Lee Clark insists Fulham aren’t thinking about a European tour despite a fairy-tale start to the season under rookie manager Chris Coleman.
The former Newcastle midfielder has a more modest target of breaking into the top ten and expects his hometown club to be pushing for the European spots themselves by the end of the campaign.
“If we finish in the top 10 that will be Fulham’s highest Premiership placing ever and we’d be delighted. Sure, we’re going like an express train and what’s happened since Chris Coleman has taken over as manager is amazing, but we’re not expecting to challenge Newcastle over the whole season.
Our fans might be, because they have a right to dream, but inside the club reality is mixed with ambition. At the end of last season when United came down to our place we were in a desperate relegation fight. We couldn’t buy a goal never mind a win and it wasn’t that long ago. We can’t afford to get too excited.”
Clark admits to experiencing bittersweet feelings when his winner against his boyhood club last season gave Fulham’s survival bid a serious shot in the arm.
“You’ll never know how relieved I was when my winner against the Magpies down here at the back end of last season didn’t cost them third place. That goal was the hardest thing that has ever happened to me. My mam and dad were down for the match but while dad shot back up home straight after the game I went out for a meal with my mam, wife and two kids.
I was dead quiet when I ought to have been jumping about and my mam asked if I was all right. I didn’t really understand it myself. I should have been buzzing, scoring the winner after I’d just got back in the team following injury, but all I could think about was what if United didn’t qualify because of my goal. I couldn’t get my head round it.
However, Fulham have looked after me great for five years. The supporters have been fantastic to me and I owed them. We actually needed the win more than Newcastle. We were staring at relegation – it was horrendous. I’d never been in a position like that. We were on a glass mountain going downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We couldn’t buy a goal, never mind three points.
Jean Tigana had gone and we had a new caretaker-manager in Chris Coleman. The Newcastle game was make or break. We had five matches left and they were tough – Newcastle at home, Leeds away, who were fighting for their lives under Reidy, Chelsea away, Everton at home, who were flying, and Charlton away. Yet we won three, drew one and only lost one.”
Clark pinpoints Coleman’s reversal of Fulham’s wretched away record as the key reason for why the Whites are flying high in the top flight table.
“We were shocking away last season, winning only twice at Sunderland and Charlton, and we needed to rectify that. However, this time round we’ve won at places like Manchester United, Spurs and Blackburn and drawn at Arsenal. Not many teams will go to Old Trafford and Highbury and come away with results like ours.
Andy Melville, our skipper, was injured pre-season and I’ve captained Fulham until his return a couple of games ago. To be captain and score against Newcastle and to be captain at Old Trafford where I scored again early on and we won 3-1 was magic.”
Clark also revealed that Coleman has boosted the spirit within the camp.
“Everyone thought our French players would leave with him but they haven’t. What we’ve got now is tremendous camaraderie, togetherness, which is getting us points. Coleman had been our captain and we all respected him. We all used to socialise together but he wasn’t frightened to tell us what he thought. Coleman has got us together again. The dressing room reminds me a lot of the one at Newcastle when Kevin Keegan was boss. We have a laugh but we also know when it’s time to get down to serious business.”