Coleman in search for experienced defender

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The Independent Football

An experienced defender is the focus of Chris Coleman's January recruitment drive as the Fulham manager attempts to steer his side away from the Premiership relegation zone.

An experienced defender is the focus of Chris Coleman's January recruitment drive as the Fulham manager attempts to steer his side away from the Premiership relegation zone.

Last season the Cottagers shot into European reckoning largely thanks to their defensive solidity, but this campaign has been undermined by uncertainty at the back and they have conceded more goals at home than any other club.

They have had few problems finding the back of the net - especially with summer signing Andy Cole proving he has lost none of his predatory instincts - and a fully fit squad would offer a host of attacking options. But Coleman knows his rookie defence needs urgent attention if the club - who sit five points above the relegation places - are to avoid being sucked into the drop zone.

"We're a threat going forward. If you look at players like Andy Cole, Luis Boa Morte, Steed Malbranque, Tomasz Radzinski, Collins John, Brian McBride, then we're fine in that department," he said. "But where we've struggled is in giving goals away. Look at the defence - we've been playing lads like Zesh Rehman, Zat Knight and Moritz Volz. They are all in their early 20s and there's not a lot of experience there.

"It's not just them - the whole team has to defend. But we've been without Alain Goma for most of the season, Iain Pearce has been in and out with injury, while Jérôme Bonnissel has been out long-term.

"It's left us without that little bit of experience that can take the pressure off at times. If we can I'll be looking to bring in another defender this month."

Fulham's survival took a step in the right direction with the 3-1 New Year's Day triumph over fellow strugglers Crystal Palace in an entertaining London derby. The result halted a three-match Premiership losing run and handed the Cottagers some breathing space, although much of that was eroded when Blackburn and Palace registered victories on Monday night.

Next up for Coleman's side is Wednesday's game against Southampton at St Mary's and the encounter represents the second leg of a crucial three-match Premiership phase which concludes against West Bromwich Albion on 16 January.

Fulham have targeted maximum points from the games and second-from-bottom Saints - who can no longer call on James Beattie after the striker agreed to join Everton - should be overcome by a similar performance to that of Saturday.

The return of Luis Boa Morte against Palace provided the side with a creativity up front that has been lacking in recent weeks. Coleman believes his season's plans have been badly affected by injuries.

"We've had to chop and change the team and the formations around. Sometimes we've been trying to play square pegs in round holes because of the position we've been in," he said. "I still think that with the players we had available we should have done better. But we've missed people like Claus Jensen - he's a very good player but unfortunately we haven't seen much of him through injury."

The Fulham captain, Lee Clark, is in line for his first start of the season at St Mary's. The midfielder came off the bench during the 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday for his first senior appearance since sustaining a calf injury in May. No fresh injuries were picked up against Palace, but the midfielder Sylvain Legwinski is still a doubt with flu.

The Palace centre-back Darren Powell believes Andrew Johnson gives his side the edge over this season's other relegation candidates. Johnson scored twice against Aston Villa Monday to lift Palace out of the bottom three - and the Palace manager, Iain Dowie, said that he was determined to keep the striker at the club.

Without Johnson's goals Dowie's side could be bottom - the 23-year-old's strikes have contributed eight points this season - and Powell accepts the former Birmingham striker is vital to their survival quest.

"You've just got to look at the League and the goalscoring charts," Powell said. "Teams like Norwich and West Brom have not got that, not many teams have got a player scoring as freely as A J.

"So if we keep clean sheets and he keeps scoring then we'll win games and stay up this season."