Roy Hodgson’s career as a soccer coach has taken him to eight different countries and clubs such as big-spending Inter Milan and Blackburn.
His latest task is keeping Fulham in the Premier League, and the manager who has gained moderate successes in Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, United Arab Emirates and Finland now has to work out how to beat mighty Liverpool on Saturday.
While the title race at the top of the standings appears to be going Manchester United’s way, the struggle to avoid joining last-place Derby in getting relegated involves at least four teams, three of which have tough games at the weekend.
While Fulham (27 points) hosts Champions League semifinalist Liverpool, Reading (32) goes to third-place Arsenal on Saturday. On Sunday, Birmingham (31) goes to neighbor Aston Villa with the addition of local rivalry at stake. Of the four leading relegation candidates, Bolton (29 points) appears to have the easiest match at Middlesbrough.
“Whichever two teams go down now it will be a major disappointment,” said Hodgson, whose team revived its chances by winning 2-0 at Reading last weekend. “We’ve made it hard for ourselves but we’re still in the race and, while you’re still in the race, there’s always the chance you’ll find the sprint that will take you past your rivals.
“I was told last week, after we had been beaten 3-1 by Sunderland, that we had no chance. We have this huge mountain to climb and deficit of points to make up but I’m encouraged after last week.”
Goals by McBride and Erik Nevland earned the victory at fellow struggler Reading, but the performances of midfielder and free kick specialist Jimmy Bullard have boosted Fulham’s chances of staying in the Premier League.
“We can’t get carried away with beating Reading because we’ve now got to do the same thing against Liverpool,” Bullard said. “I think everyone knows how big this game is going to be. Liverpool are a top team and it’s going to be hard to beat them but we’ve got to go out to beat them. That’s all we’re playing for, to win the game. In our situation we can’t afford to go into these games wanting anything other than a win.”
After Liverpool, Fulham has tough games at Manchester City and Portsmouth with a home match against Birmingham in between.
“It’s all coming down to these last few games,” Bullard said. “All we can do is concentrate on getting our results and not worry about other teams because we can’t control that.
“I’d take it going to the last game now. There’s some confidence coming back and we’re playing better, so if it went to the wire then fine.”
Even a victory over Liverpool might not be enough to take Fulham up a place because Bolton is hopeful of getting at least a point at Middlesbrough.