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FULOP: STAY UNBEATEN TO GO UP
SUNDERLAND and Hungary goalkeeper Marton Fulop is sure there will be more dramatic twists in the promotion race.
The Black Cats go into this weekend’s international break sitting third in the Championship with a trio of fellow Premiership pretenders to meet when the league action resumes on March 31.
There will be little time for Fulop to rest after he linked up with the Hungary squad for Saturday’s friendly with Montenegro and next Wednesday’s Euro 2008 qualifier with Moldova.
Hungary’s hopes of reaching next year’s Euro finals are all but over, but the 23-year-old is looking forward to a thrilling finale to his club’s campaign.
Fulop said: “I think we have a great chance of promotion. The club deserves it and the supporters deserve it.
“Hopefully we’ll be in the Premier League next season and that will be exciting for all of us.
“We’ve had a great run and we just seem to be able to get the results we need at the moment. After the start the club had to the season, we had a big challenge ahead of us and we are close to achieving what we want, but there are still some very tough games coming.
“If we can win the remainder of our games I am sure we can get automatic promotion. I think all of the clubs at the drop will drop a few points so the table could change, but if we can stay unbeaten when we have a great chance and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“Our fans will have a part to play. With the number of people who follow us home and away, the noise they make an lift us and worry our opponents.”
Fulop has had to play second fiddle to the in-form Darren Ward since arriving at the Stadium of Light in November.
The former Spurs keeper briefly ousted Ward from Roy Keane’s starting XI last month, but the more experienced man has forced his way back in, celebrating his return by winning a fresh deal last week.
Fulop said: “I’m pleased for Wardy. Getting the contract gives him and his family more security.
“He’s happy and I always want him to do well. All of the lads who are not in the starting team support the players who are.
“I want to team to continue winning so I wouldn’t want anything to go wrong, but I have to make sure Wardy is not too comfortable.
“When we’re training, there’s big rivalry between us and we drive each other on. When he’s playing I try to help him because when I was in the team, he helped me an awful lot.
“We get on really well. He’s a fantastic professional and he’s great to work with.”
KEANE STEPS UP WAR WITH FAI
SUNDERLAND boss Roy Keane has resurrected his feud with the Football Association of Ireland.
At the weekend, Keane criticised the lack of Black Cats players winning call-ups from the Republic of Ireland – with only Anthony Stokes named in the squad for this week’s clash with Wales.
Speaking at a charity event for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Keane accused FAI chiefs of infecting the national squad with mediocrity while discriminating against Cork-born players.
He said: “It definitely doesn’t help Liam Miller. If he was (from) further up the country, I’m pretty sure he would be in the Irish squad.
“I don’t just say these things. There’s no doubt in my mind that Liam Miller being from Cork certainly doesn’t help him.”
Keane, born in Cork himself, said his early career was frustrated by Dublin-based officials overlooking him in favour of players from the capital city.
“It happened to me when I was 17, 18 years of age, being in Irish squads with youth teams, not getting a game and lads ahead of you, who are still a year younger than you, who could have played a year later, getting a game,” he added.
“It happened to me at Bray Wanderers when I played France for the Irish under-16s or 17s – lads getting on in front of me who still had another year under age, the following year.
“The lads who got ahead of me that night were from Dublin and the manager that night was from Dublin. I know Steve Staunton’s not from Dublin but a lot of the FAI are.”
Asked if Cork-born players had to play better than everybody else to get selected for the national squad, he replied: “You’ve hit the nail on the head. Without a doubt.”
Keane also criticised his former international team-mates. Ahead of this weekend’s European Championship qualifier, Keane suggested several members of the side were only getting picked by manager Steve Staunton because of their media image.
He explained: “There’s a fine line between loyalty and stupidity. A very fine line.
“You’ve got to be loyal to lads who’ve done OK, but once you keep playing them on the reputation they’ve built up through the media or because they do lots of interviews, the it’s wrong – it’s 100 per cent wrong.
“Come Saturday against Wales, the senior players – four or five of them – have to step up to the plate. But they’ve been asked before.
“That’s why I don’t get bogged down by saying we’ve got the world-class players with Ireland.
“You look at some of our lads at the bigger clubs ... none of these players at this moment in time are setting the world alight at their respective clubs.”
Keane berated the team for celebrating after beating San Marino and advised them to take a lesson from Ireland’s other national sports sides following their recent successes.
“The FAI, the soccer, can learn a lot from the rugby lads, even the cricket lads. If you go into something believing you’re going to get there, then there’s a good chance you’ll get there,” he said.
“If you think you’re not going to get there I guarantee you won’t get there. And that definitely comes from the top, the FAI.
“If you cut corners, that gets through to the teams. If you do things half-measured, you’re not going to get nowhere.”
He continued: “You look at the rugby lads, they don’t seem to be resting on their laurels, they don’t seem to be patting each other on the back for winning Triple Crowns. They want to be winning Grand Slams, they want to be going to the World Cup and giving it 100 per cent.”
On the FAI, he added: “If you’re used to mediocre, that will get through to the players.
“A ‘that’ll do’ attitude has been going on far too long. But I think the Irish fans are getting a bit fed up with it.”