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European Football Probably Couldn't Come at a Better Time for Fulham

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The dreaded anniversary is almost upon us.

Only 357 days have passed since one of the most disappointing climaxes in the history of football.

It was almost as if, on that dreadfully bitter-sweet May evening, the whole viewing public were behind us. 

We were a naive, tentative, small town club that had caught the imagination of football. Fulham toppled the holders, defeated, against the most arduous of circumstances, the 'Old Lady' of European football and knocked out the hosts with an almost unerring ease.

Seemingly effortless it may have been at times, but Hodgson never allowed complacency. That's why we became loved. Perhaps only temporarily, but it won't be just Fulham fans that will look back upon 12th May 2010 and subconsciously applaud a genuinely, albeit surprisingly, world-beating side.

To achieve such a feat again though? Surely not?

Well, come the end of the season, it could become very easily apparent that the Cottagers will be playing some sort of role in what will be the 3rd year of the Europa League. The European Fair Play League will be our route in, and while not illustrating the most glamorous of entries, it's respectable nonetheless.

And perhaps, just perhaps, European football for Fulham couldn't be more appropriately placed on a history timeline that brags barely a single recognisable trophy.

A managerial change has of course been bestowed upon us at Craven Cottage, with the manager behind the European master-class now enjoying more mid-table obscurity at West Bromwich Albion, but the addition of Mark Hughes at the helm is, if anything, only a step in the right direction.

He's a disciplined, hard-nosed and therefore effectual man who knows how to get results. Admittedly, it's not all gone his way this season and I'll be the first to admit that at times, even I was concerned for our safety under his tutorship. If the ex-Man City manager has taught us one thing though, it's to trust what he says in that his sides are indeed 'end-of-season teams'. We've blitzed up to 9th place over the past few weeks and in the process have shipped few goals while scoring plenty.

Our rise in form has coincided rather cosily with an array of injury returnees, which bodes rather well in an effort to prove that we have a team with the capability of success at the highest level. The side has barely changed since last May. In fact, it's only strengthened. Bobby Zamora may have had a lengthy lay-off but he's back at his best now, while new boy Moussa Dembele hasn't left a single fan's mouth dry as they drool over his fantastically innate dribbling skills. 

Perhaps most important to any European title aspiration, though, is the experience that we now possess. An immediate return the Europa League would have been too soon. The dreaded day would have been fresh in their minds and any willingness to revenge their defeat would have been outdone by a simple mental barrier that only time can erode. A season later though and the memories provide the perfect ammunition for another shot (excuse the pun) at the big time.The likes of Danny Murphy, Zamora and Brede Hangeland can call on their previous knowledge and before you know it, a European Final could await in May 2012.

It must be said though, that I may be getting a long way ahead of myself. Yet, it's a sign of the ever-improving times if a Fulham fan can genuinely write an article detailing his side's realistic chances of European success come next season.