Hughes sets record challenge for Fulham

Posted Monday, May 09, 2011 by PA

Mark Hughes has sought to prevent Fulham slacking off in their final three games of the season by challenging them to secure their highest ever points tally in the Barclays Premier League.

The Cottagers sealed their top-flight status last weekend when they romped to a 3-0 win at Sunderland and there could be a danger of them relaxing in their upcoming matches against Liverpool, Birmingham and Arsenal.

But manager Hughes is determined to guide them to a top-10 finish and set them a target of winning all of their remaining games, a feat which would see them beat their best ever Premier League points tally of 53.

He said: "If we get maximum points out of every game we have left then I think that's the highest total ever that a Fulham team has reached in the Premier League.

"So that's a challenge for us and that's something that we'll use as a motivation going into these last three games.

"It could've been easy to switch off after the Bolton result, to be fair, because we were safe or near as damn it.

"But I didn't see any inkling that that's what the players were feeling when we went up against Sunderland.

"So it's more of the same for the games we have remaining."

Fulham's current record was set under Roy Hodgson two years ago and beating it would highlight the remarkable turnaround in Fulham's season Hughes has masterminded since the start of the year.

Some fans were calling for his head when the club slipped into the relegation zone in December but now their only fear will be keeping hold of the 47-year-old in the summer.

He said: "It was difficult at the beginning of the season but, as we come to the climax of it, we've been really pleased with what we've be able to produce.

"There are not that many trophies that are up for grabs and they get taken more often than not by the big clubs.

"But it's about making sure that you're still achieving at your own level.

"I think Fulham have only been in the top 10 of the Premier League three or four times, in fact even in the whole of the Football League.

"To do that again would be fantastic for us."

Clint Dempsey and Brede Hangeland are back in contention for the game.

Midfielder Dempsey (hamstring) - the Cottagers' all-time top scorer in the Premier League - and defender Hangeland (illness) missed the win at Sunderland.

Damien Duff will not play again this season after undergoing Achilles surgery, while Zoltan Gera and Rafik Halliche remain sidelined.

Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish insists he is not even thinking about the prospect of European football - despite the fact they are closer to qualifying for it than they have been all season.

After last weekend's win over Newcastle lifted the Reds into fifth place, their highest position of the campaign, the debate began to intensify about whether the Europa League would be a good thing for a club trying to win back their place in the top four.

Even with three games to play Dalglish knows there are still many variables which could affect the final outcome.

Liverpool's long-term planning will continue regardless but the Reds boss is confident the "problem" of Europa League football is something they will deal with if it becomes a reality.

"I find it very difficult to predict the future," said the 60-year-old Scot.

"We've always said we would get our reward at the end of the season - we never set ourselves any target.

"We don't have that (Europa League) problem yet and so until it arises we don't have to solve anything - the biggest problem I have is Fulham on Monday night.

"There will be problems to be solved at the end of the season and if we get the Europa League that will be one of the problems.

"Planning for next season started a good while ago, that (Europa League) is just one thing which has to be taken into consideration but you cannot predict what is going to happen so there is no point in worrying about that."

Andy Carroll may have to settle for a place among the substitutes again.

The £35million club-record signing came off the bench for a 20-minute appearance in last weekend's win over Newcastle after recovering from a knee injury but the form of Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez may mean the England international has to wait for a starting opportunity.

Forgotten winger Milan Jovanovic (knee) and defender Fabio Aurelio (hamstring) both have a chance of being included.


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