Byline: David Smith
ACONTROVERSIAL decision by Fulham manager Roy Hodgson to make wholesale changes ahead of tonight's opening Europa League group game against CSKA Sofia here has been defended by Simon Davies.
The inclusion of the Wales international in Hodgson's starting line-up to face the Bulgarian League leaders is set to be one of nine changes to the side that beat Everton at raven Cottage on Sunday.
Only goalkeeper David Stockdale, who made his first-team debut against Everton in place of the injured Mark Schwarzer, and right-back John Pantsil are likely to keep their places.
The heart of Fulham's defence will feature the untried pairing of Chris Baird and Chris Smalling, who starts with the first team for the first time. This against Sofia's rampant 'Army Men', who have scored goals without reply on their way to winning four times and drawing once in their five domestic games this season.
Hodgson insisted his selection was not another slight on the Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup, following the weak-team debacles that saw Tottenham and Aston Villa make ignominious exits from the competition last year.
He claimed his hand was forced by injuries to Schwarzer, Paul Konchesky, Damien Duff and Clint Dempsey. Skipper Danny Murphy had also gone down with a cold, although Hodgson admitted he expected they should all be back in contention for Sunday's League clash at Wolves.
Hodgson also pointed out that of tonight's side boasted international experience, with only Englishman Stockdale not having played for his national side at Under- or full cap level.
From the moment Fulham qualified for Europe after finishing a club-record high of seventh in the League, Hodgson has stressed his primary target would be to retain their top-flight status. …