at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom – Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher admits it is imperative his side finish the season strongly as the misfiring champions prepare to host struggling Fulham at Old Trafford on Sunday.
United have endured a difficult campaign in the defence of the Premier League title they won so convincingly last season under former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
With 14 matches left, United have little chance of retaining the title as they lie 15 points behind leaders Arsenal.
But Scotland international Fletcher is keen to stress the importance of amassing as many points as they can between now and May to try to qualify for the Champions League with a top-four finish.
“We need to finish the season on a bit of a run and with confidence,” Fletcher said.
“That will help us achieve something this season and also help us at the beginning of next season. We need to lead into the new season on a bit of a high.
“We want to get back to winning ways because there aren't many games left this season and we have got to finish in the top four.
“Seasons and runs can be turned on one result, one cup win, one massive performance and these can be the catalysts for success.
“We have got to reflect on that and realise it has been done before. We finished the 2005-06 season on a high and went on a winning run to achieve a bit of success.
“All of a sudden, it carried on to the next season because that was the standard that we had set, that is what we knew we were capable of.
“There is no doubt about it, we need to get back to that. The goal is always to respond and be successful.”
United manager David Moyes is expected to have Phil Jones back from concussion for the visit of bottom-of-the-table Fulham, but Jonny Evans (calf) and Marouane Fellaini (groin) are set to miss out.
Moyes has revealed that he attempted to persuade Fulham boss Rene Meulensteen to remain with the club when he took over at Old Trafford.
Meulensteen was first team coach at United under Ferguson, but left shortly after Moyes' arrival to become Guus Hiddink's assistant with Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.
The Dutchman returned to English football with Fulham in November 2013 as assistant coach and was then appointed manager when Martin Jol was sacked three weeks after his arrival.
“Rene helped me when I first came here,” Moyes said.
“I had several conversations with him. He helped me, told me about the club, how it runs, and the players.
“In the end I would have liked him to stay, but he wanted to go and that was fine. I am looking forward to seeing him.”
Meulensteen has already come under pressure after a dismal start to his reign at Craven Cottage, but he claims he still has the backing of owner Shahid Khan.
Fulham have won just three times in 11 games since he took charge in November, with their FA Cup defeat to League One strugglers Sheffield United in midweek the latest embarrassing loss.
“I have been in contact with him (Khan),” Meulensteen said. “We are keeping good dialogue and he has given me his full support.
“He told us to remain focused and optimistic. There are a lot of games and points to play and that's what I intend to do.
“It's important to get the owner's support, but it's even more important that I know the job I need to do with the players.
“That is what makes the difference and will turn things around. Life throws challenges at you and you need to accept it and rise to it.”
Former Everton defender Johnny Heitinga is set to make his Fulham debut, while club record signing Kostas Mitroglou will have a knee injury assessed before the match. – Sapa-AFP