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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.

Jol’s tactical masterstroke

It’s not fashionable to praise Martin Jol these days. If you believe what you read on the messageboards, he’s utterly clueless.

Walking into Stamford Bridge yesterday, it was a popular opinion. With no Zamora or Johnson, playing Orlando Sa alone up front looked to be asking for trouble. Closer inspection of the teamsheet had Fulham hearts trembling further. The midfield looked ridiculously adventurous: just Danny Murphy as a conventional central midfielder, with three players who could have filled the holding role alongside the skipper on the bench. Cue much chuntering and gnashing of teeth. But, what do you know? It worked flawlessly.

Jol admitted afterwards it was something of a gamble. His decision to ‘do something different,’ prompted apparently by a lack of forward options, also gave us a first glimpse of the Dutch-style system that could become commonplace at Craven Cottage should the manager complete his project of overhauling Fulham’s ageing squad. In his first press conference after his appointment, Jol had talked about wanting to play with two wingers, but this was the first time we’d really seen his side line up that offensively. And at Chelsea of all places.

Kerim Frei would have been full of confidence having ran rings around Chelsea in the League Cup game three months ago. His first league start was an encouraging one, even if he didn’t have quite as devastating an impact. But there’s more than enough about Frei to excite you. He provides genuine pace down the flanks, something Fulham have been lacking since Luis Boa Morte, and is bold enough to run at the full-back. There was one burst across the Chelsea defence in the first half and another slalom run that brought a booking for a bemused Jose Bosignwa in the second half – plus a few signs that his fitness is improving. Whether he had been fading at the end of games, Frei was a willing runner well into the closing minutes and showed laudable discipline in tracking back too.

Even if the gentleman – and I use the term loosely – sitting next yesterday to me didn’t agree, Bryan Ruiz is gradually becoming an integral part of Jol’s side. Once again there were flashes of absolute brilliance. The 70-yard pass he pinged in front of Sa in the first half was majestic as was the ball-juggling in a congested part of the field that helped him squeeze past two Chelsea defenders. The clever turn away from Ashley Cole conjured the equaliser from where there shouldn’t have been space for a cross. Ruiz exudes confidence and, if he continues to improve, could turn out to be the fulcrum of an exciting, attacking side.

I’ve remarked on Clint Dempsey’s display elsewhere – and his performances over recent years make him a key member of our side. The American’s improvement is highlighted by the fact that Jol is the first Fulham manager not to have benched Dempsey, who was superb in a slightly different role to normal yesterday. Equally excellent in an unfamiliar position was Moussa Dembele, whose defensive diligence and tackling (he won ten of his twelve tackles yesterday) was a key part of how Jol’s side effectively stifled Chelsea. Frank Lampard cut a frustrated figure when he was withdrawn early by Andre Vilas-Boas but the ageing midfielder barely hinted at the kind of influence he usually enjoys against us.

Both Dembele and Dempsey got forward to good effect – and the pair might have scored in the first half. Their runs from advanced midfield positions certainly unsettled a Chelsea defence that never really handled the movement behind Sa, who put in a real shift without a great deal of luck up front. Behind them, Murphy might have given the ball away a little too often but his was an organised and reassuring display, guarding the splendid back four.

This system might be retired after a single outing but it’s success hints at the variety of options at Jol’s disposal. It also might point to a slightly more nuanced picture of our manager than the one I was afforded by Tottenham fans upon his arrival. Put simply, it amounted to: ‘great guy, but tactically naive’. Not yesterday, against all expectations.

Reserves ease past Baggies

Fulham’s reserves eased past West Brom with a clinical display in their latest Premier Reserve League fixture that was played behind closed doors at Motspur Park this afternoon. Goals from Kerim Frei, Pajtim Kasami and Orlando Sa secured all three points for Billy McKinlay’s men and Simon Davies looked lively as he completed 70 minutes in his first game since injuring his knee back in June.

McKinlay picked a strong side with Matthew Briggs starting in defence after missing out for the first-team against Liverpool last night. Frei, Kasami and Alex Kacaniklic started alongside Davies in a creative midfield, whilst Sa continued his comeback from a hamstring injury up front.

