Yet our visitors again illustrated at Liverpool in midweek that they also possess a determined backbone and can scrap for points when the situation demands. True they are a passing side with many facets to their overall game but no team can survive in the Premiership without the physical and mental strength that Jean Tigana has instilled in his side.
When the two teams met at Craven Cottage in the Worthington Cup in November, we faced a weakened side as Fulham, like Bolton in the last round, clearly decided that they wanted to keep their concentration on the Premiership. But the strength of the current Fulham squad meant that we still had a testing job to do and I was pleased with the way that we went about that task.
Sergei Rebrov came back into the side for that game and certainly proved his value to our squad by giving us an excellent lead. We were caught out when Barry Hayles headed their equaliser at the end of the first half but kept our momentum throughout the second period and deserved our winner from Simon Davies.
We then missed a great opportunity to improve our league position but Charlton at The Valley was always going to be a difficult game and we knew that we had to be at our best to keep our good run going. Unfortunately, it proved to be one of those afternoons when we were below par but credit to the lads for sticking at it in adversity and still chasing the game even when 3-0 down.
The key moment in the match was Teddy Sheringham’s volley which was brilliantly saved by Dean Kiely. Had that gone in then it could have been a different story but it was not to be.
In fact we were caught on the break for their last goal as we pushed up and put the home side under intense pressure without getting the breaks that would have made all the difference and may have been enough to inspire us to get back on par. As it was, we had to settle for another cracking goal from Gus Poyet but at least we had that encouragement because we continue to score goals from all areas, which is important.
On the subject of goals, I was delighted for hat-trick man Les Ferdinand here against Bolton on Tuesday. Indeed, at times in that game we played some marvellous football — some of the best we have shown all season — and it was only a pity that we received no recognition for that fact in the following morning’s newspaper reports.
They concentrated instead on the value of the competition and questioned it’s future. Well it’s valuable to us! It offers a place in Europe and that’s where this club has got to be. If we’re playing in the UEFA Cup next season our route into the competition will be forgotten because the only relevant fact is that we have got there.
I have told our players to treat the situation as if we’ve reached the end of the season and have just three games in which to gain a European slot. Now that would inspire any side and that’s the attitude we need. There certainly won’t be an easy game in the semi-finals — no manager is going to take it lightly at this stage — so we are entering a tough but crucial period in our season.
The FA Cup draw, pairing us with Coventry in the third round, brought back mixed memories for me of the 1987 Wembley final when we lost after extra time to City in what was my last Spurs game as a player. It’s amazing how much has changed in that time but one relevant factor remains — going to Highfield Road will be a severe test.
I was pleased to see that the Bolton Cup game passed without any items being thrown onto the pitch. This is exactly what we need so please keep it this way at what is an important stage of the season for us. In fact, if you see anything like this happening, please do us all a favour and report it.
This afternoon we are delighted to welcome Fulham to White Hart Lane for a game that has a lot to offer. Fulham are a side that always looks to play good football and with our own emphasis on the positive there should be plenty of goalmouth excitement in store.