Fulham midfielder Dickson Etuhu believes his side can sneak into Europe again after overcoming a sticky first half of the Premier League season.
After an inconsistent start to the campaign following Mark Hughes’s surprise exit, the Whites have only lost three of their last 11 Premier League matches and are lying comfortably in mid-table.
Midfielder Etutu thinks this was due to the natural bedding-in period for new signings and existing players following the arrival of Martin Jol and, with his side settled and playing well, the Nigeria international feels they have the quality to push for a top-seven place.
He also feels their European exit helped in some ways as their decent run has come following the 2-2 Europa League group stage draw with Odense in December – a result which ended their continental interest this season.
“It can take time when you get a new manager, particularly if there are new signings who need to settle into the team and country, which has happened with us,” he told Eurosport at the UK final of the FIFA Interactive World Cup on EA SPORTS’ FIFA 12.
“Also, while it was a blow to go out of Europe, it has made things much easier for us – we have a good-sized squad but it’s not the biggest.
“When we were in Europe we were going from playing on Saturday to playing on Thursday and then back again on Saturday – with long journeys too – so not having to do that has made us fresher, stronger.
“This time out in Europe we were more of a known quantity – after what we did in getting to the final a few years ago the opposition knows we are strong and they set up accordingly: as a result, we had to work harder and it tired us.
“Now we’re settled into things we are in a good situation: our form is good and we have a chance to qualify for Europe again – we are only two wins from seventh.
“We have a good team with some very good players; we have a lot of match-winners and we have proved we can beat anyone on our day. If we continue in the way we’ve played recently there’s no reason why we can’t push the teams above us.”
While things are going well for the team, Etuhu – a regular fixture in the Whites XI since his transfer from Sunderland in 2008 – has his own personal battle: to get back into the starting XI.
“For me personally it’s tough not to be playing regularly – it’s hard to wake up every morning knowing I’m not in the team,” he admitted. “It’s the manager’s decision and I respect that; there are other players, good players, and he chooses to use them.
“If a footballer is happy not to be playing then there is something wrong with him. It’s up to me to give my best and work hard to get back in the team – the manager has the right to rotate the team and I have to deal with it.”