Fulham manager Chris Coleman has pledged to continue his commitment to the bold attacking approach which has seen his team join the entertainers of the Premiership this season.
Coleman, armed with a summer transfer fund from chairman Mohamed Al Fayed, wants to bring in more quality players to improve the consistency of his team as he bids to build a top-10 side over the next couple of years.
The manager readily admits that his side suffer when they are without their best players such as skipper Luis Boa Morte, midfielders Papa Bouba Diop and Steed Malbranque and goalkeeper Antti Niemi.
“When we have our strongest four or five on the pitch, and they are on their game, nine times out of 10 we’ve got a good result. I don’t want to put extra pressure on them but that’s a fact,” said Coleman.
“That’s why we don’t want to sell any of these players, they are very important to us,” he said
“Even if they are on long-term contracts they are always going to be linked with other clubs. That’s just a fact of life unfortunately.”
With Boa Morte ruled out and Diop doubtful for Sunday’s final Premiership match of the season, against Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage, Coleman could be without two of those stars.
To add to the manager’s problems, his recent first-choice central defensive partnership of Ian Pearce and Zat Knight are also both missing through injury, although Niemi returns after missing Thursday night’s 2-1 defeat at Sunderland for a knee scan which dispelled any fears of a serious problem.
“It’s going to be a very tough match for us,” said Coleman, anxious for a victory to end the season on a high.
Reflecting on a campaign which has seen his side stage a late rally after hovering dangerously above the relegation zone for a spell – largely due to their poor away record – Coleman said: “In terms of football and entertainment we are streets ahead of where we were last year.
“Bearing in mind the players we lost last summer – and how much we had to invest to replace those players – we could finish with a possible 48 points and finish 12th.
“That would be a good season for us – the second highest we’ve ever finished – but the disappointment has been away from home where we have only won one game.
“If we’d won two more away games we’d be in the top 10. That’s how close it’s been.
“Ask anyone who’s seen us play generally this season, we’ve been a better team to watch, more exciting, more attractive football, we’ve scored lots of goals and we did that purposefully from pre-season so I think it’s been a much better season.”
Looking ahead to next season, he is committed “in principle” to continue attacking. “I may change the formation, bearing in mind what players I can get in, but we’ve really enjoyed it this season because we’ve been a more attractive team to watch.
“That gives the players a bit more confidence as well so that’s maybe why a lot of our performances have been so good,” he said.
With scoring goals rarely a problem and the £2.75 million signing of Jimmy Bullard from Wigan adding to his extensive midfield options, Coleman’s priorities are to reinforce a defence whose lapses have contributed to the Cottagers winning only one away game all season.
Alain Goma, whose contract is up this summer, has not yet agreed to stay and Coleman acknowledged: “We’re going to need to strengthen at the back, it’s no big secret.
“For weeks I’ve been asked where I’m going to bring players in but you can’t speak too soon because I’ve still got guys there I need to get a job out of. Maybe it’s time for one or two to move on but we have to wait and see.”
He added: “I’ve an idea who I’d like to bring in. Another three or four faces would be great but we’re going to have to work tremendously hard to make sure that happens.”