I know this might make Fulham sound a bit small time, but it still is amazing when you hear on the radio that Fulham are playing Roma in the Europa League this evening. Just going from fighting for your Premier League lives to playing in Europe is a blinding achievement, so to come from the depths of despair at the bottom of the Football League basement just over a decade ago is remarkable.
It shows how far Fulham have come that we were bitterly disappointed with a point against Roma in the home game a couple of weeks ago. Claudio Ranieri might have been a bit generous in saying that we deserved the win – for my money the Italians had us penned in our half for much of the second period – but Z0ltan Gera’s got the right idea. Channel that frustration into getting a result at the Stadio Olimpico. It won’t be easy, but confidence is sky high amongst Roy Hodgson’s players.
The manager himself has talked in terms of Premier League points being the most important – and that’s understandable. But I expect him to play a strong team tonight. We really need to get something from this game to keep our hopes of qualifying intact. Defeat would see Roma move above us and leave us probably needing to win our last two matches and hope that Ranieri’s side slip up.
Roma have got injuries dogging their squad. Francesco Totti is a big miss, but he didn’t play in the first game either. Of more concern to Fulham will be the fact that Jeremy Menez and David Pizarro could shake off injuries to play. Menez looked lively down the flanks and Pizarro’s introduction in the second half effectively turned the tide. His vision and passing – spreading the play from one side of the pitch tpo the other over the heads of our full-backs – was brilliant and he’ll be a real danger if he gets on the ball tonight. The one area where Fulham could benefit this evening is in Roma’s back four. They didn’t look particularly assured at the Cottage and if Brazilian defender Juan and Nicolas Burdiso do miss out they’ll have even less of a strong rearguard.
Hodgson’s often been described as an Italian-style manager and it is certainly true that he learnt a lot from his spells in Serie A. It will be interesting to see how he sets his team up tonight. Personnel will certainly have a lot to do with it. We’ll have a better chance of scoring if Murphy and Andy Johnson are available, but the last couple of games have proved that we can be a real handful without those two. Greening and Baird have proven that they can match most in the middle of the park and Dickson Etuhu’s none-too-cheerful expression while he was warming up on the exercise bike on Saturday might have more to do with the realisation that he might struggle to shift the Northern Ireland international from our starting line-up than any lingering injury frustration.
Damien Duff’s a big miss because he has the capability to produce something out of nothing, like that fine goal against Everton or the strike at Manchester City that sparked our comeback. His absence creates an opportunity for someone else, most likely Zoltan Gera but Bjorn-Helge Riise will be keen to put in another good display against his brother. The Hungarian’s form this season has soon that he’s more than suited to the top flight – and as we’ve already acknowledged he’s certainly up for it.
I said Bobby Zamora had his best game for Fulham against Roma the other Thursday, but that opinion just might have to be reconsidered in light of his storming display against Liverpool at the weekend. A couple of people I spoke to after Man City reckoned that his miss at Eastlands might be a turning point. The way he came over and applauded the fans after the final whistle suggested so and it wasn’t as if his 90-minute showing was poor either. He bullied the Roma defence in our previous meeting, let’s hope he can do it again.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Baird, Greening, Gera, Dempsey; Zamora, A. Johnson. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Smalling, Anderson, Riise, Etuhu, Murphy, Nevland.