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Roy of the Fulham targets Newcastle away win

last updated Thursday 20th March 2008, 12:52 PM
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson
Football fans can deal with despondency - they become almost conditioned - but it is the hope that kills them. After fielding so many low blows during a tumultuous campaign, Fulham's support finally has that most volatile of commodities.

Despite themselves and all those in-built defence mechanisms, they have begun to look at Saturday's trip to Newcastle United and wonder "what if?"

A wave of optimism has washed through the dressing room since the 1-0 home win against Everton on Sunday and if Newcastle, listing under Kevin Keegan, were to be beaten, the great escape would be on. As ever there must be a caveat. Fulham have not won away in the Premier League since September 9 2006 when, by coincidence, they secured a 2-1 victory at Newcastle.

Their struggles saw the former manager Chris Coleman try various away-day routines, which extended to team visits to the cinema. They did not work. Roy Hodgson, the current manager, recalled how superstition came into play at one of his former clubs, Internazionale. "The Italians would never return to the same hotel if they lost the match," he said. Fulham would be struggling for places to stay.

Destiny, though, is calling and Hodgson needs to halt the worrying sequence if he is to seize it. After St James' Park comes a trip to Derby County and then, after a home game against Sunderland, Fulham face yet another relegation rival, playing Reading at the Madejski Stadium.

"We have to do something away from home," said Hodgson, with a nod towards only three of the club's final eight fixtures being at Craven Cottage. "Nine points [at home] would not be enough."

There is a belief at Fulham that momentum is being generated which can carry the team to safety. On the eve of the game at Blackburn Rovers the weekend before last, the players and management held a meeting and recalled how West Ham United had extricated themselves from a similar predicament last season. West Ham's revival was sparked by a win at Ewood Park and Fulham took heart from 1-1 draw there, even though the Blackburn goal followed a foul.

Fulham have lamented refereeing oversights more than most. The chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed, was even moved to request an audience with Keith Hackett, the head of refereeing, at which he spelled out the importance of getting the big decisions right.

A symbol of Fulham's early-season woes under Lawrie Sanchez, who succeeded Coleman last April, came against Middlesbrough. After Brian McBride and Hameur Bouazza had gone off with serious injuries - they were taken to hospital in the same ambulance - Fulham let a lead slip and when David Healy's late shot crossed the line, it was ruled by one of the referee's assistants not to have. Decisions are said to even themselves out over a season; Fulham are not so sure.

Yet karma is at work in other ways and the return to fitness then form of Jimmy Bullard and McBride in recent weeks has been pivotal. It is not Fulham's net that late goals are flying into these days as Bullard's free-kicks against Aston Villa and Blackburn proved.

It was in the victory at St James' Park 18 months ago that Bullard wrecked his knee. His irrepressible spirit kept him going and it is now being channelled towards the collective good. "Jimmy can be our Carlos Tevez," said Hodgson, drawing the comparison with West Ham's hero of last season.

When Hodgson was appointed in late December he found morale low and the players, particularly those who like the ball to feet, frustrated by Sanchez's direct style. Hodgson's results - two wins and two draws from 10 league matches - do not demand acclaim and scoring goals is a problem but he has organised the team and got them to play passing football. Their game is more expansive; the smiles have returned in training.


































Source David Hytner at The Guardian
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