Manager on Monday

Avram Grant heads into the international break frustrated by the hold-up in domestic action but pleased with a run of form that has seen the club unbeaten in four games and move to within a win of mid-table.

Although disappointed not to take all three points in Saturday's home match with Fulham, the manager said there continued to be signs of progress in the 1-1 draw. "A few weeks ago we would have lost that game, the players were saying that themselves after the match," he said.

"It happened to us a few weeks ago against Bolton. One thing I like to see in my teams is that they are improving and learning. We were stronger in the second half, which wasn't the case at the beginning of the season.

"I was delighted to see the way the players approached the second half. One of the problems when you go one-nil down is that the heads can go down, players can feel sorry for themselves. Now we are stronger and we could even have won the game in the second half. I like the spirit."


The manager will of course look to develop that spirit over the coming days, with a fortnight until the return to Barclays Premier League action away at Wolverhampton Wanderers. There was plenty of talking done as well at half-time against Fulham, with the manager changing things around after a sluggish first half.

"I said to them that we need to play better. We made it too easy for them to pass the ball and we wanted to put pressure on them, move the ball forward more quickly. We were able to do that."

Grant added that he always expected his squad to improve and get stronger with every week together since they got together in the second week of September after the previous international break. Although still at the wrong end of the table, one more positive result could change everything. 

"We knew what we wanted to do from the beginning of the season but it was not easy until 31 August. Since then it has been much easier and you can see that on the pitch.

"It is a ridiculous league, one more goal and we would have been out of the relegation zone. Between us and seventh place there is only a five-point difference. The league table is not important. We are not a team to be at the bottom of the league, we play football to be in a better place and we will get there.

"The improvement pleases me. It is much quicker than I thought but there is still a lot to do. The organisation is better because we have been training with the squad now for three weeks. We have a long way to go, but we are on the right way."

The hold-up in top-flight action will naturally disrupt things, with several players likely to be away on international duty. Pablo Barrera and Herita Ilunga, for example, will go to North America and Africa, while Winston Reid, who has had illness and injury to contend with in the last few weeks, is off to New Zealand.

"There is one thing I did all my life which is not to fight with something I cannot change. I will fight against things where I have only five or ten per cent chance of changing them but here is something that I cannot change.

"We have an international break if we like it or not. We will try to make the best of it."

It remains to be seen which, if any, of Grant's England contingent will be selected to face Montenegro on Tuesday week, with Fabio Capello's team closely watching Saturday's contest at the Boleyn. Anyone called will stay with the squad until midweek before heading off, a welcome chance at least to review and assess the weekend first.

When the squad regroup two days before the Wolves date, the manager will be confident of what his men are all about. "We have signed players that are hungry to succeed and hungry to develop, and they will help the team. It is good to have competition for places, it pushes you forward to be better and better."

Scott Parker