From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch
Assistant manager Christian Damiano, obviously still on a high after the fine performance up at Newcastle, spoke on Wednesday about the upcoming semi-final and how important the occasion is to everybody. Not only is it the Cup and the opportunity to get to the prestigious Final in Cardiff, it also provides an excellent path into Europe, and, by no means the least significant, it presents a perfect stage for the Whites to get one over their historical rivals and make a very public statement about the arrival of the Club in the big League.
"It is a fantastic situation for the Club," said Damiano, "And for everybody involved. And it's not just the Cup, it's a big derby and it's the opportunity for us to get our revenge. We've drawn and lost against Chelsea this season, and in the last game we had good chances, we should have had a penalty when it was 2-2 and they scored the winner with a very clear handball.
"When we played them we were going through a bad spell, but the result against Newcastle was fantastic for everybody, it gives us the confidence that we can go out on Sunday and get a good result. Now we really need to believe in ourselves.
"Monday's game had a very positive effect on us because we know the capacity of the Newcastle team, and we know that they are fighting for a Champions League place. Despite the fact that we were playing away from home, in a full stadium with a fanatical atmosphere, the team were very calm and very secure and had many chances to win the game."
The big difference about the game at St James's Park was that the White's finally had a bit of luck on their side, not enough to give them the win that they deserved, but enough to convince the players and fans alike that the team has finally turned the corner. Damiano confirmed how difficult it is not to let continued misfortunes get to you mentally, and that sometimes it takes just one little incident to get everything back on track again.
"Again we had some bad fortune," he said, "Because they had one shot and scored! Incredible. We thought our bad run was continuing and that can affect you, but then we had some luck of our own with Saha's goal. That gave us a big lift and we need now to continue in the same way."
The team have made it very clear that they haven't let the semi-final get in the way of preparations for the League, and that it was only once the Newcastle game was out of the way that they started to think about Sunday. Damiano emphasised that the fact that it's a Cup game makes no difference at all to the preparations. He also discounted any speculation that the supposedly poor surface at Villa Park will hamper the team's style of play.
"We don't distinguish between the League and the Cup," he said, "In this country, players give one hundred per cent in every game, regardless of what the match is. The only difference is that the result of a Cup game can be more dramatic. In the League you have more games to come and you can make up for things, but there is no safety net in the Cup!
"If the pitch is bad, it's bad for both teams. Chelsea like to play good football and get the ball down and we are the same. So perhaps both teams will suffer if the surface isn't very good, it is an equal situation for us. And sometimes we have played well on good pitches this season and sometimes we have played well on bad pitches. We're not worrying about the pitch, we're concentrating on our spirit and focussing on our own capacity to get a result."
Damiano made it clear that the team are very aware of how desperate the fans are to beat the club from up the Fulham Road, and he also argued that the fact that the Whites have yet to beat one of the major teams this season will count in Fulham's favour.
"The players and the staff know that the game is even more important because it is against our local rivals," said the influential Frenchman, "We need to be very focussed because we want to have a big, big game, and it's vital that we continue the performance from Monday night. We need to keep focussed on what are the strong points in our game.
"If you look at the results this season, we have played very good games against the best sides in the League, Manchester, Liverpool, Arsenal, but we haven't beaten any of them. When you look at teams like Southampton, West Ham, Charlton, they've all beaten the top teams. But Fulham this year have achieved only the minimum, and for us Sunday now is a fantastic opportunity, perhaps this is the most important game of the season because it gives us the chance to beat one of the best teams in the country. I think very much that it is our turn. We want to do this, we see it in front of us and we are very focussed on doing it.
"What is making this game even more important, is that if Arsenal beat Middlesbrough and we get into the Final, then we are automatically into Europe. That is a very big incentive for us. This has been a very exciting and fantastic season for us and perhaps there is going to be a very happy ending."