Meet the opposition: Town should have taken a leaf out of Fulham’s book

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:16 16 September 2020

Fulham manager Scott Parker. Picture: PA

Fulham manager Scott Parker. Picture: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Ipswich Town entertain Premier League new boys Fulham in the EFL Cup tonight. CARL MARSTON casts his eye over the opposition

Fulham's Serbian international striker, Aleksandar Mitrovic. Picture: PAFulham's Serbian international striker, Aleksandar Mitrovic. Picture: PA

Ipswich Town could do worse than to take a leaf out of Fulham’s book, on how to gain promotion without ever threatening to be the best team in the division.

The Cottagers, newly promoted to the Premier League at the first time of asking, are in action at Portman Road this evening (kick-off 7pm) in a Carabao Cup second round tie.

Town huffed and puffed for much of last season, without making much headway in League One, while Fulham also never really set the Championship alight, one step higher up.

And yet Scott Parker’s men, despite never even gracing the top two at any occasion last term, ended up clinching promotion via the play-offs.

One of Fulham's summer recruits, Antonee Robinson, in action for former loan club Bolton being fouled by then-Ipswich front-runner Joe Garner. Picture: PAGEPIXOne of Fulham's summer recruits, Antonee Robinson, in action for former loan club Bolton being fouled by then-Ipswich front-runner Joe Garner. Picture: PAGEPIX

It was a case of impeccable timing, by the West Londoners, combined with a ruthless streak when it mattered most, Joe Bryan scoring twice in a 2-1 win over local rivals Brentford in the play-off final at Wembley.

That’s why two divisions separate the clubs in 2020-21, although of course the vagaries of the EFL Cup, with unfamiliar starting line-ups often on show, can sometimes be a leveller.

Town will be hoping that this is the case tonight.

DOWN-TO-EARTH PARKER

Former England midfielder, Scott Parker, is no fool.

Hence, even though the new league season is only one match old, he has been quick to admit that his side will “lose more matches than we win” this season.

Managing expectations is a skill learnt by managers, and 39-year-old Parker is already proving just as big-a-hit at Craven Cottage as the man-in-charge, as he was when he used to pull the strings in central midfield.

“We have to understand where we are as a team,” insisted Parker after the 3-0 home defeat to Arsenal on Saturday.

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“You cannot let defeat after defeat cripple you. We have some big lessons to learn. We will lose more matches than we win, that’s a fact.”

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Parker did not panic, as a rookie manager, even when his first five matches in charge ended in defeat, towards the back end of the 2018-19 season, which led to Fulham being relegated to the Championship with five games still to be played.

He kept the Cottagers in the hunt for promotion last season, despite never sneaking into the top two, and an immediate return to the top flight was no mean achievement.

Not surprising, then, that he recently signed a new three-year contract which will keep him at Craven Cottage until the summer of 2023.

RECENT RECRUITS

As befits a team newly promoted to the Premier League, Fulham have been busy in the transfer market, with the emphasis on a number of season-long loans.

Several of these new recruits could play tonight, so it’s worth having a run-down of some of the Cottagers’ newest arrivals.

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1 Alphonse Areola: recruited on a season-long loan from Paris St Germain, this 27-year-old keeper spent last season on loan at Real Madrid, for whom the 6ft 5ins custodian made nine appearances. He was a member of France’s World Cup winning squad of 2018.

2 Ola Aina: Another season-long loanee, the ex-Chelsea full-back has been snapped up for the campaign from Torino

3 Antonee Robinson: Bought for around £2million from Wigan Athletic, he is a 23-year-old United States international defender

4 Mario Lemina: An experienced midfielder signed on a season-long loan from Southampton. The Gabon international initially joined the Saints from Juventus for £15.4m in 2017

5 Harrison Reed: Another midfielder signed from Southampton, although he has moved for an undisclosed fee on a permanent deal having been on loan at Craven Cottage last season

6 Kenny Tete: Secured on a four-year deal from Lyon, he is a Dutch defender who has won 13 international caps. He could make the right-back slot his own.

POSSIBLE LINE-UP

Tonight’s line-up is likely to feature several of the aforementioned new signings, very few of whom played in the opening day 3-0 home defeat to Arsenal in the Premier League over the weekend. In fact, 10 of the starting XI played in the play-off final win over Brentford.

The likes of Arola, Tete, Robinson and Aina could all figure, alongside a few of the younger players, while star striker Alksandar Mitrovic, who did not play against the Gunners due to a lack of training with the squad following his international commitments with Serbia, might grace the Portman Road turf in some capacity this evening, either from the start or off the bench.

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