Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson has tipped Fulham to avoid the drop in the Premier League this season and admitted he will be “rooting” for his former club to do so following Sunday’s meeting between the sides.
Fulham sat 10 points adrift of safety at one stage earlier this month but they are now within three of 17th-placed Newcastle after a four-match unbeaten run, including wins at Everton and against rock-bottom Sheffield United.
Despite their lowly position, Hodgson anticipates Fulham to be much improved team from the one he came across in October, when goals from Jairo Riedewald and Wilfried Zaha helped Palace to a 2-1 victory at Craven Cottage.
Hodgson retains a soft spot for the side he managed between December 2007 and June 2010 and once this weekend is out of the way, he hopes Scott Parker secures the Cottagers’ top-flight place.
“The coaching staff and Scott have done an extremely good job in improving the side from the team we met at the start of the season and I would quite frankly say there is little comparison between the two teams,” Hodgson said.
“At the start of the season they weren’t winning or getting many points because they weren’t doing the things which I’m sure the management and coaching staff wanted them to do, but now you see they’re doing all the things that any management or coaching staff would want of a group of players.
“It’s a club I have enormous affection for and, alongside Palace, there’s no doubt they would be the two clubs where I would have the most affection here in England.
“Once this game’s over, and hopefully we’ve sent them packing without any points from this game, I shall be 100 per cent behind them in every other game and certainly rooting for them to stay in the league.
“In Scott and his coaching staff they have the men there to do it and they have the playing staff, too. We have enormous respect for them. We’ll have to pull out the stops if we’re going to be smiling at the end of (the game).”
Zaha is once again set to miss out with a hamstring problem that has sidelined him for Palace’s last three matches, but the forward did take part in light training on Friday, alongside Jeffrey Schlupp and Connor Wickham.
However, Hodgson revealed Nathaniel Clyne has joined a growing injury list which includes Zaha, Schlupp, Wickham, James Tomkins, Mamadou Sakho and James McArthur.
While Monday’s last-gasp win at Brighton took Palace 10 points clear of the bottom three – and within eight of sixth-placed Liverpool – Hodgson admitted thoughts of a top-10 finish are hampered by so many absentees.
He said: “It’s achievable for quite a few of us who aren’t in the top 10 at the moment. One thing is going to be certain for us is we’re going to need the players that we can’t use because they’re in the treatment room.
“Our squad isn’t enormous anyway, in terms of quality and experienced players, and to have so many good quality and experienced players not even available, that’s going to make life difficult for us going forward until such a time that I can look at the squad that I was looking at two or three months ago before this injury crisis struck.”
As for when Zaha might return, Hodgson added: “With muscle injuries you have to be very careful.
“I just have to wait for him to get the clearance from the medical department so they can be certain that his first sprint is not going to bring about a new injury or a recurrence of the old injury.
“I’m rather hoping that certainly by next week we’ll be seeing him back.”