Smalling salutes Fulham

Defender admits Cottagers played a crucial role in his development

Chris Smalling: Manchester United defender returns to Fulham on Wednesday night

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Chris Smalling has thanked Fulham for helping him make the giant leap from Maidstone to Manchester United.

Smalling returns to his old club on Wednesday night when the Red Devils visit Craven Cottage chasing three more points in their quest to retain the Premier League title.

Although he only made 14 senior appearances for the West London club, it was the period between being snapped up from non-league to arriving at Old Trafford in 2010 that turned him into an England international.

"Without [former Fulham boss] Roy Hodgson giving me my chance there I wouldn't be here," Smalling said.

"I had a big two years there and it is a time I look back upon fondly. My first year was about finding my feet. The second was about showcasing what I can do.

"It'll be nice to go back and see a few of the players and play back at the Cottage."

Maximum

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson needs to decide what changes to make for United's second trip to London in four days.

The surprise return of Javier Hernandez from an ankle injury at QPR offers Ferguson a further attacking option, which provides the opportunity to drop Wayne Rooney back into a midfield role.

"The players always look forward to this time of year because there are plenty of games," said Smalling.

"We are used to the demands of so many games, so it is a big opportunity to pick up a lot of points - and we are aiming for the maximum.

"Christmas can be a hindrance on some and even make or break you in terms of kicking on. But this is a period where we really need to show everybody we mean business.

"Fulham have had a strong foundation there for the last few years and have kept the squad pretty solid."