Riether relishing Stoke return

Sascha Riether has returned to full training and is hoping to regain his place in the Fulham side for the visit of Stoke City on 23 February.

The German right back withdrew from the squad on the morning of Fulham’s 0-0 draw at Norwich City on Saturday after falling ill, forcing Martin Jol to summon new signing Stanislav Manolev up from London to make his debut at short notice. It was the first fixture Riether had missed since moving to London on loan from FC Köln in the summer and Riether is ready to resume his superb season on the right side of Fulham’s back four.

Yes, it was frustrating. But I am fine now and will be available for selection against Stoke City.

The 29 year-old has been delighted with the success of his loan spell and says he’s really enjoying his time with Fulham.

For me, it’s been a great time at Fulham so far. It was my first experience of another country and it was a big step for me to come to England. But I have to say Fulham is like a family and I like playing here. The fans are great, I like the stadium and it’s been all good so far.

Riether has also welcomed the addition of Manolev, who had a solid debut at Norwich, insisting that additional competition for places can only lead to better performances.

It’s always important for a team that you don’t just have 11 players. We have more than 20 players here who can play and who want to play. It’s a long season and we have many games so it’s important that if players are out injured or suspended, we have others who can fit in without a problem.

Taxi for Manolev: How a cab ride led to defender’s Fulham debut

Stanislav Manolev wasn’t expecting to make his Fulham debut this afternoon. While his team-mates were preparing for a tough test at Norwich, the Bulgarian defender was back in London readying himself for his first full week of training at Motspur Park after finally being granted a week permit to complete his loan move from PSV Eindhoven.

But any thoughts of a quiet Saturday were quickly banished after a virus struck down the two men ahead of him in Martin Jol’s pecking order at right back. Ever-present Sascha Riether withdrew from the starting line-up injured and utility man Chris Baird was also unable to play, leaving Fulham frantically summoning Manolev away from London. It took a mid-morning taxi ride to even give the reserve right back a chance of playing his first Premier League game. It is a testament to Manolev’s professionalism that you would never have figured his first Fulham appearance was such a last-minute affair from the composed way in which he slotted serenely into the back four.

Riether, who had prior today been an ever-present in his brief Fulham career, has arguably been the club’s player of the season, combining some fine defensive decision making with a few bursts down the right flank to provide an overlap in attack. Whilst Manolev did look a little rusty in the final third – twice crossing out of play from good positions – he struck up a good understanding with Byran Ruiz, who started on the right of a four man midfield, and barely put a foot wrong defensively. Like so many modern full-backs, Manolev looked comfortable and composed in possession and kept Elliott Bennett’s breaks beyond him to a minimum. Indeed, the only time Norwich profited from any space behind the 27 year-old was in the first five minutes when Luciano Becchio stabbed a shot straight at Mark Schwarzer.

For someone who was probably looking forward to a quiet weekend before a swift morning jaunt up the motorway, this was an impressive introduction to the Premier League for Manolev, who displayed the  kind of aptitude that suggests it will be an interesting tussle between him and Riether for the right back berth over the course of the season. For someone who stepped out of a taxi and into the starting line-up with new team-mates with whom he’s barely trained, this was a very encouraging start to the Bulgarian international’s Fulham career. Just as it importantly, Manolev’s magnificent effort helped the Whites record their first clean sheet since the goalless draw at Chelsea in mid-November.

Fulham fight their way to dull draw

If the marketing men at the Premier League want to showcase their greatest league in the world, they’d do well to lose the footage from this forgettable encounter at Carrow Road. There was so little spark between two sides determined not to be beaten that the scoreboard gave up the ghost well before the final whistle. Not that Martin Jol will be complaining; points on the road are precious for Fulham and, when he reflects on the fact that their first clean sheet in fourteen games lifted the visitors to twelfth in the table, the Dutch coach could find a few reasons to be content with his afternoon’s work.

Alarming lapses in what used to be a reliable rearguard have threatened to drag Fulham fully into the relegation dogfight this season but they rarely looked troubled against a Norwich side who badly missed their captain. Grant Holt had only a watching brief today after injuring his back this morning – the tall and powerful pairing of Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos coped easily enough with Luciano Becchio, who battled manfully to little avail on his first start since signing from Leeds United. The visitors’ defence diligence was all the more impressive given the absence of an ill Sascha Riether – the previously ever-present right back was replaced by Bulgarian Stanislav Manolev, who hardly put a foot wrong on his Fulham debut.

