham would technically have been well within their rights to do.

It would have been a mockery had that transpired, given Critchley’s side opted to play on over the festive period despite being without 10 players at one point through a mixture of injuries and Covid-19.

With Fulham having two games called off over Christmas and New Year, surely the last thing they will have wanted is a fixture backlog?

I realise this situation is slightly different because it relates to international call-ups, rather than positive Covid cases, but if Fulham can get a squad of 14 players together – which they’re clearly able to do – then it shouldn’t have even been a debate about whether or not the game should go ahead.

If little old Blackpool can manage to find a way to play on, then surely Fulham can cope just fine.

Thankfully they’ve seen sense and we have the green light.

Anyway, enough about Fulham. Let’s focus on Blackpool.

It’s a slightly misleading statistic as they’ve only played two league games this year, but the Seasiders take a 100 per cent record in 2022 to the bank of the Thames this weekend.

It leaves them eight points off the play-offs with a game in hand. They couldn’t, could they?

If Blackpool’s winning record is to continue, they’ll have to do it without a recognised left-back in their squad following Luke Garbutt’s latest setback.

With Reece James and James Husband still sidelined with hamstring injuries, should the club turn to the transfer market and bring in more cover?

At the same time, when everyone is back fit and available, that will leave the Seasiders with four left-back on their books – hardly an ideal situation given you can only play one of them.

So it might be a case, in the interim at least, of shifting Dujon Sterling over to the left, as he did so well on Saturday after Garbutt was forced off the field.

A final option would be to use Jordan Thorniley following his recall from Oxford United.

While he has played there before, he certainly wouldn’t be a natural fit, so I’d wager this would be an unlikely one – but at least he’s a body in the building who could play there in an emergency.

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