While we bask in the reflected glory of a point at the Emirates, it’s quite apparent that Roy and the boys have a massive ten days or so ahead of them. We can rightly be pleased with our performance at Arsenal yesterday (although part of me wonders whether we’ll ever score away from home again given some of the chances we missed) but there’s a terrific opportunity to kill two birds with one stone around the corner.
Let me explain my thinking. Our next two home games are certainly winnable. Hull and Blackburn – who are playing each other right now – are both looking over their shoulders at the wrong end of the table. Without Jimmy Bullard, a bit of the feeling might have gone out of the Hull game but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t avenge our defeat at the KC Stadium on the opening day of the season. Blackburn, well-drilled by Sam Allardyce even though they’ve suffered a couple of back-to0-back defeats, will be a tough proposition and will look to make things difficult for us but if we can show the sort of purpose in those games as we have at home this season then we should create plenty of chances.
Two wins from those games would guarantee our Premier League safety and perhaps put us in with a shout of claiming a European place. Whether we’re ready for the Europa League (as the disliked UEFA Cup will be known from next season) is a question nobody really knows the answer to, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t give qualifying for it a real go
Sandwiched between those two midweek games (and, for those of you who haven’t been to a night game at the Cottage, it’s ever so special) is the Cup quarter-final against Manchester United. If Fergie’s boys beat Spurs in the League Cup final today, then there might be even more opportunity for a European tour. United’s fixture congestion (they’ve got a midweek game like us this week and the return leg of the Inter Champions’ League tie to plan for) might mean Ferguson rejigs his side. Even if he doesn’t, we should give United moreof a run for their money than we did at Old Trafford.
Squad rotation isn’t really in vogue at Fulham, largely because – as Roy alluded to in his Arsenal preview – we just don’t have the strength in depth. You can tell from Hodgson’s team selections this season that he likes a settled side and wholesale changes haven’t really been a feature of his reign. For that reason, you can expect the majority of the players who did so well at Arsenal to feature on Wednesday night. Pantsil will come back in for Baird and the only player I’d think about replacing would be Clint Dempsey. Not because he’s been poor of late – quite the opposite in fact – but he’s played a lot of football (factor in the travelling time to and from the USA’s qualifier with Mexico as well) of late and looked to be running on empty towards the end of the game yesterday.
There’s still plenty to play for – and it looks like our season will go right the way to the finish line, just like last time. The difference, of course, is that we’re competing at the right end of the table.