Scott Parker has challenged Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to prove he deserves a place in his starting line-up.
The Serbia international has found his game-time limited under Parker this season, starting just one Premier League match since November’s international break.
After finishing as the Championship golden boot winner last season, this campaign he has found the net just three times for the Cottagers, with the last goal coming against Leeds in September.
Parker says Sunday’s FA Cup fourth-round clash with Burnley is a “big opportunity” for Mitrovic.
“He had 10 minutes against Manchester United, [if] the opportunity comes for a start against Burnley or a start against Brighton, they are all big opportunities,” said Parker.
“I think Mitro would be the first to say that this season’s probably not taken off as well as he would have liked. That’s not just Mitro, there are a few probably in that bracket.”
Parker added: “I know for sure this year…he’s probably the first to be a little bit disappointed, but I also know for sure that he has a big part to play.
“He has a big part to play along with everyone else in this squad, and at this moment the facts are that he’s come out of the team, the team have done relatively well and that’s part of Premier League football.
“That’s part of competition, part of being in the league and the competition in the squad. This is part and parcel of it and what drives the top players on, what keeps pushing those players to get to where they get to – and this is where Mitro will be.”
Fulham have struggled for goals themselves recently, finding the net just four times in their last seven Premier League games, and Parker said he has seen Mitrovic continue to work hard.
“I’ve seen that [hard graft] on a daily basis, of course,” he said.
“But again, I always say to the players first and foremost you have to have a big self-reflection hitting back at you and understand where things are, and always having that foundation that through graft, through hard work to keep practising, keep working tirelessly, your quality always comes through.
“Dips in form, you often find with strikers that’s what happens – it’s the reason they are the headline makers. They have got the hardest job to do, and you often find a little dip in form probably affects strikers more than any other position on the pitch, maybe keepers as well.
“But quality always shines through and he has to keep grafting away. Hopefully then [it] will turn, and I know it will with that outlook.”
Parker admits Fulham are currently not “remotely close” to bolstering their squad during the January transfer window.
After securing promotion to the Premier League through the play-offs at the start of August, Parker made 11 additions to his first-team squad in a bid to improve the team and secure top-flight survival.
“At the moment there’s nothing I can give you that is remotely close,” said Parker.
“I think we all know it’s a tough window – at the same time I think we all realise where we probably need to add to the team to help the team, help the players, help us this year.
“But like I said, we’re trying and it’s not for the will of trying, but at the moment it’s proving a little bit difficult.”
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