First off, I just want to express my delight at being asked to pen a regular column for the website. Since I’ve been retired, Fulham have been really good to me – they’ve let me do some corporate events, they’ve let me come down and watch the games, so I’m more than happy – privileged, to be honest - to be at Fulham and working there again.
On to football matters now. People are saying it hasn’t been a good start to the season but things would be looking so much different if we’d managed to get the second goal against West Bromwich Albion. I thought we played quite well - we just couldn’t find that second goal to kill off the game and obviously that allowed them back into the match because, at 1-0, it gets harder and harder for the defence to hold on. But we couldn’t finish them off so I can just imagine how Martin Jol and the players must have felt when they scored that stoppage-time equaliser.
Next up was a trip to Stamford Bridge and I thought the game was actually quite a tight one and that we defended pretty well, especially in the first half. I was really impressed with Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker in the middle, and the back four did really well too. It was just unfortunate that David Stockdale couldn’t hold that shot for the first goal, but he’s been fantastic this season – you just have to look at the Newcastle United highlights to see what a great goalkeeper he is.
Again, it was a case of fine margins because if Darren Bent had scored in the first half then who knows what direction the match would have gone in. It was a great ball from Pajtim Kasami who played him through and Darren made a good run but Petr Cech managed to make a save. I’m not sure how much of a pre-season he really had, but Darren Bent’s a fantastic goalscorer and once he gets some games under his belt I’m sure he’ll score 15-plus goals for us this term because he’s a great addition to the squad.
There’s a respite from the league now against Everton in the Capital One Cup and I’ve got to say that I fancy us. I think Martin would love to go on a cup run and potentially get to a Final – I think the fans deserve that. It breeds confidence if you win your cup games and it can only be a good thing going into the league games on the back of a win. I do think we’ll win but it depends what kind of team we play. Hopefully we’ll play a strong side and get a victory – we do normally do well against Everton at home, well when I was playing we did!
Any player wants to get to a cup final and, although the FA Cup is the most important, the League Cup gives you a chance to get to Wembley as well so the players will be battling for the chance to get there with Fulham this season. It’s been a while since we won a trophy so it’s a fantastic opportunity for the players to put their names in history. We got pretty close to a Final back in 2002, although that was probably one of the lows of my Fulham career when we played Chelsea in the FA Cup Semi-Final. The first negative about the game was that it was played at Villa Park, which we couldn’t understand! We played okay in that match but just didn’t quite do enough – the effort was there but we were just unfortunate to lose 1-0, and from a set-piece as well which was hard to take.
Don’t get me wrong, Tuesday night will be a difficult game because Everton are a strong side. They’ve got a new manager and that probably brings with it a change in philosophy. I think they tend to have more possession now and obviously they had a fantastic win away to West Ham United on the weekend. They’ve got some dangerous players such as Leighton Baines, who scored a couple of free-kicks (pictured), while they’re also bringing through some young talent as well – Ross Barkley has really impressed me. It’s always a tough game against Everton but we’re at home and, hopefully, whatever team Martin puts out, the players will get the victory.
After the excitement of the cup, it’s back to the Premier League with Cardiff City visiting on Saturday in what is a big game. I know it seems strange that we’re only five matches in and we’re talking about ‘big games’ already but our home form is going to be important - it’s served us well in the past. Hopefully Martin will have his strongest side to pick from but these are the games that we need to win – at home to Cardiff and Stoke City, and a trip to Crystal Palace as well. We’re not expected to get anything away at Chelsea, but these are the games we need to win. If we play like we did against West Brom but just manage to be a bit more clinical, then we’ll be fine.
We’ve got to be confident going into the two games this week. I think the players that Martin has brought in are great additions to the side; Scott Parker has got great experience and is a fantastic player on and off the ball, I think he complements Siddy really well. Obviously you need those two guys in there with the talents of Bryan Ruiz, Dimitar Berbatov and Adel Taarabt, plus Alexander Kačaniklić and Pajtim Kasami. Scott and Siddy give a good balance so that the attacking players can go and do their stuff. I think it’s exciting times because obviously Berbatov’s a world-class player and Ruiz, on his day, is up there with the best of them. He’s got so much ability and he makes the game look easy so if we can get that right balance and play some good football then I think we’re on course for two victories this week.