Madejski Memories

Friday 26 October 2012 16:30

The last time Fulham visited the Madejski Stadium, we were sitting in the Barclays Premier League relegation zone, with a grizzly question mark hovering over our future top-flight status.

And considering we only stayed up ahead of Reading courtesy of our superior goal difference, anything other than the victory we managed over Saturday’s hosts more than four and a half years ago would have made relegation a certainty.

Brian McBride put in a superlative Captain’s performance and got the Whites off the mark with a neat sliding finish in the first half, before substitute Erik Nevland sent the travelling fans berserk with relief when he wrapped the points up in stoppage time, with his first goal for the Club.

It’s a game that Erik remembers as if it happened yesterday.

“We hadn’t won away for a long time and we knew we had to start winning so it was an important game for us,” Nevland told fulhamfc.com. “It was obviously nerve-wracking to watch and to play in because of the importance of the game, but when we got the 1-0 I was quietly confident that we were going to win in the end.

“It did everything for our confidence; that win turned things around for us that season - together with the away game at Manchester City - those were the two games that gave us the belief that we could stay up, so obviously it was of great importance.”

Between the two goals, fate appeared to contrive against the away side as McBride, Jimmy Bullard and Brede Hangeland all saw their second-half efforts hit the woodwork.

“Of course you get the feeling that things aren’t going your way when you’re unlucky like that,” Erik explained. “But we played well that day and we were better than Reading so I was kind of confident anyway that we were going to score the goals we needed to win the game.”

When asked for his overriding memories from that afternoon in Berkshire, Nevland recalls a chant that is now synonymous with Fulham fans on the road.

“I remember the fans singing ‘how s*** must you be, we’re winning away’ to the Reading supporters,” Erik said. “That kind of stuck with me after winning that game.

“The atmosphere was so good amongst the boys because we won away and it meant we could travel back to London with the three points. Obviously it was a good feeling to finally win away.”

Nevland was a hugely popular figure during his time at Fulham, with the striker possessing one of the most potent right boots seen at the Cottage in recent times – a trait that he demonstrated to the Whites fans with his strike at the Madejski.

“I linked up well with Simon Davies and I just hoped he would play me in because I was so alone,” Erik said, describing the build-up to his vital goal.

“I had to make sure I didn’t run offside but when he put me through I knew what I was going to do. I just put my head down and tried to hit the far corner as hard as I could, so it was a good feeling when I saw it go in.

“I did always try to put the ball across the goalkeeper if I could, as I like that style of finishing. It was a dream position for me to get in and when I found myself in that position I was quite confident and luckily it went in.”

Erik ranks ‘the Great Escape’ as one of his career highlights and the Norwegian was quick to highlight the significance of staying up at the end of the 2007/08 campaign. (The idea of not enjoying a highest ever seventh-place finish the following season and the subsequent UEFA Europa League adventure doesn’t bare thinking about!)

“Obviously that season, where we turned it around and stayed up on the last day, it felt like we’d won something,” Nevland admitted. “It actually felt like winning the Premier League; it was a great feeling and a great turnaround and I’m lucky that I was a part of that. It’s a good memory from my career and something that I will never forget.

“Staying up was the foundation for the success we had in the following years so obviously it was of great importance for Fulham, as a Club too, because if you go down to the Championship it’s never easy to come straight back up. So it was very important that we managed to do it. The margin was narrow, but it all felt so good.”

Erik is still playing professionally for Viking Stavanger – the club where he first started out – but is a self-confessed Fulham follower and expects his former Club to pick up maximum points on Saturday afternoon.

“I try and watch every game on television if I’m not playing myself,” he said. “I watch almost every game and I follow everything through the internet and that’s something that I will always do.

“I think Fulham will win the game. Hopefully they can keep a clean sheet and score a goal or two, like we did last time we visited the Madejski. I will go for the same score as last time; 2-0.”