Good afternoon and thank you for joining Sports Mole
for live text commentary of the Premier League match between Fulham and Norwich City
at Craven Cottage. The term 'six-pointer' is thrown around a lot nowadays, but there can be no denying that today's result will be vital in the battle to avoid relegation.
With just five games of the season left, the two teams are separated by five points in the Premier League table
. Norwich are in 17th place with 33 points, while Fulham have collected 27 points from their 33 matches. With so much at stake, it is crucial that both managers get their team selections right, so let's take a look at which players have made the starting lineups this afternoon.
A reminder before the teams are announced that we will be kicking off at 3.07pm this afternoon. All matches taking place today will be starting seven minutes later than usual to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. There will be a moments silence across the country at 3.06pm to commemorate the time that the 1989 semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was called off.
FULHAM XI: Stockdale, Heitinga, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Richardson, Kasami, Riether, Diarra, Sidwell, Holtby, Rodallega
NORWICH XI: Ruddy, Whittaker, Martin, Turner, Olsson, Johnson, Fer, Howson, Snodgrass, Redmond, van Wolfswinkel
FULHAM SUBS: Stekelenburg, Riise, Kvist, Parker, Dejagah, Roberts, Bent
NORWICH SUBS: Bunn, R. Bennett, Garrido, Tettey, Hoolahan, Murphy, Hooper
So, Fulham manager Felix Magath
has handed a start to Hugo Rodallega
after the striker's winning goal in last weekend's 2-1 victory
against Aston Villa. He leads the line in place of youngster Cauley Woodrow
, with Lewis Holtby
set to play just behind him. Scott Parker
is back from injury, but is not fit enough to start, which means that Mahamadou Diarra
continues alongside Steve Sidwell
in the centre of midfield. Darrent Bent is back on the bench after being ineligible to play last weekend.
For his first game in chrage, Neil Adams
has selected Ricky van Wolfswinkel
to lead the Norwich attack, with Gary Hooper
dropping to the bench. Michael Turner
and Leroy Fer
are back in the starting lineup following recent injuries, with Nathan Redmond
Heading into today's game, the Canaries may be in a stronger position, but a poor run of form has resulted in a change in management as the season enters its decisive conclusion. Chris Hughton
as manager last Sunday, with their 1-0 defeat
at home to West Bromwich Albion sealing his fate. Youth-team coach Neil Adams
has been appointed in his place, despite having no first-team managerial experience.
Admittedly the Canaries are better placed and even if they lose they will still be above the relegation zone, but when you look at their final four fixtures of the season, it makes today a must-win game. They host league leaders Liverpool next Sunday, before facing Manchester United at Old Trafford a week later. Things don't get any easier, as they visit title challengers Chelsea at Stamford Bridge at the beginning of May, before welcoming Arsenal on the final weekend of the season.
Fulham are no strangers to managerial changes, with Felix Magath
the third man to be in charge of the Londoners this season. They have lost four of their seven games under the German, but claimed a vital win against Aston Villa last Saturday to give them a real chance of survival.
The Cottagers arguably have the easier run in, with their toughest match potentially coming next Saturday when they travel to White Hart Lane to face Europa League chasing Tottenham Hotspur. After that come meetings against Hull City and Stoke City, with both teams looking as if they have sealed their place in the Premier League for another season. Their final game of the season is at home against Crystal Palace, which could be a huge game for both sides, with Tony Pulis
' men not quite out of danger yet.
These teams have met three teams this season already, with Norwich yet to register a victory. Their league match in December ended with Fulham claiming a 2-1 win
at Carrow Road, thanks to a stunning late goal from Scott Parker
. The other two fixtures were in the third round of the FA Cup, where the first match ended in a 1-1 draw
. Following a replay, Fulham eased to a 3-0 victory
at Craven Cottage to progress to the fourth round.
