Fulham manager Mark Hughes today insisted striker Bobby Zamora can no longer expect to walk straight back into the Fulham side when he returns from his broken leg.
Zamora is on the brink of making his comeback from almost five months on the sidelines after undergoing surgery in September.
Fulham struggled badly in his absence towards the end of 2010, with an eight-match winless run ultimately seeing them sucked into the Barclays Premier League drop zone.
But they go into tomorrow's trip to Aston Villa having won six of their last nine games in all competitions and 12th in the league table.
The return of Zamora's fellow forwards Moussa Dembele and Andy Johnson from injury has revitalised the Cottagers and Hughes insists last season's talisman now has a real fight on to reclaim his place.
"He understands that the squad is evolving now and the squad is getting bigger and stronger," said Hughes, who this week added Eidur Gudjohnsen to his pool of forwards.
"Bobby knows that he needs to work hard to get back in the side but, given his desire to get back in, that shouldn't faze him at all."
Leaving out a fit Zamora would have been unthinkable last season, with Fulham nowhere near the same side when the 30-year-old was absent.
That also looked to be the case after he broke his leg, until the Cottagers' recent run.
"Bobby was a big factor in the success of the team last year, when he was the focal point of the team's attacking play," Hughes said.
"So, to take him out of the team so early in the season was obviously going to have a detrimental effect on us.
"We've missed Moussa Dembele for almost half the Premier League games we've been involved in, so that was a loss as well.
"In recent weeks we've been able to welcome him back and, obviously, Andy Johnson's playing really, really well at the moment."
Gudjohnsen's arrival on loan from Stoke will make Zamora's task even more difficult and the Icelander will be eager to silence his critics after his move to Stoke failed to work out.
"Maybe he's got a little bit of a point to prove because a lot of people maybe have questioned where his career is at," Hughes said. "He obviously wants to put that right and there's no reason why he can't do."
Gudjohnsen will hope to do enough to earn a permanent deal in the summer, when Hughes will also decide whether or not to renew full-back John Pantsil's contract.
"What everybody has to do is just play well from now until the end of the season and, no doubt, we will have conversations," Hughes added.
Hughes has already tied down captain Danny Murphy and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer to new deals and the latter's importance to the cause was demonstrated on Wednesday night when he was immediately recalled following Australia's Asian Cup campaign.
"Mark's my number one keeper," Hughes said. "It's been hard on David Stockdale, in fairness, because he's a young keeper with a great future."
Hughes insisted Stockdale "understood" why he was dropped, despite the 25-year-old impressing enough to be talked about once more in England terms having been touted for a call-up in August before injury struck.
Speaking about the prospect of Stockdale being called up for next week's friendly with Denmark, Hughes said: "If it happens this time, given the level of his performances, I think it would be deserved."Reuse content