By James Andrew
Marcus Bettinelli reckons playing in goal for Fulham is one of the toughest challenges you can face, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Whites are renowned for their attractive brand of football and that includes playing out from the back.
It appears to be paying off. Since losing at Sunderland in mid-December, Fulham have won 12 and drawn four of their subsequent 16 fixtures to climb to third place in the table.
But, while their displays might be easy on the eye, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a breeze for their goalkeeper.
“I am not sure if people realise how hard it is to be in the Fulham team playing the way we want to play, especially on difficult pitches in the Championship,” said Bettinelli.
“People watch Manchester City and see how easy it looks for Ederson.
“Fulham is one of the hardest teams to play for because not only do you have to keep the ball out of the back of the net, you also have to be exceptional with the ball at your feet as well.
“Your distribution has to be spot on as it is the goalkeeper who starts the attacks from a goal kick. It is not a case of kicking it long and hoping for the best. It is tactically thought out.”
But Bettinelli is a strong believer in highly-rated manager Slavisa Jokanovic’s blueprint and believes the Whites must stick to their principles, come what may.
“We have played our football and stuck to how we want to play,” he said. “At times at the start of the season, when the style of football we play did not come off, then it can look bad.
“So, it is easy for pundits to question our style and ask why we don’t opt to hit the ball long.
“But that is not the way the manager wants us to play. We have our style and everybody is on board with it. We stick to it and we live and die by it.
“If we don’t win a game, then that’s life. We are going to continue to play the same way.
“The football we have been playing over the last 15 games has been excellent and that has put us in the position we are in.”
The former England U21 international looked set to start the season in goal for the Cottagers, but an injury in the final warm-up game against Wolfsburg had him starting the campaign on the bench.
David Button had the gloves for the first half of the campaign, but Bettinelli claimed the jersey in December.
“The gaffer put me in and I have not looked back since,” he said. “I’ve kept the No.1 shirt and, hopefully, we can go on to achieve something special.” If Fulham are to do that, then the form of the players in the spine of their team, such as Bettinelli, captain Tom Cairney and striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, could be crucial.
None of that influential trio has played the full season and that means they will arrive fresher for the run-in.
Playmaker Cairney has had to battle a knee injury this term, while Mitrovic has come in on loan from Newcastle and hit seven goals in his last five appearances.
“Alek has come into form in recent weeks and maybe he has a bit more in the tank,” added Bettinelli.
“But we are not relying on any individual. We are a team.
“You don’t get promoted with three or four outstanding players – you get promoted with 12 or 13 great players in the squad.”