Back to basics for Fulham

Monday 8 April 2002

From Ian McCulloch

Fulham seem to have spent this season coming up against other people's milestones: Sky presented the Michael Owen show when Fulham played at Anfield and the England international was sweating on his 100th Premiership goal; Les Ferdinand scored the 10,000th Premiership goal against the Whites at Tottenham; and now the team face Newcastle this evening with striker Alan Shearer looking for his 200th Premiership score.

Perhaps it will take the pressure off the beleaguered Whites somewhat; certainly they coped very well against Liverpool in keeping Owen off the score-sheet and achieving a very creditable 0-0 draw. Contrary to expectations after the recent disastrous run, the team actually are in very good spirits and feeling very confident about their trip up to the North East. Even in the "unofficial" conversations and the private chats, the players clearly have the feeling that this game suits them.

Still sporting the stitches in his eyebrow that he'd received after a clash of heads against Southampton, skipper Andy Melville spoke on Friday about the need for the team to work hard and concentrate on the basics.

"It's up to me and the experienced lads to stand up and be counted now," he said, "This week was the first time that we'd really talked about relegation, but everyone has taken on board how serious the situation is, and we're feeling very positive about the games coming up.

"We talked about getting the little things right, paying attention to detail, getting the basics right. Performance wise we've been all right really, perhaps we need to work a little bit harder on some things, particularly when we haven't got the ball, but if we can put those little things right I'm sure that we'll be ok.

"We're in a difficult situation, we know that, and we know that we've got to get out of it. Perhaps we need to grind out a result, get a nil-nil away from home for example. We did it against Southampton but then had the disappointing result against West Ham where we dominated the first half but just didn't punish them, which is what's happened to us quite a few times this season.

"If you could see us at training or in the dressing room, then you would see that team-spirit is not a problem. Perhaps all we need is that little bit of luck in front of goal and that would help us turn the corner. I don't think that our attitude has been a problem.

"We need to get back to basics and keep things simple. Sometimes it not about tactics, sometimes it's just about just sheer hard work."

Alan Shearer is going to up for the game, there's no doubt about that, but as Melville says it's tough playing against Shearer at any time, and with Craig Bellamy expected back after injury it's going to be doubly difficult.

"Shearer's a quality striker, his record speaks for itself," said Melville, "And he's on top of his game at the moment. It's going to be difficult for us, but all we can do is be positive and get on with the job in hand,

"Bellamy played against us at Craven Cottage and was a handful on the day. He likes to get in behind defenders; he's always on the move. Since he's gone to Newcastle he's come of age really, he's found the right club for himself. So if he's back in with Shearer, it's going to be a difficult ninety minutes for us. But if you're playing against the best then that's what you've got to expect.

"We managed to stop Owen scoring against us; it was good to go to Anfield and get a clean sheet, and that's what we aim to do at Newcastle. Earlier in the season we were the best team in the league defensively and hopefully we can get back to that."

There has been talk that the players have taken their eye off the ball since the wonderful Cup run that has taken them through to the semi-finals. Melville was quick to dispel any such notion and said that the Cup is something that the players haven't even talked about. It might be a cliché, but at this stage of the season it really is one game at a time - all the focus is on the League and preserving Premiership status.

"It's a tough run-in now," said the Welsh international, "There's no doubt about it; Newcastle and Leeds away from home which are going to be difficult; Bolton who are going to be fighting for their lives; Micky Adams has just taken over at Leicester so they're going to playing for their futures, they're all hard games, we know that.

"Nobody's too good to go down, we're in this position because we haven't been good enough in the last eight games. We need the fans to get behind us more than ever now, especially at the home games, there's no doubt that they can make a tremendous difference to us. But at the end of the day it's the players who have got us into this and it's up to the players to get us out of it."

Even if the Whites fail to get a result up at Newcastle, all is not lost. In fact it's the upcoming home games that probably hold Fulham's destiny, but there's no doubt that a win up at St James' Park will have us all sleeping easier in our beds next week.