Fulham manager Chris Coleman – hit by his second injury crisis of the season – is hoping the return of Franck Queudrue and Antti Niemi will ease the pressure for Monday’s home match against Middlesbrough.
Coleman rates the pair “only 50-50” but needs a lift after seeing his side lose four of their last five Barclays Premiership games.
Coleman is particularly anxious 24-year-old defender Queudrue plays against his former club after losing skipper Luis Boa Morte, fellow midfielder Papa Bouba Diop and defender Ian Pearce this week.
“A lot depends on Franck being fit,” Coleman said of the Frenchman, who has missed three matches with a badly-gashed shin suffered in the 1-0 home defeat by Reading.
“He’s 50-50 at the moment, 60-40 with a bit of luck, but we might not have any choice. He might have to play with a couple of shin pads on one leg.”
Goalkeeper Niemi has been out since early December with a knee problem.
Boa Morte is expected to be out for a month with a hamstring tear, with Diop missing for up to six weeks because of a torn quad muscle and Pearce absent for a fortnight with a back and groin problem.
Facing the busy holiday period without the trio, Coleman will again be patching up his side by switching players from their recognised roles.
He overcame the midfield problems which deprived him of Jimmy Bullard and Mark Pembridge – still long-term casualties – Boa Morte, Diop, Michael Brown and Claus Jensen by pushing Moritz Volz and Carlos Bocanegra, also currently missing with hamstring trouble, into midfield.
Volz could be switched again but to do that Coleman needs Queudrue back in defence to face his former club.
“When you’re playing against your old club there’s always a little bit of spice and edge and we hope to get him on the pitch,” Coleman said.
“He was very popular at Boro and I know the fans didn’t want him to leave.
“I remember Franck in my first season as manager. We played Boro at Loftus Road and won 3-2 but I thought he was a very good competitor, with good use of the ball and a good defender. I’d kept my eye on him ever since.”
Fulham, ironically, had their best spell of the season during their previous bad run of injuries and Coleman is looking for them to once again grind out the results.
“You get these good players back and think they’ll do something for you but we lost that bit of grit and edge of when we had our backs against the wall,” he said. “This is our worst run of the season but, because of our good start, we’re still in quite a healthy position, although it’s very tight. But now we’ve lost these players again, I think we’ll probably see a grittier Fulham.”