Dickson Etuhu believes he is the right man to plug the gap by left by Jimmy Bullard - but says he may not get back to his best form this season.

Etuhu - who signed from Sunderland last summer - was hit by a serious knee injury whilst still at the Black Cats, and was out of action for 10 months.

But following his first start in the 2-2 draw against Chelsea in November, the Nigerian international has caught the eye of manager Roy Hodgson with some fiery displays in midfield for the Cottagers, and has started every game since.

Nevertheless, Etuhu urges fans not to judge him by his recent performances, and assures them that his best is yet to come.

"I'm not so much concentrating on this season, because I've been out a long time - nearly a year," he told the Gazette.

"I've played five games and I still feel very stiff. I still can't turn properly, but my knee is getting there.

"Every game is a little bit better for me. But it'll take time. It won't happen overnight - I know that. I have to be patient.

"Next season will be when people really see what I'm about, especially when I've had the benefit of a pre-season."

The departure of Jimmy Bullard to Hull for £5m last week undoubtedly cleared the way for Etuhu to establish himself in the first XI.

But with experienced combative midfielder Olivier Dacourt signing on loan from Inter Milan until the end of the season, Etuhu will have to fend-off further competition for his place in the side.

But it is a prospect which he says does not faze him one bit.

"I believe in myself a lot," he said. "If Jimmy Bullard was still here, it would be good for the team, because he was a good player. But the fact is that he's decided to move on.

"Either way, I'd still be battling for a spot in the team, so that doesn't make a difference to me.

"There are a lot of midfielders in the club, and I still have to fight for my spot.

"The most important thing for me is to get back to where I was before I got injured. And every game I play, I feel better."

Roy Hodgson's men were back in action at Craven Cottage for the first time in more than a month last Saturday - a result of the postponed match against Blackburn Rovers.

It was the first time they had appeared on home soil since the epic west London derby and they gave fans a home-coming to remember.

A comfortable 3-1 win over free-falling Portsmouth, thanks to Andy Johnson's slick opener and two late Erik Nevland goals - the first of the season for the little-used Norwegian - pulled Fulham further away from a relegation dog-fight in which 12 teams are separated by only seven points.

And despite the woeful form on their travels that still hasn't produced a win and yielded a miserly haul of three away goals - the second worst in the league - Etuhu senses a change in the wind.

"We've been unlucky not to win away from home, but it'll come," Etuhu said.

"We'll go up to Wigan [this coming weekend] after doing well against Portsmouth, and hopefully everything will come together for us.

"We don't set [league position or points] targets, we just go out to win every game, and do what we're good at.

"We know that we'll do well enough to stay up. So we're not bothered about what's around us. It's what we do that matters."

Etuhu added: "We're like a family here. We've got a lot of players that all work together. We've got the fight, and the team spirit, which we show in every game." [25a0] Danny Murphy has extended his contract with Fulham by another year and will stay at Craven Cottage until the end of next season.

The Whites concluded a busy transfer window by signing Derby midfielder Giles Barnes on loan until the end of the season as well as 34-year-old Dacourt. The former Leeds and Everton player is also a France international.

Moving in the opposite direction on loan are midfielder Leon Andreasen (to Hannover 96) and Andranik (Barnsley).

Match Summary FULHAM (1) 3 PORTSMOUTH(0)1 Line-up: Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Dempsey (Gera 90), Etuhu, Murphy, Davies; Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 63). Subs not used: Zuberbühler, Andranik, Gray, Stoor, Kallio. Attendance: 23,722. GOALS: Johnson (14), Nevland (71, 80), Nugent (84).

MoM: Clint Dempsey

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JJB Stadium Saturday 3pm Premier League

Manager: Steve Bruce (above) Position last season: 14th Form Guide: They may have lost Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios in the transfer window,but a fighting 0-0 draw at Aston Villa last week underlined how well organised they are and just why they are lodged in the top half of the table. Bruce's men are unbeaten in seven at home, having won six times at the JJB Stadium so far - against Man City (2-1), Everton (1-0),West Brom (2-1), Blackburn Rovers (3-0), Newcastle United (2-1) and Tottenham (1-0). The only defeats have been v Chelsea (0-1), Middlesbrough (0-1) and Aston Villa (0-4).

Players to look out for: On-loan Honduran defender Maynor Figueroa was outstanding at Villa last week.

Most recent meetings: Fulham 2-0 Wigan Ath (26 Oct 2008); Fulham 1-1 Wigan Ath (22 Dec 2007); Wigan Ath 1-1 Fulham (15 Sep 2007) - Premier League. Head-to-head record: WA Wins: 10 FFC Wins: 13 Draws: 10

Match Facts: Only 10 goals have been scored in total during the past eight meetings and Fulham's home win this season was the first time either side has scored twice in one of those fixtures. The Whites will be seeking their first Premier League win at the JJB, having drawn twice and lost once. Fulham have not won in 10 visits to Wigan. The last success was a 3-1 triumph in September 1992. [25a0] Forecast: Fulham are still seeking an away win, but with goals at a premium on their travels, a draw seems more realistic.

Gazetteforecast success rate: 12 correct out of 25 (48%).