Such is the reputation Felix “Saddam” Magath carries before him, it is hard to imagine either him or anyone near him relaxing. But Fulham’s latest manager said he felt that way about his home debut last week as no one expected his new charges to take anything from the visit of Chelsea.
They were right, Fulham lost 3-1, but the pressure will be on today as the bottom club travel to Cardiff City, just a place and a point above them.
It is a potentially pivotal match. Cardiff have won once in 12 matches, Fulham have taken two points from 24. The winners will gain an injection of confidence that could spark a season-saving revival, the losers will be rock-bottom in mood and reality.
“The best confidence you can get is if you win,” said Magath, whose other match with Fulham was a draw at West Bromwich Albion. “We need a win for our confidence. I know we have quite a good schedule in the last 10 games.”
Fulham have to go to Manchester City and Tottenham but their run-in otherwise offers hope. Cardiff have marginally more testing fixtures, but it does ensure that survival is in their own hands. Besides Fulham they play the three clubs above them.
The Bluebirds’ own managerial change, the replacement of promotion-winning Malky Mackay by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is yet to succeed. Under the Norwegian novice they have taken four points from eight games having managed 17 from 18 under Mackay (and one from two with caretaker David Kerslake in charge). They have also fallen into the bottom three.
“I don’t think any of these two teams can say ‘we are in top shape’,” said Solskjaer, “but you want your players to go out there, play and express themselves with no fear.”
That is unlikely. Instead the match promises to be a nervous affair with the first goal crucial given both teams’ lack of confidence. It is also likely to be error-strewn given that it pits the division’s worst attack against its weakest defence: in 28 league games apiece Cardiff have scored 19 goals, and none in the last four; Fulham conceded 62.
It is 17 seasons since Fulham last played in Cardiff, winning 2-1 in front of 6,144 at Ninian Park. That was in the Third Division Fulham won promotion that year to begin their climb back to the top flight, Cardiff lost in the play-offs.
It has taken the Welsh side a long time to catch up with Fulham and the odds on both teams being in the top flight next season are short. This afternoon may go a long way to determining which club is the survivor.