Fulham manager Scott Parker has challenged out-of-favour defender Joe Bryan to prove he belongs in the Premier League.
Bryan is poised for his first top-flight start since early October when high-flying Manchester United visit Craven Cottage on Wednesday evening due to the suspension of Antonee Robinson.
The 27-year-old began the campaign as the Cottagers’ first-choice left-back but lost the shirt following a string of underwhelming performances during four successive defeats.
Parker felt Bryan was “instrumental” in securing last season’s promotion from the Sky Bet Championship – including scoring both goals in the play-off final win over Brentford – and is convinced the player can seize the chance afforded by Robinson’s red card in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea.
“I am sure it has been very, very difficult for Joe. Last year he was fantastic for us,” Parker said ahead of the visit of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
“He started the season and had that shirt and I think Joe would be the first to say he probably didn’t really grab the opportunity with both hands and at that point Antonee Robinson has come in the team and he’s just had to sit behind someone who has done remarkably well.
“I know for sure he has the quality and the capability to grab that opportunity and that’s what he needs to do because it has been tough.
“He was instrumental for what we did last year and the (play-off) final was just a snapshot of that really.
“He gets his chance now again to come into this team and show his quality and show the Premier League how good he is.”
Struggling Fulham, who have gone seven Premier League games with victory, sit four points adrift of safety going into the clash with title-chasing United.
Since being selected to start the 1-0 defeat at Wolves more than three months ago, Bryan has been restricted to just 12 minutes of top-flight action from five substitute appearances.
Parker insists there is little to choose between the former Bristol City man and United States international Robinson.
“I am fortunate enough to have two left-backs here that both have brilliant quality,” he said.
“We’ve all been accustomed to seeing Joe’s quality in the sense of his technical quality, his delivery of a ball, his classy set-plays, he can score goals, you can play him higher up the pitch.
“Is he a lot different to Antonee Robinson? Maybe the only difference I see is Antonee has more running power with the ball, gets you up the pitch a little bit more. But certainly Joe brings his quality with the ball.
“This is a big opportunity.”