Give us the story of Fulham's season so far then...
Lorcan O'Connor: Think of an upside-down bell curve... We started off incredibly well - 2nd after 6 games i think - and then it was the reverse fixture against you actually where everything started going wrong. It was a game we looked like winning comfortably until Hangeland's red, and a game we arguably still should have got a result of, but it halted us completely. Performances tailed off, we lost momentum until the turn of the year and since then we've picked up some wins, lifting us fairly comfortably out of the relegation battle. Now, the agenda is to push for a top 10 place, which is what we expected at the beginning of the season (and is testament to how well we started), but it's disappointing we're already out of the cups.
Dimitar Berbatov - is it as enjoyable to watch him week in, week out as it is for us who only casually see him play?
LO'C: Yes. Even when he has a poor game he is guaranteed to make you say 'wow' at least once, whether it's a delicate touch to pluck the ball from the air, a pass no one else in the ground had seen or a volley in to the top corner. One thing that irregular viewers of Fulham don't appreciate is that when we went through our slump Berbatov, seemingly in protest of some sort, withdrew quite a bit from playing in the interests of the team. It begs the question whether Berbatov makes the team play well or vice versa. The reality is somewhere in between. I wrote about that - and his combination with Ruiz - in length here, which you may find interesting HERE and HERE.
Martin Jol has also made a number of other signings though. Was January good to you?
LO'C: Essentially he padded out the squad enough to carry us to the end of season, which was all we could ask for. It was incredibly disappointing Spurs and Roma pulled out of permanent deals for Huddlestone and Stekelenberg though. Both are fantastic players who would've become very important over the next few years.
Then of course there's Kieran Richardson, who at the time we were disappointed to lose but really we haven't missed a beat without him. How's he getting on?
LO'C: He started off very shakily, never really putting in a performance above 6/10 (being generous) and suffering from injuries. Then Riise lost his form, Briggs couldn't grab his place and Richardson had a chance to make an impression at left back (against his wishes, he joined to play more advanced than he did at Sunderland), where he was really very, very good, scoring a great goal up at Blackpool with the last kick of the game to keep us in the cup. And then he got injured again. I don't know when he's back and Riise has found a bit of form again so I'm not sure what this means for Richardson but certainly I'd play him at left back when he's back and fit.
I always see Fulham in the same group of teams as ourselves in that mid-table mini-league. What will it take for either you or us to ever break out of that, and is it a real possibility one day?
LO'C: It would take one of: big money, exceptionally savvy management at both board and coaching level, a huge bit of luck or a combination of all three. At Fulham, well we are incorporating a Everton-esque model, having basically reunited the Southampton Academy staff of the Bale-Walcott-Chamberlain era, and we are hoping that will help us manifest riches in both money and player quality. Personally from what I understand of our current youth team, it is going to be something special. As for Sunderland, I'm not so sure; it seems so turbulent there at the moment. But we will see. I hope it does happen.
Looking ahead to our game, who do you think will provide the biggest danger for Fulham?
LO'C: Berbatov is the easy answer but I will go with Ruiz, and I'm not trying to be different or edgy here. Just as important to the team, he knits together our attacking game and possession so well. Once in a while he'll pop up with a quite exceptional goal too. A matchwinner in a less subtle sense than Berbatov.
And on the reverse, what are Fulham's weaknesses and who from Sunderland do you think will give you problems?
LO'C: Attack Riise down the flank and you will get joy. I'm hoping Adam Johnson doesn't suddenly spark his Sunderland career in to life here. Set pieces have been poor for us this season too, and although we were very good at those against Stoke and West Ham, they didn't have Larsson. I'm also hoping Lady Luck doesn't play her hand in your favour again!
Finally, what's your prediction for the game and how it will go?
LO'C: We are in a bit of form and playing much better than we were a couple of months ago, but away we are not nearly as elegant. I can see it being a 0-0 or 1-1, with both teams struggling for potency in opposition third.