LIFE was a lot simpler for Roy Hodgson during his two-and-a-half year reign at Fulham.
No sky-high expectation levels to meet and no intense media spotlight forensically examining his every word.
It was at Craven Cottage where he restored his managerial reputation in this country following his ill-fated spell at Blackburn a decade earlier.
Having kept them up against the odds after succeeding Lawrie Sanchez in December 2007, Hodgson led the Cottagers to an unprecedented seventh place and European qualification the following campaign.
Last season surpassed even that with their remarkable run to the Europa League final as the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus and Wolfsburg were brushed aside.
Hodgson was flavour of the month and his achievements were recognised with the LMA Manager of the Year award. His stock was so high that Liverpool came calling.
For the 63-year-old it must seem like a lifetime ago.
After a turbulent five months at Anfield, a growing number of supporters are running out of patience with the Reds’ inconsistency. The plaudits he was used to in the capital have been replaced with brickbats.
However, Hodgson insists there will be no wistful glances towards the opposing dressing room when his former club arrive at Anfield tomorrow.
With three points a necessity following last weekend’s woeful defeat at Newcastle, sentiment can’t come into it.
“Playing Fulham brings back a lot of very good memories,” he said.
“I had a fantastic time there and was really well looked after. The club were good to me and the players were a real joy to work with. I owe them a debt of gratitude in that respect.
“I’ve got such respect for the club and the way they play and go about their business. I really enjoyed my time there and in many ways it was a wrench to leave them.
“But a job like Liverpool does not come around every day. This is a very special club.
“I know that the people at Fulham – the players and the chief executive – understood the decision I came to.
“Sentiment has never played a part in my footballing life. I like to win with the team I’m working with and coaching.
“It doesn’t really matter to me whether our opponents are a team I like or dislike. I’m afraid when matchday comes they will be enemy number one. I will most probably be railing against decisions and complaining just as much as I would against a team for whom I had no time or affection.
“Hopefully we can win the game and then be friends afterwards.”
A glance at the table suggests Fulham are the ideal guests.
Mark Hughes’ side are only out of the drop zone on goal difference and arrive on the back of a seven-game winless run stretching back to October.
However, the Cottagers remain unbeaten on their travels and are the Premier League’s draw specialists with 10 stalemates already.
Fulham have never won away to the Reds in 29 attempts, although under Hodgson they picked up a point on their last two trips to Anfield.
Hodgson believes both his current and former employers are in false positions.
“They have had a spell like us when things haven’t been going for them,” he said. “I would be very surprised if they are not in the top half at the end of the season.
“They have been unlucky too. To lose Bobby Zamora so early on in the season and then Moussa Dembele as well was a major blow.
“But there are still goals in their team. Andy Johnson is back now – he knows how to score and his movement is excellent.
“Then there are Clint Dempsey, Zoltan Gera, Damien Duff and Simon Davies who can all chip in.
“I’m very wary of the game because they are a hard team to beat. In fact they have lost even less games in the league than we have so we know it’s going to be tough.”
Hodgson read the riot act to his squad in a team meeting at Melwood in the wake of last Saturday’s late capitulation at St James’ Park.
Having rested most of his senior stars for Wednesday night’s drab goalless draw with Utrecht in the Europa League, tomorrow will provide an indication of whether the manager’s strong words have produced the reaction he wanted.
“It was never my intention to advertise that meeting and we don’t have a lot of them,” he said.
“I’m a coach who believes in working with players on the field rather than talking in a classroom situation.
“But I thought it was important we made one or two things clear. I aired my views and got rid of my frustration at seeing our performance level drop.
“The players accepted that and have trained well. Their work ethic and determination to do well is something to be proud of.
“Our first intention is to bounce straight back from Newcastle and to get back to winning ways. We are desperate to move up the table.
“There is not a great difference in terms of points between the sixth placed side and the bottom teams. We know we have a lot of work to do.”
With the Reds’ away form so poor Hodgson knows it’s vital they continue to turn Anfield into a fortress.
Tomorrow they will be chasing a fifth successive home league win and they haven’t conceded a goal at Anfield in any competition in over seven hours of football.
“Luckily our form at Anfield, touch wood, has been good,” he said. “We have won our last four Premier League fixtures and we have also beaten Napoli as well, so that is five good results and performances, which should buoy us and give us a bit of confidence and hope.
“I keep getting asked why our away form is not as good and I am still searching for the answer. On one or two occasions we haven’t played well enough, on one or two we haven’t had the best of luck, and I think our confidence is not boosted by the fact that every time we play away we are reminded of the fact that our form away is not great.
“We need an away game where we play well and win to put the bogeyman behind us for a while.
“To win any game – home or away - you need to show character and determination in abundance.
“ We’ll need that against a very good Fulham side.”