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Apr 4, 2014

Spirit of 2008 needed

The Whites go to Aston Villa on Saturday with only a very tenuous grip now on the Premiership. My 30-odd years of football reporting tell me this Fulham side is down and out, but as a lifelong supporter we still have to pray for a miracle. It needs to happen at Villa Park this weekend, but it's been a graveyard for every single Fulham manager since the elevation to the top flight 13 seasons ago.

- Report: Bent: I was fit for Everton match

Fulham find themselves in the same position as in 2008, when then-manager Roy Hodgson brought the club back from the dead with four wins from the last six matches. Current boss Felix Magath has to replicate that at the very least following just one win in the last 12 -- an abysmal run since January, despite serious investment in the transfer market and a whole new management structure.

Hodgson's team, however, had characters in the side who wouldn't countenance defeat -- leaders like Brian McBride in attack and the irrepressible Jimmy Bullard. Crucially, they also had a cool head to pull the strings in midfield in Danny Murphy -- a man not known for panic. And they had that wily old fox Hodgson with his hand on the tiller.

Man for man the class of 2014 seem so much better on paper. But the parts no longer fit, and morale is shot. The current Fulham squad has a losing mentality. At heart the players go out neither expecting to score goals nor come through 90 minutes with a clean sheet. That mind-set alone makes me sceptical of seeing history repeat itself.

However, with three very winnable home games to come against Norwich, Hull and Crystal Palace, a little more composure in front of goal matched by the energy levels exhibited last week against Everton, and who knows? Fulham unquestionably have to find a maximum from their last three road trips. That is unlikely at Stoke or Spurs, but against Aston Villa this week? The boys might be in with a chance.

There's no Christian Benteke to face for a start. Villa have the worst home record in the league after Fulham and are hardly brimming with confidence, losing their last two, 1-4. Relegation is still a possibility for Villa manager Paul Lambert's strugglers, and defeat by Fulham would really spook their long suffering fans.

Is this the moment when Magath finally gets the right blend of youth and experience and the Fulham lion roars back to life? 3,000 travelling supporters will be there to give their all. Can Fulham match their faith?

Here's the tale of the tape before the gloves come off: Needless to say, the Whites have to make history if they want to keep their hopes alive. Aston Villa are unbeaten in their last 14 home league games against the Londoners, the last league win on this ground came in March 1973. Encouragingly however, Fulham have only lost one of their last seven games against Villa (W2, D4). The last five meetings have produced a total of just six goals though, so don't expect a classic.

The Villans have lost nine home matches this season, compared to Fulham's eleven. I anticipate Scott Parker returning to the midfield, Darren Bent cannot play against his parent club, and it is up to Magath if he persists with Moussa Dembele up front. Why would he not after last week's promising show. My tactic for claiming a famous win? Get the best return out of an in-form Ashkan Dejagah by playing him from the start and getting him as close to Dembele as possible up the middle of the park with Lewis Holtby in the hole and width this week from Kieran Richardson.

Mistake-in-waiting Steve Sidwell should curb his buccaneering desire to be everywhere and shield an all too erratic back four. None of this I suspect will happen. If they continue to shoot themselves in the foot with woeful defending and poor concentration, then the game is well and truly up come Sunday.

COYW!!!

twitter@fulhamphil

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