RF: You might be flying now but you still have to carry the embarrassment of losing to us. At the Stadium of Light as well! No one loses at the Stadium of Light apart from Sunderland! That being said, your form has been brilliant since that defeat, so the players have clearly used that humiliation to spur them on. What have they been doing differently since the turn of the year though, to mount a push for promotion?
JC: Haha! It was probably the low point of this season, with the whole record there and being the only team to lose in 2017!
There’s a suggestion in some of the interviews conducted by the players about that game and the subsequent run that it was the point where the squad had their own crisis meeting to be like “we’re not doing something right here.” I think at the point of defeat, there was a real feeling of disarray around the camp - when we played you Slavisa played a midfielder as a false 9 and put our striker on the wing, in a system that just wasn’t working.
There’s plenty of talk, and rightly so, about our January additions strengthening us, but also, Slavisa has gone back to a tried and tested system, and the timely return to full fitness of Tom Cairney has helped immeasurably as well.
RF: The battle for the remaining automatic promotion spot is very close. Do you think you can pip Cardiff to it or do you think Fulham will have to take their chances in the play offs?
JC: It’s still very much in Cardiff’s hands and we need to just keep putting the pressure on and hope they slip up. They go to a resurgent Hull this weekend after a tough defeat at Derby, so we’re hoping the Tigers can do us a favour and put the ball in our court!
Either way though, as long as we keep winning, there are few teams that will fancy playing us in the playoffs and hopefully last year’s disappointment will be a useful learning experience for the boys.
RF: Do you feel like promotion will be necessary to keep hold of players such as Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney?
JC: Cairney for sure, which might seem a little bit mental considering Sess’ reputation, but TC is 27 now and is coming to the time where he deserves to be playing top level football. No Fulham fan would begrudge the skipper a go at the top flight, I feel, now he’s shown his quality again this year.
I think Sess will stay for one more season whatever happens, but if we’re to keep the nucleus of this squad together and try and kick on then I think it’s almost now or never with this group of players.
RF: The two players mentioned above stand out and Aleksandar Mitrovic will obviously score against us. Are they the main threats in the Fulham side or is there anyone else we should be worried about?
JC: They are indeed the three that get the limelight but there is talent all over this side.
Matt Targett, on loan from Southampton, has been a revelation since coming into the side and has given Sess the freedom he needs to maraud up the pitch. Kevin McDonald is the heartbeat that keeps the team ticking and Stefan Johansen is always a threat, bursting forward from centre midfield.
RF: It feels silly asking this given we’re already down but is there anyone in the Sunderland that you think could cause an upset?
JC: There’s always danger playing a relegated side, because cliche as it sounds, they’re freed from the yoke of expectation. George Honeyman looks a good talent, and Paddy McNair’s goalscoring form of late is somewhat unexpected but marks him out as a threat.
Those two appear to be a couple of bright spots in a dark season, but there will be times where Sunderland cause us problems tomorrow evening, I have no doubt about that.
RF: I would expect Slavisa Jokanovic to instruct his side to play on the front foot but what other approaches will he take for this game? What do you think his starting line up will be as well?
JC: Slavisa doesn’t have a Plan B. It’s something he’s been criticised for in the past but whoever you are, home or away, Fulham will come and try to dominate possession, murder you with passing and work the ball into the right areas - we simply don’t know any other way to play.
The lineup won’t change I don’t think: Bettinelli; Fredericks, Odoi, Ream, Targett; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney; Piazon, Mitrovic, Sessegnon. It’s done the business over the last few games and I can’t see Slavisa rotating it now.
RF: Finally, what’s your score prediction?
JC: I think Fulham are going to be too fired up to let anything stop them but if we don’t get an early goal, the Cottage will get nervy.
I’m gonna be hopeful though and say 3-0 Fulham.