Jol made other changes as well, with on-loan Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong adding some bite into the midfield on his first appearance for Fulham and Steve Sidwell returning after a knee injury. Dimitar Berbatov replaced Ashkan Dejagah to partner Hugo Rodallega up front, but the Bulgarian had barely shaken off his hamstring strain before being bloodied by a high boot from Bradley Johnson that left a damaged nose requiring stitches. Fulham were intrepid, eager and disciplined – but they barely mustered an opening in the first half despite dominating possession. Damien Duff had the briefest of glimpses of goal before Michael Turner blocked his cross-cum-shot.

Norwich came closest to breaking the deadlock whilst Berbatov’s nose was being tended to. Clever interplay between Elliott Bennett and Javier Garrido fashioned the space for the Spanish full-back to cross but Becchio’s blunt shot dribbled straight into Schwarzer’s arms from nine yards. The home side’s most promising moments came through Wes Hoolahan, who went on a couple of mazy dribbles deep into Fulham territory, but first Alex Tettey and then the lively Robert Snodgrass failed to attach an end product to the Republic of Ireland midfielder’s enterprise. City’s only other openings came from more direct means with both Russell Martin and Becchio missing the target with headers.

Fulham started the second period brighter with a fierce drive from Steve Sidwell stinging the palms of Mark Bunn from twenty yards before a venomous strike from Bryan Ruiz was bravely blocked by Sebastien Bassong’s throat. There was plenty of endeavour and application, but little in the way of quality as misplaced passes and mistimed tackles were far more common than clear cut chances. A spell of home pressure culminated with a speculative shot from Bennett blocked by Sidwell and, whilst Urby Emmanuelson’s introduction perked up Fulham, it was the home side who had the better chances to break the deadlock as time ticked by.

Hoolahan’s prompting produced another chance, although Johnson rather snatched at a left-footed effort from the edge of the box that flew well wide before Norwich’s newest arrival, Sierra Leone striker Kei Kamara – signed on loan from MLS franchise Sporting Kansas City – joined fellow substitute Simeon Jackson, who scored a late equaliser here last season to deny Fulham a rare away win, up front as Chris Hughton gambled in search of a winner. You couldn’t fault Kamara’s willingness as he sent a header off the crossbar and then jumped into Schwarzer at successive set-pieces, but his cameo lacked the spark necessary to provide a winner.

NORWICH CITY (4-4-1-1): Bunn; R. Martin, Garrido, Bassong, Turner; Tettey, Johnson, Snodgrass, E. Bennett (Jackson 76); Hoolahan; Becchio (Kamara 76). Subs (not used): Camp, Whittaker, Tierney, Howson, Surman.

BOOKED: E. Bennett, Snodgrass.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Manolev, J.A. Riise, Hangeland, Senderos; Frimpong (Emmanuelson 64), Sidwell, Duff, Ruiz (Dejagah 90); Berbatov, Rodallega (Petric 76). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Hughes, Karagounis, Kacaniklic.

BOOKED: Frimpong, Manolev.

REFEREE: Howard Webb (Rotherham).

ATTENDANCE: 26,816

Manolev wins work permit

Stanislav Manolev has been granted a work permit and has an outside chance of making his Fulham debut at Norwich City this afternoon.

The Bulgarian right back missed last week’s 1-0 defeat by Manchester United as he awaited approval from the Home Office to finalise his loan move from PSV Eindhoven and finally received the green light on Thursday. Manolev, who has won 29 caps for his country, arrived on deadline day to bolster Martin Jol’s defensive options after Stephen Kelly opted to sign for Reading – although the new arrival faces a tough task to displace fellow loanee Sascha Riether from the Fulham first team.

Manager Martin Jol, who is still waiting on a work permit for midfielder Eyong Enoh, feels this afternoon’s Carrow Road clash might come too soon for Manolev:

There’s a 90 per cent chance that he he will be available. He hasn’t trained with us so I don’t think he will be fit. It will be too soon for him to be in the squad.