Fulham planning to protect Montella

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The Independent Online

The Fulham manager Chris Coleman is ready to wrap Vincenzo Montella in cotton wool to ensure that he gets through the rest of the season.

Montella has been eased into English football after his arrival earlier this month on a season-long loan deal from the Serie A title-challengers Roma. The 32-year-old former Italy striker had responded with four goals in five games prior to Fulham's 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United on Tuesday night.

Montella started his first match in the Premiership at Bramall Lane but limped off after 32 minutes with a groin injury which makes him a doubt for the game with Newcastle United at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Coleman knows that Montella will have to be nurtured over the remaining 13 League matches if Fulham are to get the best out of the veteran forward.

"We've been very careful with Vincenzo in terms of his starts," said Coleman. "We've given him 15 minutes, 20 minutes, a half-hour, 45 minutes, and then he had an hour on Saturday against Stoke [in the FA Cup]. We felt if we started him against United and he got another hour under his belt then it would be another step forward.

"But he felt his groin, which is disappointing, and that's because the pace of the Premiership is so fast and so furious. When you compare the Premiership to the football he has been playing in Italy, it's like chalk and cheese. This just goes to prove my point because when we first brought him in, people were asking why we weren't starting him.

"It was because he physically wasn't ready to start. It would have been pointless throwing him in straight away, him getting an injury and then missing five games. We would have been banging our heads against a wall, so now we're going to have to protect him."

Coleman will see if there is any reaction to the injury, but he remains "hopeful" Montella will be in squad for the visit of Newcastle.

The Sheffield United striker Jon Stead, meanwhile, believes that he has taken the first step to proving a point to all those who doubted him over the past two years.

Stead scored his first goal for the Blades on Tuesday night following his £750,000 move from Sunderland three weeks ago. The 23rd-minute strike ended a 10-match barren run, and was only his second Premiership goal in 33 appearances overall - stretching back to his dark days on Wearside.

Stead has had his critics, and there were those who baulked when the United manager Neil Warnock decided to sign the 22-year-old. But Stead is playing the kind of football that made him a hit when he first joined Blackburn three years ago, after a shock switch from Huddersfield who were then in League Two. On that occasion Stead scored six goals in 13 games to keep Rovers in the top flight, only for his career to turn sour beyond that.

Stead hopes that finding the net against Fulham will prove the start of his resurrection as a Premiership striker.

"I've a point to prove, I know that," Stead said. "I know I progressed very quickly but then took backward steps and that has been very frustrating. But this is a new lease of life for me, a time to progress again, and I feel I'm getting back to some of my best football."

Stead insists that he never doubted himself, though, adding: "At this level there cannot be any doubt. That's something I've never done - even through the long, bad spells I had. You have to keep believing in yourself. I've tried to do that and I think it's showing, because I'm playing better - which is definitely encouraging for me."

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