Fulham v Spurs: Can Cottagers avoid hitting the wall?

FULHAM fans continue to pinch themselves as they enjoy arguably the most successful season in the club's history. Despite qualifying for the inaugural Europa League last season with a best-ever seventh-placed finish...

FA CUP QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW BY BEN PEARCE

Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur

Saturday, 5.20pm

FULHAM fans continue to pinch themselves as they enjoy arguably the most successful season in the club's history.


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Despite qualifying for the inaugural Europa League last season with a best-ever seventh-placed finish, few fans expected to be fighting on three fronts in March - and they weren't the only ones.

"The chairman made it very clear: give it [Europe] your best shot but for Christ's sake don't let it impact on the Premier League," said Roy Hodgson earlier in the season.

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Survival was still the fundamental priority as Fulham kicked off their season in July. But, 44 games later, there is all to play for at the business end of the season.

Fulham are virtually safe with 38 points already in the bag, allowing them to focus on their striking progress in both the FA Cup and Europe - having sensationally eliminated holders Shakhtar Donetsk and progressed into the last 16 last week.

The Cottagers' stellar season is all the more remarkable because they are missing key first-team players.

Andrew Johnson has made just 13 appearances this campaign, Clint Dempsey is out with a cruciate knee injury and Hodgson is also missing both of his first-choice full-backs. John Pantsil has a knee injury while ex-Spurs left-back Paul Konchesky is racing to be fit after an ankle problem.

"We don't have the kind of squad where we can make wholesale changes," said Hodgson. "We know what our best team is and we try to get it on the field. I keep expecting the players to hit the wall after all the games we've played this season but they keep proving me wrong."

Spurs hope that Fulham finally flag this weekend, but the Cottagers' staggering stamina shows no signs of expiring - they played eight games in February, and were unbeaten.

In fact, Hodgson's side are now enjoying their longest break for six weeks, and they will fancy their chances of extending their FA Cup adventure beyond this weekend.

Spurs were lucky to escape Fulham with a goalless draw on Boxing Day, when Heurelho Gomes was the man of the match.

The Cottagers have one of the best four home defences in the top flight, having conceded nine times in 14 games - the same as Spurs.

Hodgson's side have also matched Tottenham's points total at home, taking 29 Premier League points from a possible 42, and beating Liverpool (3-1) and Manchester United (3-0) along the way.

Fulham's stellar season is largely due to veteran Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and towering centre-back Brede Hangeland, but Bobby Zamora has suddenly seized the mantle at the other end of the field.

The ex-Spurs forward recently scored in four consecutive games, taking his total tally to 15 in all competitions.

Ham&High Sport verdict: Dickson Etuhu will allow Danny Murphy the freedom to dictate the game, while Zoltan Gera will play in behind Zamora.

Hodgson's side are very well organised and, with a makeshift midfield, Spurs will struggle to break through.

This looks like a repeat of the Boxing Day stalemate - a tight, cagey affair with neither side overexposing themselves. The defences and keepers are likely to come out on top again, setting up another replay at the Lane."

Prediction: 0-0

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