After a spell of neat possession football from the visitors, Fulham created the game’s first real opening. Frei danced away from a couple of tacklers and released Sa, but the Portuguese striker shot over the bar from a tight angle. A flowing move then saw a clever bit of trickery from Kasami fashion an opportunity for Alex Smith but the full-back couldn’t squeeze his shot between Jack Rose and the near post.

The Whites did take the lead on 20 minutes, however. Frei saw his header cleared off the line from Kasami’s corner and, when Rose did well to parry Kacaniklic’s effort, the teenager was on hand to fire home the rebound from close range. Both Frei and Kasami were increasingly influential as the first half wore on, but Fulham failed to add to their advantage before the interval.

The Baggies had a couple of chances to draw level early in the second period and Fulham were indebted to some smart goalkeeping from Neil Etheridge but McKinlay’s side clinically killed off the contest as the game entered the closing stages. Rose had made a superb save to deny Kasami after Kacaniklic had picked him out perfectly at the far post, but Fulham didn’t have to wait long for the crucial second goal.

Kasami rifled in a spectacular free-kick from the edge of the box off the underside of the crossbar after Kacaniklic had been cynically tripped. The former Palermo midfielder had a hand in the third goal as well, winning a tackle and surging down the right flank before playing in Sa with a lovely pass. Sa, who scored on his return to action against Chelsea last week, finished with aplomb, placing his shot beyond the reach of Rose.

McKinlay’s side face Liverpool in their next league game on Tuesday 20 December at Motspur Park, kickig off at 2pm. This match will also be played behind closed doors.

FULHAM RESERVES (4-5-1): Etheridge; Smith, Pritchard (Harris 19), Briggs (Dean 79), Burn; Frei, B.H. Riise, Davies (Donegan 70), Kasami, Kacaniklic; Sa. Subs (not used): Joronen, Brister.

GOALS: Frei (20), Kasami (75), Sa (77).

WEST BROMWICH ALBION RESERVES: Rose; O’Neil, Tunnicliffe, Atkinson (Nabi 45); O’Sullivan (Goldsmith 75), Mantom, Birch, Roofe; Elford-Alliyu, Sawyers. Subs (not used): Lewis, A. Jones, Turton.

Kelly to return for Twente trip

Stephen Kelly could make his return from a groin injury against FC Twente in Fulham’s latest Europa League tie on Thursday night.

The Irish full-back has played since picking up his groin problem in the Republic’s first-leg Euro 2012 play-off over Estonia earlier this month. But Martin Jol believes the 28 year-old, who was close to being involved in last weekend’s draw at Arsenal, will be fit enough to make the trip to the Netherlands this week.

Victory over Twente, who currently top Group K, would ensure Fulham’s place in the knockout stages of the competition. The tie is likely to come too early for Orlando Sa, who tore a hamstring during the defeat in Krakow earlier in the group phase, despite the Portuguese striker completing 90 minutes last night for the reserves against Chelsea. Sa scored and is likely to be back in contention for Monday’s league meeting with Liverpool.

Jol is definitely without Steve Sidwell as the midfielder continues to recover from a hernia operation.

Fulham wait on Murphy’s fitness

Danny Murphy is Fulham’s only new injury worry ahead of the London derby with Tottenham on Sunday afternoon.

The Fulham captain was taken off midway through the second half of the Whites’ comfortable win over Wisla Krakow last night as a precaution after picking up a slight knee injury. The 34 year-old midfielder is expected to recover in time to face his former club at Craven Cottage on Sunday, but the club’s medical staff will monitor his progress closely over the next couple of days.

Martin Jol will welcome back Bryan Ruiz, who was ineligible for the Europa League tie, and Moussa Dembele, who was suspended following his red card in Krakow, into his match-day squad. Fulham are definitely without the services of striker Orlando Sa, who could return to training next week as he recovers from  a hamstring strain, while centre backs Aaron Hughes and Philippe Senderos are both sidelined by thigh injuries.