History tells us Fulham for some strange reason have an abysmal record with the League Cup. It may be in the third tier of English competition, but plenty of managers over time have taken the competition seriously, and given countless fans a day out to remember with a trophy at Wembley in the spring. Fulham traditionally prefer to exit the tournament well before Christmas.
Refer to the history books and you will see the Whites have succumbed to embarrassingly ordinary sides down the years -- the performance at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday a year ago being a prime example. The early season optimism of hammering Norwich and running United close at Old Trafford 12 months ago went up in a puff of smoke with an abject loss to promoted Sheffield Wednesday. A night would you believe when Fulham barely mustered an effort on target (so little has changed there).
Four days later, a bruised side had lost the game at West Ham inside the first 45, going down tamely in a 3-0 loss, unable to match the bustle and bludgeoning of Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan.
What can we expect Tuesday night against an Everton side who have held the whip hand over Fulham for some while now? Martin Jol says the side badly need a win to rebuild confidence. On that basis, I expect to see him put out a strong side. Indeed he should. There's more riding on this game than you might imagine as a neutral -- Martin's survival in the job for one.
In all honesty, Fulham are lucky even to be in this round, Burton having pushed them all the way, coming from behind, then being just three minutes from victory, before Fulham went through 5-4 on penalties. Since that painful night against the League 2 side, Fulham's form has got no better. Everton themselves had trouble with Stevenage Town four weeks ago, but unlike Jol’s side, have strengthened cleverly since and arrive in London as the only unbeaten side in the Premiership.
Current form suggests only one winner. Not only are Everton unbeaten in five, Saturday’s result at West Ham says it all as Robert Martinez saw the Toffees twice come from behind to win 3-2. This while Fulham were struggling to get themselves across the half-way line at Stamford Bridge in a 2-0 loss.
There has been much pessimism about the state of the club in the past four days. Although reports suggest Jol has Aaron Hughes, Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov all available for selection again after injury, I question if all will be risked. Managers don’t get sacked after a drubbing in the League Cup. Lose to Cardiff at the weekend, and that’s a different story.
So Jol goes into this tie on very thin ice. This is a major test of his acumen and reputation to still be considered a top coach. I am intrigued to see his starting formation -- even more so for clues if he can still motivate the players. Cracks are starting to appear and that bulldog expression of Jol’s is beginning to look more like a man bunkering down for a siege. With Jol signings Ashkan Dejagah and Derek Boateng not even making the bench recently, is there unrest behind the scenes?
While Everton are without Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman, Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone are fit again, and of course the Toffees have two players in their eleven who, with more resolve and ambition from our board, could have been in Fulham white. Both James McCarthy and Romelu Lukaku are players capable of changing a game. I shall be watching them closely. Let’s hope the Fulham markers are too!
The bald facts don’t make pleasant reading, but here they are. Everton have not lost to Fulham in eight meetings. In Fulham's last six home games they have drawn with West Brom and lost the other five. Fulham have also not gone beyond the third round since 2004.
The Cottage no longer a fortress, our manager out of ideas, confidence rock-bottom and Everton, of all sides, the one club you did not want to come out of the hat – this has all the makings of a 3-0 win to Fulham! COYW!
See you on the other side of the game later in the week.