Hodgson shelves thoughts of Europe

Last season Hodgson brought European football to Craven Cottage

after he guided his side to an unlikely seventh-place finish. The

Cottagers made a slow start to this season before going on a good

run which culminated in a 3-0 victory over Premier League champions

Manchester United the week before Christmas. That shock win raised

expectations that Hodgson’s men could make Europe again this year,

but a recent run of five straight defeats was only halted by

Wednesday’s 1-0 win over rock bottom Portsmouth at Craven Cottage.

Hodgson’s efforts have been blighted by a series of long-term

injuries to key players like Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Paul

Konchesky. The former Inter Milan manager is hoping for an

improvement in form and luck in February. “I don’t think we’re

looking at Europe this year. I think we dropped too many points in

January,” said the 62-year-old. “The teams that are going to be

European this year, which is only the top six, they’re already

10-12 points ahead of us. “And furthermore, I think it’s

unrealistic. Had there been no injuries, had Johnson, Dempsey,

(John) Pantsil, Konchesky, (Simon) Davies, (Zoltan) Gera, had all

these players been fit all the time, then maybe we wouldn’t have

lost many games in January, and maybe would have had a few more

points. “But we didn’t, we had to battle through January as we did

with a really wounded team, and as a result, I think we’ve slipped

too far away from the top six. “Our chance of getting into Europe

will be to win a cup competition.” In fairness to Hodgson, the

teams to whom Fulham lost in January – Spurs, Chelsea and Aston

Villa – are among the toughest in the league. Nevertheless, the

Cottagers still looked below par against Avram Grant’s side in

midweek, and will have to up their game against a Bolton outfit who

are fighting for their lives just above the relegation zone. A home

fixture against Burnley follows Saturday’s clash before the

Cottagers host League Two side Notts County in the FA Cup. Hodgson

is now hoping for a good run so his side can regain their

confidence and edge away from the relegation zone. “The Portsmouth

result will buoy us up and will give us momentum,” Hodgson added.

“If we can get something from the game and then something from the

game against Burnley, we’ll have started February well and, once

again, we’ll be nosing towards the top end of the table, and

leaving the bottom half of the table behind us.” Stefano Okaka

could start up front with Bobby Zamora despite a glaring miss on

his debut on Wednesday. Hodgson is hopeful that Davies (foot) and

Gera (knee) will recover from knocks to face Owen Coyle’s side, who

are looking for only the second league win since the Scot took

charge. The Cottagers have not won an away league game since the

opening day of the season and Hodgson is braced for a tough match.

He said: “It’s another away game, always a difficult game, and even

the top three or four teams in the country, with no injury

problems, don’t find it easy going to places like Hull and Bolton.

“They’re desperate for points, they’re going to be fighting for

their lives. “But, if we show the type of character and courage we

showed against Portsmouth, we’ll give them a very good game.”