Collins looking to prove a point

Tuesday 5 November 2002

It's pick any eleven from twenty-five as Fulham take on Bury in the third round of the Worthington Cup on Wednesday night. With games coming thick and fast and the successful run in the UEFA Cup adding to the fixture congestion, manager Jean Tigana is widely expected to make wholescale changes for the visit of the Shakers; it's likely to be a very different looking team from the one that ran Arsenal so close on Sunday.

Injuries to key members of the team like Sean Davis and Louis Saha have not helped the situation recently, but more than ever, Wednesday's game demonstrates how necessary a large squad of top-class players is if a club wants to compete at the highest level on all fronts.

Fulham's squad isn't the biggest in the world and absentees can hit the Whites hard. When Tigana said on Sunday that he would rather his wife picked up an injury than any of his players, you sensed that perhaps he was only half joking.

The problem with the squad system is that, by necessity, some players will be left champing at the bit while they sit out games on the sidelines. One of those currently out of the side is John Collins, clearly frustrated at not playing a bigger role this season, but still deeply committed to the cause, and desperate for an opportunity to show everybody what he can do.

"There's no doubt that the Worthington will be third on our list of priorities behind the League and the UEFA Cup," he said, speaking on Tuesday, "So it will be an opportunity for the manager to change things round a bit, and perhaps give the players who have played all the games a rest. It will give the others who have been waiting on the touchlines a chance to come in and show what they can do.

"The reserves are flying high at the top of the League at the moment, and there are a lot of young boys who have been playing terrifically well who will be looking for their opportunity. At this moment in time we don't know the team, but hopefully I'll be playing and hopefully some of our young talent will be on show as well.

"This is an opportunity for us, without a shadow of a doubt, and we have to take it with both hands. It may not be top-class opposition, but it's League opposition and it's the Worthington Cup; every game is an opportunity to prove yourself in front of the manager, remind him that you're still there.

"Hopefully if I'm selected that's what I'll be doing; I'm desperate to play and feel I'm ready to show what I can do."

The Scottish midfielder went on to talk about how frustrating it was not playing week in, week out; when you're a professional footballer that's all you want to do - play football.

"It's been very, very frustrating," Collins said, "Nobody likes being on the sidelines, and that's been the case for me so far this season; I've been on the bench a few times but I've not started a game yet. So when I do get a start I've got to make sure that I'm ready to prove to everybody that I can still play at the top level"

Collins' situation has not been helped by the fact that there are a lot players competing for those precious midfield berths, a situation intensified this season with the arrival of players like Junichi Inamoto and Martin Djetou.

"There's a lot of competition in midfield," he said, "I do see myself as a central midfielder rather than someone who plays out wide left; my favoured position would be in the centre with somebody outside me. That's where I'd like to play, and I do feel I've got something to give to the team in that position. But there are a lot of players fighting for that place."

Bury are the opposition on Wednesday and they certainly shouldn't be underestimated. They may be Third Division, but they're currently flying high in the play-off places and saw off Premiership Bolton at the Reebok in the last round of the Worthington. Collins admitted that they don't know too much about the Shakers at the moment, but that will be rectified well before kick-off.

"We'll sit down before the game and watch the videos on Bury," he said, "And we'll be given all the stats on the style and systems that they play. We'll be told all about them leading up to the game.

"They will be confident, having already beaten a Premiership team, so they'll be thinking that they can come down to us and get something. But we're at home and we're looking forward to the game. We need to take control from the kick-off, get our passing game going, get them chasing the ball, and score a few goals - that's got to be our target."

The amazing thing about the Worthington Cup is that if the Whites progress through this round they are only three games away from the Final in March. With the top teams unlikely to be committing themselves hugely to the tournament, this could still turn out to be Fulham's best way of getting back into Europe next season.