John Arne Riise wants Fulham’s unbeaten 2014 to extend to a third game when Sunderland arrive at Craven Cottage on Saturday (3pm).
Last weekend’s 1-1 cup draw at Norwich City was preceded by a vital three points at home against West Ham United, and the Norwegian left-back fully appreciates the magnitude of the clash with the Black Cats.
“The West Ham game was very important for us and obviously this game on Saturday against Sunderland is going to be very important as well because they’re desperate for a win, too,” Riise admitted.
“It’s a chance for us to get back-to-back wins and that would give us some breathing space from the bottom three. When you play a team in mid-table or down at the bottom where we’re at home, people expect us to get the three points a bit more. These are tough games because there’s a little bit more pressure on you.
“We go into every game to try to win the game and that is René Meulensteen’s message to us in every session; he prepares us to win every game, and that’s the right way to approach each match.”
Like the Whites, Sunderland have seen a new Head Coach take the reins mid-season, with former Brighton & Hove Albion boss Gus Poyet the man tasked with steering the club to safety.
“I think he’s trying to get his philosophy through to the team,” Riise said of the Uruguayan. “It’s difficult for the players because they know that they’re in a fight and they might be more nervous than normal, and that adds to the pressure.
“From our point of view, I think we’re too good to be fighting for these positions but we lost seven straight games and that’s not the Fulham I know, or have known for many years. René has done exceptionally well to make the players believe that we’re good enough to stay up.”
Aiding Meulensteen, as he attempts to put more distance between Fulham and the relegation zone, are new recruits Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins in their roles as First Team Technical Director and Assistant Head Coach, respectively.
The pair can each boast a plethora of footballing wisdom, having enjoyed enormous success in the game, and Riise admitted it’s been a boost having them around.
“They’re very highly respected, both of them,” he said. “They’ve been brilliant in the dressing room and they’ve been helping René a lot with their experience because he wants to learn from different people.
“We don’t see much of Curbishley as he’s more observing, whereas Ray’s in the dressing room and talks before the games and in training. He’s very quiet but he gets his message across.
“René, Alan and Ray all respect each other and I think that’s the most important thing. It wouldn’t be good if one has one idea and the other has another. They support René’s ideas and I think they’re trying to fulfil René’s potential as a coach.
“I think they sit and talk a lot about ideas, that’s why René brought in the two of them; to learn from them and to become a more complete Head Coach than he already is.”
Another new arrival at the Club is that of Clint Dempsey who returned to Fulham on a two-month loan from Seattle Sounders.
The American scored 60 goals for the Whites in his first spell in SW6, and Riise’s looking forward to linking up with him on the field once again.
“It was great playing with him when he was here because he was left wing and I was left-back and we had a great relationship on the pitch,” he said. “He’s aggressive and he knows the Premier League. I think he’ll give us a boost and he’s keen on doing really well here.
“He likes to fight and he hates to lose and loves to win. He’s versatile on the pitch and can move in any position in the midfield – I think he could give us a few goals that we’ve been missing.
“He played 90 minutes in the cup game and he felt good after that but obviously it had been a while since he had a game. He’s a guy who always stays fit and I think he knew he was going to come back here on loan.