Duff happy to be out of north-east

Damien Duff heads back to the north-east to face Sunderland tomorrow having put his Newcastle nightmare firmly behind him.

The Republic of Ireland winger endured a tough spell at St James’ Park, with an injury-hit three years culminating in last season’s relegation when his final-day own-goal against Aston Villa sealed the Toon’s fate.

But Fulham manager Roy Hodgson rescued Duff at the start of the new campaign and has been rewarded with a stunning return to form from the player Chelsea once shelled out £17m for.

“I had a difficult few years up in the north-east but I’m just happy to be back playing and thankful to be playing good football with a good team and a good manager, and long may it continue,” said Duff.

“It’s always going to be hard going up there but we’ll keep working hard and see what comes.”

Under Hodgson, Fulham are enjoying unprecedented success with Thursday night’s epic 1-1 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk earning them a Europa League last-16 tie against Italian giants Juventus.

The Cottagers also have an FA Cup quarter-final against Tottenham to look forward to, while they have recovered from a recent four-game losing streak to once again sit comfortably in the top half of the Barclays Premier League.

Duff is full of praise for the job Hodgson has done since taking over at Craven Cottage just over two years ago.

“It’s not so long ago, January, that we had an horrendous month and people were writing us off so it’s credit to the gaffer and the lads that we bounced back,” added Duff.

“It’s exciting times for a club which two years ago just escaped from relegation on the last day, so we’ve come a long way since then.

“The gaffer has come in and done brilliantly ever since.

“We have a small squad but when anyone comes in to do a job, they do great. And with a top manager, working with him every day is going to pay off.”

Brede Hangeland headed in Duff’s free-kick to score Fulham’s crucial goal in Ukraine.

The Norway defender also credits Hodgson for the team’s extraordinary rise, and insists there is more to come.

“It’s almost unbelievable to see what has happened here in the last two years and he has to take the credit for that. I stand in line and applaud him with the rest,” he said.

“It’s hard to say how far we can go. Our mentality is to keep going, do the best we can in each game, try to be modest and stick to our game plan. That’s brought us some success and long may it continue.”

Hodgson will check on 15-goal top scorer Bobby Zamora ahead of tomorrow’s clash after he suffered an Achilles injury in Donetsk.

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