When Brede Hangeland joined Fulham six years ago this month the deal’s timing meant he had to watch from the stand while his new club lost 3-0 at home to Arsenal. After Emmanuel Adebayor scored the second of two barely challenged headers he received a text from a Fulham employee: “That’s why we need u” it read.
This season Fulham have conceded 42 goals, more than any team in the Premier League, including nine at corners. Hangeland has missed three months with a sciatic nerve problem. These facts are related.
Fulham hope their Norwegian giant will return today when Sunderland visit Craven Cottage, too late to save Martin Jol, but a boost for his replacement Rene Meulensteen. With goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg also in line for a comeback, and Clint Dempsey making his second home debut after returning on loan from Seattle Sounders, there is renewed belief by the Thames.
However, after taking three points at Everton and beating Manchester United in the Capital One Cup, Sunderland also have fresh confidence. They won at Fulham last season and a repeat could lift them off the bottom.
Gus Poyet’s main decision centres on whether to change players involved on Tuesday when Fulham were resting, or hope the buzz of that victory overcomes any fatigue.
Sunderland are yet to beat a fellow struggler and Poyet said: “People say we are going to do well in the second half of the season because we are playing so many teams at home who are in the bottom half. But we haven’t beaten one yet and it is vital that we start doing that. That’s why the Fulham game is such a massive game for us.”
A Sunderland win would bring them within two points of Fulham. Poyet, who arrived on Wearside with the club adrift after taking one point from seven games following Paolo Di Canio’s disastrous reign (which included a home defeat by Fulham), added: “This game is one which can change our season and I’m looking forward to it.”