The home fans can take heart that their team has gone 15 games unbeaten in all competitions against the Canaries. You have to go back to the 1985-86 season when they were playing in the old Second Division to see the last time Norwich got the upper hand. Another stat that will worry the visitors is their poor away form this season, as they have lost their last six Premier League matches on the road. Neil Adams's men actually have the worst away record in the league this season, with 12 defeats outside of Carrow Road.
Neil Adams couldn't of been thrown into a tougher situation, but he is relishing the challenge ahead of him. "The players have been fantastic since I've come in and have given me some decisions to make for today's line-up. People know what this club means to me, it's everything, but today we're focused on the task at hand," the club's official Twitter feed quotes him as saying.
This is not the only huge game taking place this afternoon that could decide which teams avoid the drop. Bottom of the league Sunderland will be looking to end a run of four consecutive defeats as they host an Everton side who have won their past six league games. Just above them in the table are Cardiff City, who travel to eighth-place Southampton. Crystal Palace and Aston Villa will be looking to move a step closer to the 40-point mark when they meet at Selhurst park, while West Bromwich Albion face Tottenham Hotspur.
One of the big reasons for each side being down the wrong end of the table has been their poor defensive records this season. Fulham have leaked the most goals in the league, having conceded a huge 74 goals in their 33 matches. Meanwhile, Norwich have seen their goal breached 52 times, and have conceded 11 times in their last three matches away from Carrow Road. With Fulham only keeping four clean sheets this entire campaign, we are surely in for a goal or two this afternoon.
As well as their problems at the back, they are amongst the lowest scorers in the league. Norwich have scored just 26 goals, with only Crystal Palace (23) finding the back of the net on fewer occasions. Fulham have not fared too much better and have scored 33 goals, which works out at an average of one a game. Both teams are hindered by their lack of a deadly striker, with Fulham forward Darren Bent
scoring just three league goals all season. Their top scorer in the league has been midfielder Steve Sidwell
, who has scored six times. Norwich's highest scorer is Gary Hooper
with seven goals in all competitions, while fellow summer signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel's only goal came on his debut during the first game of the season.
We are around 13 minutes away from kick off and the tension is surely building at Craven Cottage for the fans and players of both teams.
With so much to play for this afternoon, there is bound to be a nervous atmosphere in West London. Last weekend's victory will have given Fulham a huge amount of confidence that they can stay up this season. In contrast, the dismissal of manager Chris Hughton
has highlighted the discontent in Norwich, and a bad result today could seal their fate with a tough run of games coming up. I feel that the Cottagers will produce a repeat of the reverse fixture and claim a 2-1 win this afternoon.
The players have left their changing rooms and are lined up on the far end of the pitch at Craven Cottage ready to enter the pitch. They are led out by Mike Dean
, who will be the man in the middle this afternoon.
We are now about to have a moments silence to remember the Hillsborough disaster that happened 25 years ago.
KICKOFF! We are underway at Craven Cottage!
Fulham have begun this game on the front foot and are playing some good football in the opening stages. They are passing the ball about confidently and are looking to stamp their authority on proceedings as early as they can.
Kasami is the first player to try his luck on goal this afternoon, after the home side win the ball in the midfield. He drives to the edge of the box, but scuffs his effort and drags it across the goal with the keeper untroubled.
Norwich almost get lucky as Redmond swings in a cross from the right that almost catches Stockdale out in goal. The keeper is alert though at his near post to tip the ball round the post for a corner, which Fulham manage to clear with ease.
It has been a really scrappy opening to the game, with both teams giving the ball away cheaply. We have also seen a couple of crunching tackles already, and I feel we will see a few bookings come the end of the match.
Howson latches onto a cross-field pass from Whittaker, before firing in an effort on the volley, but Heitinga is back to make a crucial block. The effort may not have been going in, but the defender was alert to the danger there.
CHANCE! The hosts come close when Rodallega latches onto a flicked header from Kasami, before drilling an effort just wide of the far post. He is the man who Fulham will be looking to this afternoon, having been so successful last weekend.
