You don't need me to tell you that Fulham's match against Hull City at Craven Cottage Saturday is an important match - a must win match. You also probably don't need reminding that the reverse fixture in December marked one of the lowest points of the season for a Fulham side spoiled for choice when it comes to season lowlights. With three matches remaining, Norwich scheduled to play a Manchester United side suddenly relieved of its David Moyes shaped albatross, and Sunderland and Cardiff squaring off against one another Monday, tomorrow, not the final match day of the season, could be the final nail in Fulham's coffin or the first gulp of sweet safety. Pending other results, Fulham could either find themselves in seventeenth position with a stellar chance to beat the drop, or five points adrift from safety with only two matches remaining.
It is a massive match.
For their part, Hull City are enjoying what many, including themselves, are calling the finest season in the club's history, having made their way to the FA Cup final. In spite of that achievement, Hull aren't totally out of the woods. Sitting on only thirty six points, the Tigers are only just dangling right above the relegation scrap and will be looking to Saturday's fixture as a chance to consolidate their league position, relax, and look ahead to the FA Cup and another season of top flight football. If they win, they're almost surely safe. If they lose, references to last year's Wigan squad will start creeping into post match reports.
After last week's away match against Tottenham, expect Felix Magath to revert back to personnel and tactics more similar to those which he deployed against Norwich City. The trip to White Hart Lane was always going to be a quest for a draw, and Magath set his team up in order to limit Spurs' chances. Hull City at Craven Cottage is an entirely different proposition, and with a healthy squad from which to pick, expect Fulham to be more expansive going forward.
The danger for Fulham is that Hull are arguably a better side, at least on paper, than they were when they dismantled the Cottagers 6-0 in December. Shane Long and Nikica Jelavić give Hull an attacking threat they previously lacked, and the combination of Jelavić's power and Long's pace and constant harassment of defenders will be key hurdles with which the Fulham back four will have to deal. Limiting space for Tom Huddlestone to get on the ball and find passes forward will be the primary defensive responsibility for Steve Sidwell and whomever Magath decides to pair with him. Last weekend, Christian Eriksen shredded Fulham with his set piece service, and Tom Huddlestone's quality in similar situations will demand Fulham not give anything away cheaply in dangerous positions. If the Cottagers can manage these three keys to the Hull City attack, they possess the quality at home to capture all three points.
Other than longterm absentee Allan McGregor, neither side should be missing any players through injury. And yes, this includes Kostas Mitroglou, who is set to be part of the squad Saturday. I would be surprised if started the match given the stakes, his lack of time playing, and the form of Hugo Rodallega, but if Fulham need a goal late Mitroglou could be the man. Let's hope it doesn't get to that point.
UPDATE: Apparently Mitroglou is still out. Normal service resumed.