We’ve played three Barclays Premier League matches since the last time I wrote for this column and before those I said that five points was the minimum return that we needed, so to get six is good. The Norwich City game on Boxing Day was a great way to win, with a late goal from Scotty Parker. I do believe that if we can keep Scott and Steve Sidwell fit from now until the end of the season, they’re going to be our way out of trouble. They’re exactly what we need in that midfield area – they’ve got the right spirit and that, of course, drives other people along. Not just that, they’ve got their skill as well, and Siddy is always contributing a goal. He’s a little bit underrated but now that the system has been changed slightly, it’s given him more freedom to break into the box, which he’s good at. Scotty scoring is a bit of a rarity so that was great to see at Norwich. That was a superb result away from home, not least because it was a win against a team around us.
The Hull City result came out of the blue for everyone. Friends of mine went up for the trip because they were bored over Christmas and they came back wishing they hadn’t bothered because it put them on a bit of a downer. But it’s how you bounce back after a defeat like that which is important, and we did, which was vital.
In the West Ham United game I thought Fulham were the better side throughout. I thought West Ham got a goal out of nothing really – defending the long, high ball was the only aspect of their game we had problems with and for their goal, Jussi Jaaskelainen kicked it as long and as high as he could and Mohamed Diame latched onto it to put them one-up. The only way that West Ham would score against Fulham was going to be from a long ball. But in fairness to Fulham, we kept playing our football. I was commentating on the game and I think the possession stats were almost 80 per cent in Fulham’s favour at one point. Admittedly a lot of that was in the second half after the sending off but, as I said, I think Fulham were the better team throughout. It was just the goal that set us back because it came a little bit against the run of play. Again, it was a win against a team who’s going to be in and around the relegation places, so it was another six pointer.
I love the attitude of some of the players late on in the West Ham game; the Hammers had a corner and our players were going round rallying each other saying that we’ve got to get this one clear. This is what it’s all about in a relegation battle; you can’t give silly goals away. We’ve got to brush up on our unforced errors really at the back, that’s something that we’ve got to get back into our game. Sometimes Fulham are conceding easy goals and whilst René Meulensteen’s introduced a higher tempo to the game and we’re playing some much better football – and all Fulham fans would agree with that – he knows that we need to tighten up at the back.
We then had a little break from league action as we returned to Norfolk in the FA Cup and we made quite a few changes for the game which gave important run-outs for players. I think what we didn’t need, though, was a Replay and Norwich will agree with that as well. But if you take the game for what it is, it’s an important 90 minutes for the likes of Darren Bent, Elsad Zverotić and Dan Burn. It was good to see Dan getting a game, as it was for the other lads who have come up through Kit Symons’ Under-21s. It’s important that these kids from the development squad get the odd game here and there. So it’s another good chance for René to play a few players in the Replay next Tuesday. I know the priority is to stay in the Premier League and the team selection will show you that, but it does no harm to have a good little run and that will be good for confidence.
Every Whites supporter dreams of Wembley, but the only problem with that would be having to listen to Viva El Fulham all over again! That would be the only positive of not getting to Wembley, to avoid having that song replayed! I was only a kid in ’75, I was just signing my apprenticeship for next year, and after hearing that song I thought, ‘corr bloody hell, if this is what being a footballer’s about then I don’t think I want it!’ There are some questionable vocals on that record, with Les Strong being one! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, if we do progress against Norwich then Sheffield United will still be a difficult game. Up there they’ll probably have a full house which will be good, and hopefully we’d take a good following as well. If we do beat Norwich, though, you would still fancy our chances because even with not all the First Team players playing, we’ve got enough quality to progress.
We’re back in league action on Saturday when Sunderland visit the Cottage and that’s a big match, a really big match. Everyone admires Gus Poyet – I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like him. If you’ve met him you’ll know that he’s a really good guy, he loves his teams to play good football, and he won’t compromise in any way. But it’s a good chance for us and maybe we can do a little bit of pressing on them and nick the ball in important areas and be straight in on them, because Sunderland will try to play football, without a doubt. I still think they’re a side that at the end of the season will go down, but it’s a big, big game for us.
Finally, I’d like to mention what good appointments Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins are. I admire René and he’s done well to get a bit of Premier League nous in. Curbs has been there, seen it, done it in his managerial roles at Charlton Athletic and West Ham, so he’s going to be a good shoulder to lean on for René. And also Ray down there on the touchline will have the respect of the players. He worked alongside me at Sky – as did Curbs – and Ray will have the respect of players instantly and knows the Premier League inside out – in fact, both of them do.
Although René had a lot of experience under Sir Alex Ferguson, it’s important that you talk to experienced guys. I look at our backroom staff of Alan Curbishley, Ray Wilkins and Kit Symons and I see three good football people that you can trust and you think will be Fulham people. There’s Jonathan Hill as well who René knows from his time at United, so it’s good that he’s got one of his own men, who he’s worked with before, in as well.
Tickets for Saturday's game at home to Sunderland are still available to buy and are priced from £35 for adults and £15 for juniors.