Fulham are looking dangerous on the counter-attack, and Kasami leads a charge through the middle, before finding Sidwell out wide. The midfielder tries to get his cross into the box, but Norwich get back and clear the ball behind for a corner.
From the resulting set-piece, the ball is played to the back post where Sidwell gets above his marker, but can't get enough power on his header and directs the ball wide.
CHANCE! Sidwell has looked a big danger in the air and he flicks the ball through to Rodallega on the edge of the box. The striker storms forward and gets a header in on goal, but it is a weak attempt and Ruddy comfortably claims.
CHANCE! It is all Fulham at the moment and Kasami gets on the end of Rodallega's knock down, before firing in a strike that deflects just wide of the top corner.
Fulham win a corner on the right and Richardson swings in a teasing delivery that Ruddy has to beat away under intense pressure, with the ball going out for a throw in.
Norwich have to be careful in this game, as every time they lose the ball in the Fulham half, they are quickly attacked on the break. On the latest occasion Kasami bursts down the left before trying to find Rodallega in the box, but the defence are able to clear.
SAVE! What a save from Stockdale! Olsson delivers a great ball into the middle that van Wolfswinkel meets on the volley, but the keeper somehow keeps out his attempt with a stunning one-handed save.
SAVE! Norwich come close again, but it's another wonderful save from Stockdale! Fer rises highest in the box to meet Redmond's corner, but sees his attempt saved by the Fulham stopper. The ball comes out to Johnson, but the midfielder can only direct his attempt wide of the post.
YELLOW CARD! This is a strange booking for Fer. Norwich win a free kick just outside the box, with the midfielder taking it quickly and finding the back of the net. Dean made it clear he had not signaled for it to be taken so soon and shows him the card.
OFF THE BAR! Redmond steps up to take the free kick, but is desperately unlucky to see his curling effort come crashing off the bar with Stockdale left rooted to the spot. The visitors must be wondering how they aren't ahead.
GOAL! Fulham 1-0 Norwich City (Hugo Rodallega)
What a huge goal for the home side! Holtby whips in a free kick from the left hand side, which is flicked on by Sidwell and met by Rodallega in the six-yard box to sweep into the back of the net. That goal could prove vital to both club's Premier League survival and would move Fulham to within two points of Norwich in the table.
Fulham look far more settled following that goal and the crowd are really getting behind them now. It is going to be tough for Norwich, but they are still very much in this game as we head towards the break.
We are going to have two minutes of stoppage time at the end of the half.
HALF-TIME: Fulham 1-0 Norwich City
blows for the end of the half and it is Fulham who lead at the break thanks to Rodallega's strike. It is slightly harsh on the visitors who had plenty of chances to score, but were denied by a combination of David Stockdale
and the woodwork.
Let's take a quick look around the grounds at today's other Premier League matches. It is goalless in the games between Southampton and Cardiff City and Sunderland and Everton. Crystal Palace are also level at 0-0 with Aston Villa, while Stoke City are 1-0 ahead against Newcastle United. The game of the day seems to be taking place at The Hawthorns, where West Bromwich Albion are beating Tottenham Hotspur 3-1.
Back to the events at Craven Cottage and it has been a tale of two strikers so far. Rodallega has scored two goals in two games, but Norwich man Ricky van Wolfswinkel can't buy a goal. It has been over 20 hours since he last found the back of the net, but he was denied by a world-class save from Stockdale midway through the first half.
Halfway through this afternoon's games, this is how the table is looking at the moment. As you can see Fulham would close the gap on Norwich and give themselves a real shot of survival.
The statistics of the game so far show that the Canaries have had more of the ball, with 54% of the possession. Both teams have had seven attempts on goal, with Fulham's only effort on target ending up in the back of the net. The teams are back out on the pitch, and it shouldn't be too long until the second half kicks off.
