ROY HODGSON admits Fulham’s European campaign has been liberated by their reassuring position in the Premier League.
Fulham face defending champions Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 showdown at Craven Cottage tonight.
Any lingering concerns over relegation have faded after the Cottagers reached 34 points with last week’s drubbing of Burnley, putting them on the brink of safety for another season.
Hodgson has always identified the league as Fulham’s overwhelming priority but with domestic survival no longer a concern, he can now adjust his approach to Europe.
“We’ve taken all the games seriously but in the earlier stages when I had a bigger squad I changed things around and used the freshest legs,” he said.
“That policy paid off but now that we’re in the final stages of the competition and playing the holders, it’s up to us to put out the best team we can.”
Fulham are enjoying another strong season, despite a lengthy injury list including Andy Johnson, Clint Dempsey and John Pantsil.
Paul Konchesky is also likely to miss the match, but Zoltan Gera is back.
Jan Lastuvka has warned Shakhtar to be wary of “spectacular” Fulham.
Lastuvka left Shakhtar for a season-long loan move to south-west London in 2006, giving the Czech Under-21 goalkeeper an insight into both clubs.
He departed when a transfer fee could not be agreed following a mixed season at Fulham and later joined West Ham. The 27-year-old rates striker Bobby Zamora very highly and believes Shakhtar may suffer as they are midway through their winter break.
“Fulham are playing spectacular football and they have got an experienced and very efficient forward in Bobby Zamora. Their defence is also strong,” he said.
“But Shakhtar are a strong team that does particularly well in the European tournaments. They are not worse than Fulham.
“But there is an advantage for English clubs as they have been playing in their Premier League so far while Shakhtar have only been in training.
“Fulham are doing well in the Premier League right now, although Shakhtar should not fear anything.
“If Shakhtar play as well as they can, they will gain a positive result for sure.”
Shakhtar are missing influential forward Julius Aghahowa and midfielder Oleksiy Polyanskiy, but Douglas, Ruslan Fomin and Artem Tetenko have all returned to the match squad.
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