The promotion picture in the Championship will chop and change somewhat between now and next May, and at the moment every side in the top six could be considered “right in it” – five points is all that separates table-topping West Brom from Bristol City, who currently occupy sixth place. Outside of that top six are another tranche of sides who, with a run of form, could be in the automatic promotion places before long. Those sides – Fulham (in 7th, seven points behind) and QPR (10th, nine points) face off tonight at Craven Cottage in a West London derby.
Both of these sides have tasted Premier League football fairly recently, with Fulham having spent last season in the top flight, while the Rs were relegated in 2015 under Chris Ramsey (not the Strictly one). This game will give both sides a chance to get closer to the leading pack, but there are challenges aplenty for both Scott Parker in the home dugout and Mark Warburton in the visitors’. Whoever surmounts those challenges the better could find their season relaunched as December hoves into view.
Cottagers placed to get themselves in front
Mark Warburton has been vaunted at every club he has managed, in the early days, for getting teams to be united and seeking to play positive football. What he has never really managed to do across four stints as the head coach, through Brentford, Rangers, Nottingham Forest and now QPR, is assemble something that resembles a coherent defensive line-up. At present, his team could be a lot higher in the table were it not for the 30 goals his side have conceded. That’s on a par with Luton, who sit 21st, and only one club have conceded more – bottom side Barnsley.
That’s a problem against any side, but at Fulham, who have a very solid set of attacking players, it could be fatal for the Rs’ hopes of picking up any points at all. Although the hosts are missing Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic – who was booked for the fifth time this season in the 1-0 win over Birmingham and will therefore miss this game – they should still have what it takes to open up the already-quite-open visiting defence, and with Paddy Power offering 4/7 that they will lead 1-0 at some time tonight, you’d be well-advised to back that happening.
Could be an end-to-end clash
If QPR are a joke at the back, then they’re deadly serious going forward. In fact, of these two sides they’re the ones who have scored more often in the league this season; Fulham are unlikely to have it all their own way tonight. Although the home side include the bigger names in their line-up, the seemingly lesser lights have a few players who can make an impact going forward. Burnley loanee Nakhi Wells should lead the line for the visitors this evening, and his eight goals are, in Mitrovic’s absence, the highest total for any player lining up tonight. Jordan Hugill, likely to be an option from the bench, has chipped in seven of his own this campaign.
Add into the mix young winger Ebere Eze, who’s picked up six goals in the league, and the visitors look primed to make an impact at the right end of the pitch. Probably not enough of one to take the pressure off the Keystone Cops at the back, admittedly, but certainly more than enough to make the price of 8/13 on Betway for Both Teams To Score look like a good bet. Particularly considering that this is a derby match, we can expect both teams to be going for it this evening.
Three points and a top-six spot for Parker’s side
This is likely to be an entertaining game for the neutral, even if it turns into a nervy one for anyone who has colours to nail to the mast. Wherever QPR go there tends to be goalscoring, even if most of it happens against them, and there is even the chance of an upset here given the absence of Fulham’s star striker. That said, there is a reason that the Rs have not won in four games, and in their last outing they showed an inability to control a game when they managed to draw after going ahead against a very mediocre Middlesbrough side.
In the end, it is this lack of control that will hurt QPR here. In front of a home crowd, Fulham have everything they need to get the three points even without Mitrovic, and the space you can expect the visitors to leave open is sure to be exploited by the home side’s dynamic wingers, along with Bobby deCordova Reid, who will want to show on a rare start that he’s worth a more regular place in the team. At 888, you can back Fulham to win with both teams scoring at 9/4, and that feels like a bet worth making.
Bets of the Day
Fulham win and BTTS (888, 9/4); Both Teams To Score (Betway, 8/13); Fulham to lead 1-0 during match (Paddy Power, 4/7)