Martin Jol is looking forward to Monday evening’s (8pm) local derby against Queens Park Rangers at Craven Cottage.
It is a fixture that is eagerly awaited by the Fulham faithful and our Manager is no different, despite the lack of meetings between the two sides over the years.
“Our supporters will always tell you that this is a very good and big derby,” Jol said in his pre-match press conference on Saturday afternoon. “Although I didn’t see a lot of matches against QPR over the last 25 years, they are in the Barclays Premier League now so this will be only the fourth time we’ve played them [in the Premier League].
“But it’s our neighbours, like Chelsea. I always like to play against Chelsea - that’s a nice derby game for us. Spurs was nice for me, hopefully for the fans as well, but that was North-East. QPR is in the area, like Chelsea, so we will look forward to it.
“I said to Giorgos Karagounis this morning ‘do you know this is a derby game?’ He said ‘of course I know!’ So that is the only thing, to make them all aware that this is an important game for everybody at this Club, especially the supporters.
“We played an awful game away from home against them but that was one of our worst games in the last two years, so we want to put that right.”
Easter Monday is likely to see ex-Whites forward Bobby Zamora return to Craven Cottage for the first time since his departure in January 2012.
Zamora has struggled with injuries this term and while Jol admits his former player has been hampered by his fitness, he acknowledged the threat he poses when firing on all cylinders.
“Bobby wanted to move and he thought he could help QPR and for them, after our game, hopefully he will help them,” he explained. “I think that if Bobby is fit and sound then he can help any team, because he’s a good striker.
“When he played [for Fulham] he did ever so well but I think he missed 30 or 40 per cent of the games. He’s got all the qualities but, at the time, I had players like Andy Johnson and Orlando Sa, who was third choice, so when Bobby was not there we had a problem up front and that was why we changed it. Now we’ve got Mladen Petrić, Hugo Rodallega and Dimitar Berbatov and, touch wood, most of the time they are fit to select.
“Don’t forget that he [Zamora] wanted that move and we got Pavel Pogrebnyak in and we were very lucky as he scored six goals, so everyone was happy. Bobby was happy with his move and we were happy with Pogrebnyak.”
Rangers are currently seven points from safety at the foot of the Premier League – a gap which may well have widened come kick-off on Monday – but our Manager insists that they still have time to get themselves out of trouble.
“If you look at Wigan Athletic, they were bottom of the table in the past and every year they seem to get out of it,” Jol said. “You couldn’t say that QPR did everything wrong but they had to transform their team and they bought a lot of players – 12, 13 players when Mark Hughes was there.
“You need to play with a settled team – that is what you need at any level if you want to do well. Harry Redknapp had to change again but if they get two wins then it will be exciting again, so it’s not over.
“In England you can’t say that it is over eight games before the end. I agree with Harry that if they manage to win four or five, then they could still survive.”
Jol also revealed some disappointing news regarding Mahamadou Diarra’s fitness in his press conference, before explaining that two of his players will require late assessments before a decision is made regarding their involvement on Monday.
“Team news is that of course Diarra had an operation so he won’t be available this season,” he stated. “Eyong Enoh will have a fitness test on Sunday and we’ll have to make an assessment on Bryan Ruiz – so it’s just the three of them.”
Fulham go into the local derby on the back of hugely positive news, with Captain Brede Hangeland extending his stay in SW6.
The influential centre back signed a new two-year deal (with the option of a further year) this week and Jol was delighted to see the 31-year-old commit his future to the Club.
“We are ever so satisfied that he signed his contract because you never know,” he admitted. “It was quite challenging to try to keep him but I always knew that he wanted to stay here.
“He was a tower of strength this year, last year, before I came, so you never know [what would happen] because he was on a free at the end of the year. It took a long time so we did everything we could and it was a happy ending for us last week and the start of this week when we knew that he would sign his contract. Then he came up on Thursday to sign it and that was quite a relief.”
The Dutchman was also quizzed on the future of Sascha Riether and the Fulham boss gave an answer that will please Whites fans immensely.
“It’s the same as with my contract,” he explained. “They took that option with me in October and they [the press] still talk about it. With Sascha Riether, we’ve got an option on him, so it’s an easy one. I’m very keen to keep him – we’ve got an option, as I said, so if we want to keep him, we will keep him. And we want to keep him.”