Big month for Fulham duo

The pressure is on Damien Duff and Stephen Kelly to deliver for both club and country.

After dull goalless draws against Slovakia and Russia, the Irish duo returned to club action at the weekend for Fulham, who failed to beat a poor Blackburn side and still await their first Premier League win under manager Martin Jol.

Unlike Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni, Jol does at least send his team out with some attacking intent and there were signs in the first half against Rovers that Fulham have enough about them to move up the table.

But the longer they go without that win, the greater the pressure on the Dutchman’s broad shoulders.

Fulham have six more matches before Duff and Kelly depart for international duty again in early October.

Jol may need to call upon Kelly in the next few games

They will take on FC Twente and Odense BK in the Europa League and face difficult Premier League fixtures against Manchester City and West Brom as well as local derbies with Chelsea and QPR.

Without a win in four league matches, Jol will be more worried about picking up Premier League points than a European adventure.

And he’ll be looking for big performances from Duff and Kelly.

Duff, 32, signed a new contract in August and is heading into the twilight of his career.  

Having undergone surgery on a troublesome Achilles injury towards the end of last season, he will be hoping to stay fit for the entire campaign this time around.

His experience will be vital in the coming weeks and his ability to conjure up a chance out of nothing may be the difference between picking up a win rather than yet another draw.

Trapattoni, like Jol, prefers to use Duff on the right wing rather than his more natural left, and will be praying that at some stage in the next six Fulham fixtures he gets a rest.

The Irish team is set up in a way that means without Duff, their attacking threat would be virtually non-existent. In order to at least claim a play-off spot, a fully fit Duff is a must for them.

Kelly, on the other hand, needs anything but a rest.

Duff provides vital ammunition for Fulham's strikers

The former Tottenham man, who had a successful loan spell with QPR back in 2003, has been in and out of the Fulham side since signing for the club in 2009.

At 28, he really can’t afford to be warming the bench at club level if he wants to secure a starting spot in the Irish team and it was somewhat surprising that he didn’t leave Fulham during the transfer window in order to secure regular football.

The Dublin-born defender replaced the injured Aaron Hughes after 20 minutes against Blackburn and needs to take this opportunity to nail down the right-back position if, as looks likely, Hughes is set for a spell on the sidelines.

Kelly is a very decent lad, always happy to stop for an interview after Ireland matches and never moans about sitting on the bench for Ireland or Fulham.

But he is clearly a confidence player and not starting week-in, week-out, has hampered his development in the last few years.

He came in for John O’Shea against Russia and performed well against former Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov.

With Richard Dunne suspended for the Andorra match on 7 October, Kelly is likely to retain his place in Trapattoni’s starting XI and potentially get the nod for the final qualifier against Armeniaon 11 October.

It’s time for Kelly to show that he isn’t just a bit-part player and in the process help ease the burden on both Jol and Trapattoni – two managers whose positions could come under scrutiny if results go against them in the coming weeks.