Fighting talk

Monday 25 March 2002

From Ian McCulloch

For those fans who can remember the last time Fulham played in the top-flight, this season is starting to take on a very familiar look. In those days the Whites acquired something of a reputation as escape artists - in the nine years they were in the old First Division, only one was spent not struggling against the death-throws of relegation.

Year after year there were heroic performances dredged from somewhere deep to pull the club out of the mire when all seemed lost. The time has come once again when more of that heroism is called for. Can the ghosts of games like Northampton away in 1966, the match that sealed the greatest of all escapes, somehow inspire the current team to the same valiant levels?

One player capable of such heroism, and who produced a display on Saturday full of guts and attitude was Sean Davis. Despite it being his first game back since sustaining an injury early on against Liverpool, Davis covered every blade of grass in his efforts to drive the team on to success.

Speaking after the game on Sunday night, he was typically forthright in his views about how the match had gone.

"The first half wasn't the best," the England U21 midfielder admitted, "Even though they had a bit of luck. I thought that we didn't work hard enough at the beginning, and that's what happens to you in the top league if you don't do that. You've got to press and communicate properly and if you don't you're going to get punished.

"If we'd started off like we played in the second half, then we might have had a chance of getting a result, but overall you have to say it was a bitterly disappointing result."

It had been touch and go all week whether Davis was going to be fit enough to make the game, and his lack of match fitness was evident at the end. It was significant though, that he was the one player still surging forward at the finish in an effort to pull his side back into the game. The look of anguish on his face after his twenty-yard volley in the second half was comfortably gathered by the goalkeeper said it all.

"I was surprised to be in the starting line-up," said Davis, "and very pleased. It was great to be involved, it was a London derby and live on the TV, but really I've just ended up very frustrated about the result.

"My injury started with what I thought was just a dead-leg, but I rushed it and came back too early, and I ended up with a partial tear of the muscle. But it's fine now and I can just concentrate on preparing for Saturday which is a massive game for us now."

Jean Tigana shuffled his pack against Spurs, and early on Fulham looked very good going forward. There was a feeling though, that whoever got the first goal would go on to win the game, and so it proved. Davis was clear that whatever formation was used, the players have got to show more belief in themselves right from the start.

"The manager decided to play three up front with Barry Hayles in the middle and Louis Saha and Steve Marlet out wide, and Sylvain Legwinski and myself holding in the middle," he said "It didn't work in the first half, but it was better in the second. I think the boys showed a bit more aggression and fight after the break, which is disappointing in itself because we should have done that right from the first whistle.

"It's goals that win games, and they had the little touch of luck that they've been missing over the last few weeks and we didn't. When you are the bottom of the league, you don't get the luck, but we've still got a good spirit and I know that we can fight our way back. Hopefully we can start the next game with a bit more passion and we can go on from there.

"We came out a different side in the second half so we know we can do it. But really we can have no excuses."

No excuses then. The team know what they're up against, and there are no more bigger games than the two coming up over the Easter weekend - nothing less than positive results from both matches will be good enough.