Monday, September 14, 2009

Buzzing Damien Duff admits he’s so excited about Euro clashes

David Smith

Fulham 2-1 Everton

While the oft-repeated mantra of manager Roy Hodgson is that Premier League survival must remain Fulham's primary target this season, Damien Duff today insisted the club will fully embrace their challenge in Europe.

Duff has declared himself fit for Fulham's first group game in the Europa League at CSKA Sofia on Thursday despite a knee injury bringing a premature end to his man-of-the-match display in the 2-1 win over Everton.

“I was a bit nervous when it jarred but I don't think it's a major problem,” said Duff, whose stunning first goal for Fulham since his summer move south from Newcastleproved to be the winner at Craven Cottage yesterday.

The threat of injuries to his small squad, plus the pressure of a long fixture list, does concern Hodgson.

But Duff said: “We're not planning on letting it become a major negative factor. Obviously the travelling can be hard at times but the group we've been drawn in (Fulham's other Europa rivals are AS Roma and FC Basel) gives us some nice games, which will give the whole place a lift.

“Hopefully we can carry that into our League programme. I think it's exciting and when you're excited you're not thinking about burning out.”
Duff will, indeed, bring a buzz to Fulham this season if yesterday's showing was anything to go by.

The Republic of Ireland international was a livewire down the right — he suggested he had switched from his usual position on the left flank as a result of an agreement with fellow winger Clint Dempsey, although one assumes Hodgson also had a say in the matter — and laid on early crosses which Dempsey and Bobby Zamora headed wide.

His hard work finally brought a deserved reward in the 79th minute when Andy Johnson, back from a serious collarbone injury, touched the ball to Duff and then cleverly continued running to draw two defenders with him. That left space for Duff to cut inside and unleash a shot that had Tim Howard beaten easily.

Hodgson was delighted with his new purchase, saying: “His crossing was good, a lot of the danger we created came through his side of the field.

“He was always threatening to score. It's important, when you move clubs and you are a quality player like Damien, that you show the fans early that you are a quality player.”

Fulham had fallen behind to a 33rd- minute header from Tim Cahill who managed to beat the taller Brede Hangeland and Dickson Etuhu to a curling free-kick. But Paul Konchesky brought the home side level 12 minutes into the second half when he latched onto Danny Murphy's blocked free-kick and saw a volley deflected past Howard bySylvain Distin.

Hodgson's principle concern for the game in Bulgaria is a neck injury to Mark Schwarzer which meant 23-year-old David Stockdale yesterday made his debut in goal.

Everton boss David Moyes was left with concerns of his own over skipper Phil Neville, who was left with a gash on his knee after a challenge by Etuhu.Neville was carried off on a stretcher just after the hour mark as Etuhu appeared to catch Neville with his studs as he followed through on a tackle.

“It was a bad miss for the referee [Peter Walton],” Moyes said. “I thought it warranted a free-kick and a yellow card. Phil has got a gash on his knee and we will assess it later.”

After working with Etuhu at Preston, Moyes feels the midfielder would not deliberately injure an opponent. “He's not that type of player,” he added.


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