Flair and spirit

Thursday 17 October 2002

Fulham's play has had a slightly different feel to it this season. There is a lot more directness about the side now, and that allied to the silky passing game that has become such a trade-mark over the last couple of years has given the team much more of a rounded look to it.

Spend any time watching the team train and you can't help but notice that there is more emphasis placed on the more traditional British skills of getting the ball in the box earlier, and you will see lots of repetition on crosses and headers.

There is no doubt that the team seems to be putting together a nice blend of different styles that should serve them well in their various challenges this season.

Taking time out from training this week to look ahead to the Manchester United game, assistant manager Christian Damiano agreed that the change of style has had a very positive effect on the Whites. Key to that has been having a player like Facundo Sava - someone more like the traditional centre forward that Fulham fans would have been used to seeing over the years.

"In England, the aerial game in the penalty area is very important," he said, "You will find that around 70% of the balls played into the box are in the air. When a game is like that you need a player in the box with a presence in the air and I think Facundo can do very well for us in that department.

"I think Sava and Marlet have built up a good understanding; Facundo can attract defenders and Steve is always available - they make a good partnership."

Damiano was clearly uninterested in the fuss over Sava's masked-man impressions against Charlton, preferring to concentrate on the positives of his performance and analysing the team's display.

"It was an original celebration," he said, "But the most important thing was that Sava played well.

"I think there is no doubt that we would have lost that sort of game last season. You could say we were lucky to win the match, but we are a much luckier side this season and sometimes you have to work very hard to earn your luck."

Fulham have looked outstanding at times this season; if they can produce a performance to match some of those highs on Saturday, then there is no reason why they cannot achieve a result against United. Damiano is quietly confident that this year the Whites can spring a surprise.

"The fact that we lost twice against Manchester United last season wasn't a surprise," he said, "In fact it would have been a surprise if we had won.

"They are a fantastic team with a great manager and great players throughout their squad. We have tried to improve since last season and I think we have done that, and now we are hoping to take some points from this match.

"The most important fact for us is that we have a larger squad, with stronger players on the bench. At the same time we have better knowledge of the Premiership; everyone has improved since the same time last season. We must have confidence that we can take something from the game."

It promises to be a fantastic occasion on Saturday. Fulham have lost three times to Manchester United in the last two years - each time by just one goal. What a tremendous thing it could be if the Whites could finally get the result against the Reds that all their hard work deserves.

The last time they beat United was in 1964 in front of over 36,000 fans at the Cottage - after being one down at the break, Fulham came back magnificently to win 2-1. The fact is another victory is long overdue - how nice it would be if Saturday 19th October could go down as yet another memorable date in Fulham's history.