Ed's we win

Friday 15 March 2002

From Ian McCulloch

Edwin van der Sar made it very clear today that Fulham's focus is firmly on the Premiership and Saturday's game against Everton. Reaching the Semi Finals of the FA Cup has been a tremendous achievement, but all thoughts of Cardiff have been put on hold until the next five league games have been got out of the way.

"We're a month away from the Semi Final," he said, "And if we start to relax now and only think about that game then we could be in real trouble. We need to make sure that we stay focussed all the time - no matter what the game is, we must be ready for it when it comes.

"We are very clear that we mustn't put the league to one side while we think about the Cup. We will focus on the Cup only when that game comes along."

History is littered with teams who, in their pursuit of Cup glory, have seen their league form plummet and have suffered the consequences accordingly. Van der Sar stressed that this will not happen at Fulham.

"The team are not talking about the Cup, we are leaving that to others. After the Semi Final we wanted to know who we were playing and where it was going to be, but that's the end of it. For the last two days we haven't thought about it. We're focussed on Saturday's game against Everton and nothing else.

"We need to start winning now, we've lost four in a row, and we need to build on the confidence we got from winning the game on Sunday. I don't really know how many points you need to be safe, and I don't think that's the important thing, all I know is that I don't want to be struggling in the last two or three matches. We have to make sure we are safe before that."

Once again this season, Fulham come up against a team struggling to overcome the upheaval of managerial changes; Southampton, Aston Villa and Derby have all found themselves up against the Whites immediately after going through that turmoil. It's impossible to predict what effect this can have on a team; sometimes it can be a motivating factor, sometimes it can be the reverse.

"There will be a new face in charge at Everton," said van der Sar, "And that can sometimes have a quick effect on a team. "But I don't think we should worry too much about what they're doing; we should concentrate on what we are capable of and what we have to do.

"We must keep a clean sheet and score some goals. It's as simple as that! I was happy to have a clean sheet on Sunday because we conceded a lot of goals in the last few games and it isn't a pleasant feeling. We were quite solid before that, but I think on Sunday we got that back again. With our strikers starting to hit a bit of form I think that we have a very good chance of playing well on Saturday and getting a result.

"Louis Saha played very well against Chelsea and against Liverpool. It's important for the team that the strikers are playing well - his form took a bit of a dip, but it's very good for the team and for him that he is doing well again."

Van der Sar stressed the importance of team spirit in modern football where large squads mean constant rotation - players left out or not performing well need to feel the support of their teammates.

"Every player needs to be supported by his colleagues," he said, "Whether it's Andy Melville who was on the bench for a couple of games, or Barry Hayles, who has had a great season and scored some important goals, but now finds himself on the bench, we all have to help each other. It's all about the team, not just about one particular player.

"We have a very good group here who are very aware of everybody else. They can see who needs a helping hand or an encouraging word; I think everyone is keen to help everyone else and that can only be good for us on the pitch.

"The Club has grown at a tremendous pace and a lot of new players came in all together and that takes time for everyone to get used to each other. From the beginning of the season we have played well, but I think that there have been times when we haven't been determined enough, both in defence and attack, and that's been part of the big learning process that we have been going through. We must make sure that we are more determined next year, in front of goal and in defence.

"Having played in Europe for seven or eight years in a row, I know how special those games are, and we've still got a possibility of qualifying. I said right at the beginning of the season that it would be hard but it was something that we should be aiming for. Five or six games ago I thought we were in with a chance, but we went through that bad period where we lost four games, so now there are lot of teams who have are very close to us, points wise. It's important that we put a run together now and leave those teams behind."

It should be an entertaining game on Saturday with the likes of Ginola and Gascoigne hoping to feature for the Toffees. The Whites seem to have got their confidence back in abundance after their fine win at the Hawthorns, and with the determination and focus they are showing, will be looking to further compound Everton's Cup misery by pushing them even closer to the relegation zone.