My last chance

Thursday 11 April 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

On a sunny but slightly chilly afternoon at Fulham's Motspur Park training ground, a fit and relaxed looking John Collins, fresh from the team's first training session since returning from Newcastle, spoke about how much Sunday's game means to him personally.

"This is as close as I've ever got to an FA Cup-Final," he said, "I might not ever get another opportunity like this again, so I'm going to make sure I make the most of it and give it every last drop of energy I've got to get us through to the Final.

"It would be a terrific achievement to get to Cardiff, and saying that, we don't just want to get there, we want to win it. It's going to be tough on Sunday we know that, Chelsea are in fine form, scoring lots of goals so we'll have to keep it very tight at the back.

"We've had two difficult but close games against them already, and we've proved to ourselves that we can match them. They're a very good team and we have to respect them, but they're far from invincible. We played very well at Stamford Bridge I felt, and were very unlucky to lose to a late goal.

"If we can play as well as we're capable of then we've got a great chance of getting through to the Final."

There's no doubt that the Newcastle result has had an invigorating effect on the team and understandably there seems to be much more of a buzz about the place than there has been for a few weeks. Collins confirmed that the game really had given everybody a lift, but he made the point also that it was very much the result of everyone's hard work.

"There's always a positive feel when you come from a goal behind against a team that's going for a Champions League place," he said, "I thought it was a terrific performance in the second half; we worked hard and were aggressive, we won the loose balls, we looked dangerous and passed the ball well, put some nice moves together and had some good chances. I thought we thoroughly deserved the point we got.

"That second half performance was a definite improvement on some of our recent games. We showed more discipline, we were more compact and we worked very well for each other. We worked really hard in the week leading up to the Newcastle game, and the manager worked very hard with us tactically to stop the opposition breaking us down. We dropped back a little bit more, the strikers dropped back deeper towards the midfield and we tried to keep the gaps between the defence and midfield, and midfield and the strikers, very small. So we stayed compact and made it very difficult for the opposition to break through us. In previous away games we've been too open and maybe a bit too cavalier."

With tension mounting as Sunday gets closer and closer, you can almost feel the excitement and anticipation as the Club gets ready for it's first semi-final appearance in nearly thirty years. Nerves are certainly playing a part in the fans' build up to the game, but is this week any different for the players?

"It being the semi-final affects preparations to the extent that we'll probably go away to the hotel a couple of days before the game instead of the usual one," said Collins, "But that's normal for a game like this. Otherwise it will be the same sort of training this week.

"I think nerves are a good thing leading up to a big game. It's important to get the adrenalin pumping, but there's a difference between excitement and fear. If there's fear there, then that's obviously not a good thing, but if it's excitement and anticipation and you can't wait to get started, then that's great. Just before the game it's good to have some butterflies, and I'm sure we will have; it's a big, big game for everybody involved.

"We've got to believe in ourselves. We've got to believe we can go out and win the game, and if you don't have that self-belief then there's no point in going out on the park. I firmly believe and hope that if every one of us goes out there with that mental belief then we can progress and get through to the Final."