Crucial month ahead for Fulham says Martin Jol

 

Martin Jol believes this next month is the most vital of Fulham's season.

The Cottagers have struggled for consistency over the course of the campaign, thanks in no small part to their attempts to juggle domestic and European exertions.

Fulham's attention is now squarely on the Barclays Premier League and they will hope to increase their seven-point gap over the drop zone when they welcome Stoke to Craven Cottage tomorrow.

Jol has highlighted the match and the three that follow - QPR, Wolves and Aston Villa - as vital if they are to build momentum and further their hopes of survival.

When asked whether the next four weeks are the most crucial, the Dutchman said: "Yes, because we want to get a bigger gap over the bottom three.

"Hopefully we can do that against the teams around us. It will be a challenge because we haven't done that before because we are quite inconsistent.

"But, on the other hand, if you have nine draws that is pretty consistent. That said, I think we should have won five or six of those.

"If we would have done that and scored more goals in the right moments, we would be in a terrific position."

Tomorrow's match will be Fulham's 42nd of a mammoth season that began in late June due to their Europa League campaign.

While the west Londoners have now exited the competition, Stoke have made it to the knockout stages and Jol was quick to praise tomorrow's opponents.

"They have four wins away from home so they are quite a consistent team," he said. "They don't score a lot of goals but they score at the right moments.

"Stoke are playing in a compact English way and I think they have done a terrific job, especially as they are in Europe too. That is not easy, I can tell you.

"They are a strong team but we have home advantage and we need the points really."

Jol admitted Fulham have spent extra time on the training ground this week preparing for the Potters' direct style of play.

While wary of the threat Stoke pose, the Dutchman indicated they themselves may have a physical presence to deal with in the form of Pavel Pogrebnyak.

The Russia international joined on transfer deadline day from Stuttgart and could get his first taste of English football tomorrow.

"He came in on Wednesday and made a good impression, which is good," Jol said.

"Everybody is looking after him so, although it is always difficult to start in the Premier League, mentally he is up for it and he looks fit.

"I hope he brings us goals. That is always important for any team because we have other qualities around him."

Pogrebnyak's chances of starting have been heightened by the news Andrew Johnson has yet to return to full fitness.

The 30-year-old has a problem with left adductor and, although showing signs of improvement, is unavailable to face Stoke.

Despite a lack of recent playing time, Johnson has made the headlines this week after reports emanated suggesting he is in a stand-off with Fulham over a new deal.

The striker's contract runs out of the end of the season but Jol is confident a deal can be brokered.

"I would like to keep him," he said. "We have always looked close to agreeing a deal and hopefully we are closer than ever before.

"You will find in the next couple of weeks or months we will have the same with other players.

"There is a song in my head - 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' by the Rolling Stones.

"Sometimes you have to negotiate to put yourself in a position where the player is happy and the club has to be financially sound.

"Sometimes you have to give in, sometimes the players have to give in and that is where the problem lies.

"We are doing everything we can to keep Andrew Johnson but there will be three or four other players too.

"We have to extend a few contracts now. We have to try and find a solution in the next couple of weeks."

PA

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