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Grygera’s getting back to full fitness

Czech defender hoping to prove his fitness by end of August

Perhaps the most pleasing part of my afternoon in the Craven Cottage sunshine yesterday was meeting Zden?k Grygera.

The Czech defender has shown tremendous courage and professionalism in recovering so swiftly from his horrible anterior cruciate knee injury sustained during the defeat by Tottenham last November that so cruelly cut short an impressive start to his Fulham career. Gygera, who has undergone two operations on his injured knee, has made brief substitute appearances during the club’s pre-season campaign and, at half-time during the first team’s final friendly against Charlton, he told me that he was hoping to build on that with 45 minutes at Walton Casuals this afternoon.

At 32, a serious injury – as well as the setbacks he has suffered since after two visits to see Dr. Richard Steadman – might have persuased some players to hang up their boots. Not Gygera, who willing chatted and signed autographs yesterday, and is eager to return to the first team picture after his promising introduction into Martin Jol’s side last season. A matter of days after concluding a deal to arrive from Juventus late in the transfer window, Grygera made an assured debut at home to FC Twente in the Europa League and then was a commanding presence having been switched to the centre of defence for the League Cup clash at Stamford Bridge.

It is no coincidence that Fulham kept four clean sheets in his seven appearances before that anguished scream on the stroke of half time in front of the Riverside Stand and I certainly hope the experienced defender is pushing for a place in the first team squad sooner rather than later. His longevity in the game – and a stellar international record that includes representing the Czech Republic at three major tournament – as well as Gygera’s cool confidence on the ball make him a really valuable asset.

Jol mulls over giving Grygera new deal

Martin Jol is considering offering Zdenek Grygera a new contract – but wants the Czech defender to get back to full fitness before making a final decisionabout his Fulham future.

The 31 year-old enjoyed a great start to his Craven Cottage career after joining from Juventus on a free transfer towards the end of the summer transfer window, but his season ended early when he ruptured cruciate knee ligaments against Tottenham in November. Having only signed a short-term contract until the end of the season, the versatile defender’s future is up in the air – although Jol admits he feels the club should help him return to fitness before deciding whether to extend his contract.

I feel we owe it to him to keep him here and get him fit, and then we can make a decision, or he can if he has other offers.

The main thing for him is to get fit. That won’t be until the middle of July and then we can make a decision. He did well from the first match, which is very unusual [for a player new to English football].

I was very happy with him. He can play left-back, right-back or centre-back, but it’s not a minor injury. It isn’t easy to come back to full fitness if you’re that age.

Pogrebnyak passed fit

Martin Jol confirmed that Pavel Pogrebnyak will be fit to face QPR in Saturday’s local derby during his pre-match press conference this lunchtime.

The Russian striker had an immediate impact on debut, scoring the opening goal in the 2-1 win over Stoke City a fortnight ago, but was forced off with a heel problem in the second half. Jol also revealed that both Andy Johnson and Phillipe Senderos have recovered from groin injuries to be available for selection at Loftus Road:

Pavel Pogrebnyak is fit to play and hopefully he will score again on Saturday. Everyone is fit and available for selection apart from two players.

Steve Sidwell is unavailable after a small operation and of course Zdenek Grygera is out for the rest of the season. Philippe Senderos, Orlando Sa and Andrew Johnson are all back.

Dembele ruled out of Cup tie

Fulham will have to do without Moussa Dembele for their FA Cup fourth round tie at Everton on Friday night after the Belgian international failed to take part in training this morning.

The 24 year-old picked up a hip injury that forced him to be substituted midway through the first half of Fulham’s defeat at Blackburn a fortnight ago and he missed the 5-2 win over Newcastle on Saturday. Martin Jol’s options up front are somewhat limited with striker Orlando Sa still sidelined with a hamstring injury and the Fulham manager’s big decision will be whether to pair Andy Johnson with Bobby Zamora up front after the former Everton striker turned the game when he came on as a substitute against Newcastle.

The man Johnson replaced could keep his place in central midfield despite having to be taken off early on Saturday having come off worse when challenging for a 50-50 ball. Steve Sidwell has trained regularly since the game at the weekend and is firmly established as Jol’s first choice partner for Danny Murphy in midfield, although Chris Baird turned in a dominant display as a half-time substitute. Fulham will still be without long-term absentees Zdenek Grygera and Mark Schwarzer, although the veteran Australian goalkeeper has now returned to training following his spinal injury.

Kelly ready to seize his chance

Fulham full back Stephen Kelly is keen to make the most of an opportunity to nail down a first-team place after Zdenek Grygera’s unfortunate injury.

The Czech defender will be out for at least six months after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament against Tottenham last Sunday and Kelly, who replaced him as a second half substitute, is ready to take his chance. The 28 year-old, who has impressed when filling in at right back this season, hopes to build on his outings in Europe so far.

The Europa League has given me the chance to play and put myself in the window to show what I can do.

Hopefully that will continue on to the Premier League. The games I’ve played, against Manchester City and Blackburn, I felt they were two of our best performances, so to be able to perform at that level is great.

Any game I’m getting I’m just trying to show what I’m capable of doing.

Kelly’s immediate focus is on helping the Republic of Ireland to their first major championships since 2002. Kelly and his Fulham team-mate Damien Duff are likely to line up for the Irish against Estonia tonight in the first leg of their Euro 2012 play-offs.

These games are huge for our country. Getting to the Europa League final with Fulham was amazing, but to get to a major tournament with our country would be fantastic.

I’ve spent my whole life watching Ireland, so to have a chance to go there myself would be amazing. The country’s in a bit of a bad way so qualifying would give everybody a boost