It took a while, but fans are coming around to Mark Hughes' style of play.
This week return to a former Fan Focuser, and indeed a quite esteemed one at that. Russ Goldman was the first person to ever take part in Fan Focus for our site, and now he's back to talk about Fulham.
For those who need a reminder, Russ is the former editor of Cottagers Confidential, and a huge Fulham fan. Nowadays Russ is working on a highly interesting project in other sports over on BosFans.com - the site for all sports in the Boston area.
For now though, Russ has his Cottagers hat on, and is going to chat with us about his one true love, Fulham FC. Enjoy...
Last time we spoke this was a top half clash, now... not so much. I’m well aware of what’s happened to us, but what’s been going on down at The Cottage since we last spoke?
Russ: The first half of the season saw Fulham deal with injuries to major players. Bobby Zamora’s broken leg really affected the team for a very long time. Fulham did not have a "target man" like Zamora to replace him. Andy Johnson returned as a striker but he is more about speed and pace. The attack changed and they had a hard time adjusting to it. Also, Mousa Dembele got hurt in the first half of the season as well. He is a young player with tremendous promise. These two injuries really stifled the team.
The second half of the season saw the club finally adjust to these injuries, and Mark Hughes’s style of play. Now that these players have returned you are seeing a more complete team that should end the season in the top 10.
Looking back at that time there were some fans calling for Hughes’ head. He’s still there, have Fulham fans come around to him now?
Russ: There were fans calling for his head which I completely disagreed with. I saw the potential that this team had before the injuries playing Mark Hughes’s style of play, which is much more attacking than the way Roy Hodgson set us up. I think Hughes is the right man for Fulham long term. Once he gets all the players he needs to play his style, we could be a top 10 side each season.
When Fulham come to the Stadium Of Light, they won’t be playing for a draw. I think that is one of the biggest differences that Hughes brought to the table compared to Hodgson. Even though we have only won once on the road, there is no question the approach is different. I think the players just need to mentally believe they can win on the road. Their play is much better, and Hughes is a big part of it.
Bobby Zamora is getting back in action. How welcome in is return?
Russ: His return means so much to Fulham. He is such a huge influence on the club on and off the pitch. Unfortunately there is not much more left to the season, but he will leave his mark on the several games left.
In addition to his return, he’s also been linked with moves away. Do you think he will stay?
Russ: They re-signed him over the summer, and I don’t see him leaving whatsoever. There were plenty of rumors last summer and he stayed.
I think the press has a tough time dealing with the fact that many of the players are happy at Fulham, and don’t want to leave. Brede Hangeland has been rumored to have interest from other clubs the past few seasons. He has come out publicly and said he wants to stay at Fulham.
We’re nearing the end of the season now, who gets your vote for Fulham Player Of The Year?
Russ: I think it has to be Clint Dempsey. Without his play during the injury periods to Zamora and Dembele, Fulham could have seriously been in relegation trouble. He not only leads them in scoring but he has been very clutch in key situations.
What sort of game are you expecting this weekend, and are you confident of getting a result?
Russ: I expect Fulham to come out, and try to take the game to Sunderland. They have shown no fear this season on the road. They won’t be sitting back like in years past. I am confident of a result, but I don’t think it will be one that either side will be happy with. I see a draw in this match.
Which individual match-up do you think Fulham need to win most in order to get something from the game?
Russ: I think the key for Fulham will be Danny Murphy in central midfield. He will have a tough time going against Lee Cattermole. Murphy is really the engine of the club. He sets up everything to the strikers up front. You shut him down, and you probably win the match.
And finally, what’s your prediction for the game?
I am predicting a 1-1 draw.