Cottagers liberated by PL position
Fulham face defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 showdown at Craven Cottage. Any lingering concern over relegation from the Premier League have faded after the Cottagers reached 34 points with last week's drubbing of Burnley, putting them on the brink of safety for another season. Hodgson has always identified the Premier League as Fulham's overwhelming priority but with domestic survival no longer a concern, he can now adjust his approach to Europe. "We thought it was fantastic to be part of this competition. It's a great adventure and is a feather in this club's cap," he said. "It's a good marketing tool to get our name and what we're trying to do out to a much wider audience via a top-level competition. "We've taken all the games seriously but in the earlier stages when I had a bigger squad I changed things around and used the freshest legs. "That policy paid off but now that we're in the final stages of the competition and playing the holders, it's up to us to put out the best team we can. "The players are anxious to play and we'll have to bite the bullet if once again the workload these extra matches bring about affects us in the Premier League. "I'm pleased we're on 34 points and within touching distance of the safety zone because it means we're less anxious about the games that precede or follow European matches." Fulham are enjoying another strong season, despite a lengthy injury list that has claimed key players Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and John Pantsil for the long-term. They sit 10th in the Premier League and are through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, leading Hodgson to urge his team to continue defying expectations. "Everyone realises our players have done an exceptional job and have punched above their weight for a period of time and continue to do so," he said. "We've reached a level but sometimes it's easier to reach it than stay there. "We've set a high standard for ourselves and now we must make sure we don't fall below that." Hodgson is adopting a wait and see policy over a proposal to introduce a play off for the Premier League's fourth Champions League place - even though it would benefit clubs like Fulham. The idea would see the teams placed fourth down to seventh battle it out for a spot in Europe's most prestigious competition. "A wise decision needs to be made after all the advantages and disadvantages have been analysed," said Hodgson. "At the moment you'll get people who have something to benefit from it say it's a good idea, while those who don't will say the opposite. "These important matters shouldn't be decided by people like myself who might think that selfishly this is a good idea."