Zesh Rehman will be handed his full Premiership debut when Fulham take on Tottenham at Craven Cottage tomorrow. The 21-year-old defender, who is the only British-born Asian playing in the Premier League, impressed during Fulham’s Carling Cup victory at St Andrew’s on Wednesday.
And with Jerome Bonnissel, Ian Pearce and Alain Goma all sidelined through injury, Coleman has little option but to partner Rehman with Knight at the centre of defence.
However, Coleman insists the former England Youth international, who appeared as a substitute at Aston Villa last week, deserves his opportunity. “Zesh will be starting tomorrow,” said the Fulham manager. “His second-half performance against Birmingham warrants him making the line-up, and I’m delighted that he’s getting his chance. He’s there on merit.”
Since replacing Ian Pearce at Villa Park after only eight minutes Rehman has endured a baptism of fire in terms of opponents he has faced.
Darius Vassell, Juan Pablo Angel, Dwight Yorke and Emile Heskey have all confronted the Birmingham-born youngster in the past week, and the calibre of Spurs’s forward line means he is certain to face another test of character tomorrow.
“They don’t come much better than the last couple of striker partnerships he’s been up against,” said Coleman.
“And it will be difficult tomorrow against Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane. I don’t think they come better than that as a duo. But Zesh has to think positive. If he stops and looks around to see the talent on the pitch, because he’s such a young kid he’ll get nervous.
“He’s got to get out there, puff his chest out, roll his sleeves up and be confident because I see him in training playing against players like Andy Cole, Brian McBride, Tomasz Radzinski and Collins John and he breezes through it because he reads the game well and his positional play is very good.”
Rehman, who spent three months on loan at Brighton last season, has made no secret of his frustration at being on the fringes of Fulham’s first team.
However, Coleman believes Rehman now has a great chance to strengthen his case for a regular place.
“He’s good enough to be in the first team and now it is up to him to give me a headache,” said Coleman. “When we get Ian Pearce, Alain Goma and Jerome Bonnissel back he’s got to force me to make me a decision and I hope he does that.”