Hodgson backs Murphy to continue at top level

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The Independent Football

Roy Hodgson sees no reason why Danny Murphy cannot continue to play at the top level for many seasons - but warned against expecting the Fulham captain to "hit the ground running" on his return to action from a knee injury against CSKA Sofia tonight.

The 32-year-old former Liverpool midfielder is set to feature for the first time since mid-October as the Cottagers look to keep alive hopes of qualifying from the Europa League group stages.

Murphy, capped nine times by England, has enjoyed a new lease of life since moving across London from Tottenham two years ago.

Hodgson declared: "He has been excellent in every respect.

"Danny has been a very good captain, as well as a great playmaker, his passing is good and he helps the game flow.

"Even during these two years he has certainly got better."

The Fulham manager added: "I can see him going on for a good few more years. It is just a question of how he can keep himself away from injury.

"His fitness levels will remain constant for the next few years: the worry is what effect injuries have.

"But if, touch wood, he stays clear of that he can play for a long time."

Murphy's return is a welcome boost for the Cottagers, who have Erik Nevland, Paul Konchesky and Jonathan Greening all suspended, while the likes of Eddie Johnson, Seol Ki-Hyeon and Kagisho Dikgacoi are not eligible.

Hodgson, though, accepted it would be wrong to expect an immediate impact against the Bulgarians tonight.

"The first thing Danny has to do is to get back to match fitness," said the Fulham manager.

"He won't come straight back and hit the ground running, he needs the match practice.

"Whether he plays on Sunday depends on how he does against Sofia - I have other options for the Sunderland game, which I can't use on Thursday.

"But Danny is looking forward to it. He is mechanically fit and wants to get back in the saddle."

Fulham are currently third in Group E, with five points from four matches.

However, victory tonight and then again away to Basle could still see them reach the last 32.

"I have got to be fairly happy with being mid-table in the Premier League and still being in with a shout of getting through in Europe," said Hodgson.

"We have given some good performances in Europe.

"Some of the fringe players have grown in stature and are knocking on the door of the first team."