Fulham star Clint Dempsey has received a timely vote of confidence from Fulham team-mate Aaron Hughes after the American missed the injury-time penalty that would have given his side a shock victory over neighbours Chelsea and broken a Premier League record in the process.
Had Dempsey beaten Petr Cech with his spot-kick on Monday it would have been his 10th League goal of the campaign, eclipsing former team-mate Brian McBride’s record for the most League goals scored by an American in a Premier League season.
Now the Texan must pick himself up for Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash at home to Bolton. And Hughes is backing the winger-cum-striker by pointing out how he has already scored 10 goals in all competitions.
The Northern Ireland international said: “Clint has been fantastic for us this season, not just with the goals he’s contributed but his work all round. He’s one of the hardest-working players in the team.
“He is in double figures this season for the first time, something he is very proud of, and he would love to build on that. Missing the penalty is one of those things. It was a good save by the goalkeeper.”
Fulham have now gone six home games without defeat since the start of the year and in that time they have conceded just two goals, in the 6-2 trouncing of Peterborough in the third round of the FA Cup.
Hughes believes Bolton, against whom Fulham drew 0-0 at the Reebok Stadium on the opening day of the season, will be at a disadvantage.
He said: “We go into the game with plenty of confidence. If we show the same commitment and character and play the way we have been playing over the these last five or six weeks, then we can give anyone a good game. We just need to keep this little run going.”
Crucial to Fulham’s form has been the central defensive pairing of Hughes and Brede Hangeland, the towering Norwegian who should be fit to play on Sunday after he fell ill before lining up against Chelsea.
Few people at Craven Cottage were aware that Hangeland was under the weather. Indeed, he and Hughes worked wonders taming a Chelsea attack that featured £50million signing Fernando Torres.
Hughes said: “I don’t know how Brede made it through the game. He had been unwell all day and he was shattered afterwards.
“But that is Brede for you. He wanted to stay on, he wanted to get through it, he’s never one to put his hand up and say ‘I’ve got to come off, I’m not feeling very well’. He’ll go on until you have to drag him off.”
Mark Hughes, who seems to be one of the few top managers who still values the magic of the FA Cup, will be tempted to stay with the same team.
Bolton’s Owen Coyle must cope without Sam Ricketts, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing an Achilles in the fourth-round replay win at Wigan, and former Fulham defender Zat Knight, who has a knee ligament injury.