Game Preview - Dnirpo (h)

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Manager Martin Jol of Fulham applauds the fans during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Aston Villa at Craven Cottage on August 13, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

It's being billed as though two amateur boxers are squaring up on the biggest of stages on Thursday evening, not when Fulham face Dnirpo in the final hurdle that halts progression to the group stages in our favourite European competition, but when Martin Jol pits his extensive wit and know-how against that of his former Spurs successor Juande Ramos.

Of course, as always in the World of misty-eyed tabloid journalism, the affair has been a little exacerbated by heady ramblings, and Martin Jol moved quickly to diminish any hopes of a touchline fist fight which, most assuredly, Martin Jol would win with comparative ease. "I don't want to focus on the coaches," said Jol, probably deep in thought of the many ways he could sit on Juande Ramos and make him beg for painless mercy.

If there is, however, a statistical battle that has ever been fought between the pair, our manager would have the bragging rights - not least based on their current destinations. While Dnirpo do provide a steady and easily inflatable ship for Ramos to pump up to nigh-on explosion, there is little doubt that to surpass Shakthar Donetsk in their respective Ukrainian league, they'd have to spend more money on talent than News of the World did on private investigators. 

Dnirpo have unquestionably improved over recent years, however, and their European pedigree is respectable enough to concern us, and to force Gavin Hamilton of World Soccer Magazine to suggest we have the 'trickiest draw of all the English teams'. As latterly as 2005, Dnirpo achieved a place in the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup, only to be thwarted by a decent Partizan Belgrade side. 2011 saw them finish fourth in the Ukrainian Premier League.

Their form of late is mixed and their strike force is strongly recognisable - Blackburn's Nikola Kalinic now leading the line. Shakhtar recently defeated Ramos' side with unnerving ease, winning 3-1 on Dnirpo's turf, with the home side dropping to a measly ninth in the table. It's early days, however, with only six games played.

Fulham's form has been similarly mixed, though a defeat is yet to be marked on the Cottager's fixture list in what is set to be an extensive campaign. Though our competitive tests so far have not been worthy of such an overwhelming descriptive, we still uphold an undefeated record - our sturdiest analysis provided in Croatia by RNK Split. Villa visited SW6 on Saturday and left pleased, a point and an in form goalkeeper their rewards for a resilient performance.

A confirmed non-starter on Thursday night remains Bjorn Helge Riise, who, while watching his brother reach the stimulating heights only regular Premier League football can bring, is injured. Simon Davies joins him and following Carlos Salcido's departure to Tigres on a year-long loan, the squad is yet again thinning. 

For Dnirpo, Kalinic is set to make his début after what Ramos claimed were 'exhausting' negotiations over his transfer.

Let's hope their goalkeeper is also exhausted after Thursday evening's game.

Score Prediction: Fulham 2 - 0 Dnirpo

Predicted Team Line-Up: Schwarzer; Riise, Hangeland, Hughes, Baird; Dempsey, Murphy, Sidwell, Duff; Dembele, Zamora

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