We are back underway at Craven Cottage!
CHANCE! Fulham almost make the perfect start to the second half as Rodallega meets Riether's corner, but puts his header wide at the far post.
Norwich have started the half well and are seeing plenty of the ball in the midfield. They are finding it hard to get into the attacking third of the pitch, with Fulham closing them down quickly.
Fer tries his luck for the Canaries with a strike from the edge of the box after latching onto Snodgrass's lay off, but fires his effort straight at the keeper.
CHANCE! Big chance for Rodallega. From Richardson's corner, the striker loses Fer in the box, before heading an effort just wide of the post.
CHANCE! Norwich have their own opportunity to score as Olsson latches onto a ball over the top, before playing it across the goal, with Snodgrass arriving. Unfortunately for the Norwich man, Hangeland was there first to put the ball behind and deny him a certain goal.
SUBSTITUTION: Fulham make the first chance of the afternoon, with Dejagah replaceing Kasami.
SUBSTITUTION: Norwich make a change of their own, as Hooper is on to replace van Wolfswinkel.
Fulham blow a huge chance as they win the ball in their half following Diarra's challenge on Johnson. It looked to be a foul, but they broke quickly with Sidwell leading the charge. The ball is eventually fed to Dejagah out wide but his cross is poor and easily gathered by the keeper.
SUBSTITUTION: It's a change for both teams, as Parker returns for Fulham in place of Holtby, while Hoolahan replcaes Fer for the visitors.
Norwich haven't quite looked as threatening as they did in the first half, and Snodgrass tries his luck with a long range effort that flies over the bar. The visitors need to find inspiration from somewhere, as they look slightly aimless at the moment.
CHANCE! Parker has only just come on, but comes mightily close to a second Fulham goal. He is picked out on the edge of the box by Riether, and after moving the ball onto his right foot, he fires a low strike just wide of the post.
CHANCE! Hooper wins a corner after his strike from the edge of the box cannons off Amorebieta, and from the resulting set piece Turner meets the ball with a thumping header that deflects just over the bar.
CHANCE! Sidwell is picked out 25 yards out from goal and has plenty of space in front of him. He takes a touch and drills in a low effort that is well saved by Ruddy.
SUBSTITUTION: It's a last throw of the dice for Neil Adams, as he brings on Murphy for Howson.
The Canaries are starting to pile on the pressure and are pumping crosses into the box. Fulham are holding firm though and keep clearing the danger. They are restricting their opponents to long-range efforts with Murphy bending a speculative shot wide of the top corner.
SUBSTITUTION: Felix Magath makes his final change of the afternoon for the home side, with Diarra making way in the centre of the midfield for Kvist.
Both teams are looking weary as we enter the final minutes and Fulham seem content to hold onto the ball and see the game out. Norwich haven't shown they can get anything out of the game yet, but it will be a test of nerves for a Fulham side who have the league's worst defensive record.
YELLOW CARD! Johnson is booked for Norwich after taking down Richardon, with the midfielder running free down the left hand side.
We are going to have three minutes of stoppage time.
Fulham have the ball in the corner down the right hand side and are holding onto it, with three points within touching distance.
CHANCE! What a miss by Dejagah! He should score after being put clean through by Rodallega, but blasts the ball high over the bar!
FULL-TIME: Fulham 1-0 Norwich City
The game comes to an end and Fulham have managed to hold on and claim a huge three points. They are now just two points behind Norwich in the table, with the Canaries facing a nightmare final four matches.
With West Brom being held to a 3-3 draw by Spurs, this has been a great day for Fulham fans. They still have plenty of work to do, but have given themselves a massive boost as they battle to keep their Premier League status.
That's all we have got time for here at Craven Cottage. Please stay with us at Sports Mole
for all of this weekend's action, including Arsenal and Wigan Athletic's FA Cup semi-final
, which is about to kick off now. Until next time, goodbye!