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On this day last year …

Fulham began their season with a 3-0 win over NSI Runavik at Craven Cottage in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

Of the three scorers in that first leg, only Damien Duff remains at the club. There was an early sign of Martin Jol’s intentions as the new manager when former Liverpool youngster Lauri Dalla Valle stepped off the bench to make his debut for the club.

I wonder whether the extra six weeks rest will help Fulham to come strongly out of the starting blocks against Norwich City at the Cottage on August 11.

Hughes isn’t fazed by early start

Aaron Hughes believes that Fulham’s early start to the season will not disrupt their Premier League campaign.

Fulham’s season started on June 30 against Faroese outfit NSI Runavik after they earned a Europa League place through the Fair Play league and some pundits have suggested that their form may suffer as a long season catches up with the players around Christmas. Hughes, however, says that fatigue shouldn’t be a factor.

It hasn’t been too difficult to adapt to the early start. We’ve tried not upset our pre-season, if you like.

The games are slightly different because they are competitive but we’re still working through things in training with the new season in mind. Obviously we maybe have to tweak one or two things in the build-up to competitive games, but I think once we knew we were coming back early it was definite then. You get your head round it and you carry on.

Hughes is now looking forward to Fulham’s third qualifying round tie against RNK Split, with the first leg in Croatia next Thursday.

We go where we have to go. We take each game as it comes, wherever that may be.

We’re still in the competition and we’ll enjoy it as much as we can for as long as we’re still in it. We will do exactly the same as we would do if we were going to play Manchester United.

We will have a couple of guys maybe go out and watch a couple of their games and bring reports back. Leading up to the game, we will watch a couple of DVDs, have a little chat about certain things.

Maybe certain things that we feel they’re dangerous at and certain areas where we feel we can hurt them. It will be no different to preparations for a Premier League game really so we will know enough about them come kick off.

Baird braced for Crusaders clash

Chris Baird has been looking forward to returning to his homeland with Fulham to face Crusaders on Thursday, but fears he might be on the receiving end of a couple of hefty challenges from his good friend Colin Coates.

The Fulham defender might seems to have been smiling as he told the Fulham Chronicle:

We’re reasonably good mates when playing for the country but I bet won’t that stop him trying to kick us silly if he gets a chance.

Baird has warned that Crusaders will represent a real step up after Fulham’s comfortable first qualifying round win over NSI Runavik.

It will be nice to go home to play – but it will be tougher. There will be a lot of local pride there, so we’re going to need to make sure we concentrate at all times.

Forest line up Greening bid

Steve McClaren is ready to table a £600,000 offer for Jonathan Greening, according to the Daily Express.

The new Nottingham Forest manager is looking to bring in experienced players to supplement his young side as he plots a promotion push. Greening, 32, had been linked with a move to Nottingham Forest last season under former boss Billy Davies but enjoyed a excellent end to the campaign with Fulham.

Whether Martin Jol, who handed Greening a start in last week’s second leg Europa League draw with NSI Runavik, would be prepared to let the versatile veteran leave to free up a place in his squad for a new midfielder, remains to be seen.

Kelly says the sharpness will come

Stephen Kelly says Fulham’s performances will improve with greater game time after they reached the second qualifying round of the Europa League with a goalless draw in the Faroe Islands.

The Republic of Ireland full-back feels Fulham should benefit from playing competitive games at a time when most of their domestic rivals will be returning to pre-season training or involved in friendly games and had words of praise for the small band of hardy travellers who made the journey to the Faroes to watch the Whites against NSI Runavik.

It was hugely impressive to see the fans make the trip to the Faroe Islands. It’s certainly not the easiest place to reach with no regular flights and you’ve got to hold your hands up to them for the dedication they’ve shown to get behind us.

I think the fans are all excited and hopeful that we can enjoy a journey like we did last time we were in Europe. As a club we really have got dedicated fans that will come and support us wherever we’re playing. Hopefully we can get a win for them in the next round and move on from there.

Kelly, who replaced Chris Baird at right back for the second leg, was disappointed that Fulham failed to break down their stubborn opponents.

We had good chances and plenty of possession but they defended in numbers and made it difficult. We got a clean sheet and it was a good performance at the back and we’re through to the next round.

We should benefit from the fact we’re playing competitive games rather than friendly matches. Sometimes, pre-season friendly games can be exactly that, whereas in these games there’s something to play for and that should help us with our fitness because we’re putting more into it.

The fact that we’re playing teams that are out to prove a point and make the next round themselves means we have to do that little bit more to beat them and over the two legs we put in good performances. We didn’t score on Thursday night which was disappointing but as I said, we’re in the next round.

It’s started early for us again but it’s got that feeling of another European tour already. It would be great if we could continue progressing and it’s great to go away to different countries. I’d never been to the Faroe Islands before and it’s a landscape we would never see unless we were involved in the UEFA Europa League.

It’s been a good test for us and as much as it was a competitive match, it was only our second game of the season on Thursday night. Now we’ll be sharper and hopefully that will show against the Crusaders next week.