Friday Football Feature: Fulham have the potential to challenge for a European spot


The cottagers are having their best start to the season since 2003.


By Alex Christian

Fulham are quietly making some steady progress this season, a team blended with experience and quality and one which looks like it could challenge for a European spot come the end of the season.

They sit in eighth place, two points off the Champions League places, and above Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool.

In fact, with 12 points from eight games, this is Fulham’s best start to a Premier League season since 2003.

They have an appetising clash at Reading tomorrow, with the Royals still awaiting their first win back in the top-flight and on a poor run of form.

With away victories for the Cottagers traditionally hard to come by, a win at the Madejski will come as major boost before a tricky home game against Everton next Saturday.

Martin Jol will be able to pick from a near-full squad, with Damien Duff overcoming illness to be fit for selection. Only Simon Davies is out of the trip to Berkshire.

Always built soundly on a veteran defence and midfield, Fulham can now boast an array of attacking talent with the likes of Hugo Rodallega, Bryan Ruiz, Mladen Petrić and Dimitar Berbatov.

It shows – Fulham are the fourth highest scorers in the league this season after Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs.

And a potential second away win of the season tomorrow largely hinges on Berbatov’s performance – his ability to hold up the ball and his considerable aerial threat should prove vital for Fulham’s away days this campaign.

The Bulgarian’s Fulham form has been reminiscent of his Spurs days when he too played under Jol, when he was the focus of every attack, and when the opposition struggled to get the ball off him.

However, Fulham will also need to keep their ex-loanee, Pavel Pogrebnyak, at bay tomorrow.

Now Reading’s main goal threat with four goals in eight games, the Russian was hugely impressive in the second-half of last season for Fulham, scoring the winner in the West London derby against QPR and a hat-trick against Wolves.

Had he made the permanent switch Fulham would arguably not have Berbatov now, providing an interesting angle into tomorrow’s match, which could end up a battle between the two forwards, Fulham past and present.

If the Whites can make sure Berbatov is involved in the game while limiting Pogrebnyak’s opportunities, there is a good chance all three points will be taken back to SW6, ensuring Fulham’s best start to a league season in over 50 years.

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