Friday, 15 February 2008

Different Paths

A quiet news day gives us the chance to catch up on two of the forgotten men of this season. James Collins is said to be targeting as quick a return as possible from his serious knee injury with surgery due next week before he begins on the road to recovery. The Welshman suffered damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a reserve-team outing at Portsmouth on 23 January - just as he was approaching full fitness and a return to regular first-team action. Speaking to the official site, West Ham United head physiotherapist George Cooper said he is optimistic that the defender could yet return to play some part in pre-season training this summer. "He has got a 75 per cent tear of his anterior cruciate ligament and that was diagnosed under arthroscopy which has made planning the operation much easier," Cooper revealed. "There is going to be no surprises when they go inside the knee. They know what is going on in there."

While it is difficult to predict yet when Collins will be ready to return, the hope is that he could resume training in six months. Of the unfortunate injury itself, which came about when a Portsmouth player went over under pressure on the halfway line and landed on top of Collins' right knee, Cooper said: "The guy's fallen on him. It was a committed tackle which he does four or five times a day in training. It looked innocuous compared to the whole-hearted challenges he usually makes." Speaking to the official matchday programme, Collins announced he is ready to begin the "hard work" as soon as the operation is carried out. He stated: "I think the minimum time I will be out is six months so that is what I am aiming towards. It is weird because I am not in any pain or anything. I can bend my knee no problem and even run already, which is what I am finding it hard to get my head round as I can do all that but I can't play football. However, I understand making any sort of tackle and kicking the ball, I would be in trouble so I just have to take my time, do as I am told by the physios and that way I will suffer no setbacks. This is the first long-term injury I have picked up so it is going to be tough to deal with, but everyone around me is really supportive, which always helps."

Meanwhile, Cooper said he was pleased with the prospects for Calum Davenport, who is also targeting a summer return after suffering a fracture to one of the vertebrae in his neck on 19 January during the first match of a loan at Watford. Cooper said: "I have to complement Watford for the impeccable way they handled it. Calum was lucky to have such a good team around him when it happened." Cooper said the initial "loss of power and pins and needles" Davenport felt was due to swelling. "That has now disappeared and he is expected to make a full recovery."

In other news, Mark Noble is
leading the battle charge ahead of the team's return to action against Fulham on Saturday week. The young midfielder has been a key performer of late, so much so that he was voted's player of the month for January in an online poll of supporters. "I am over the moon that the fans have appreciated the way I have been playing lately and they are enjoying my performances," he said. Central to that last month was his nerveless display against Liverpool when he scored from the spot in the last minute having run more than 13km during the game. "To beat Liverpool at home summed up a good month. We need to push on and get in them European places. We seem to take more points off the bigger teams than we do with the lesser teams. It is important that we keep playing, getting results."

Noble was referring specifically to the 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic and last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Birmingham City at home. "We need to take the points from these games," Noble added. "They are the games that are going to get you in the European places. We have got Fulham away next, that is going to be a tough game. They got an unlikely win against Aston Villa so we need to go there with a strong team and put a performance in." Speaking of the rest of the season, Noble claimed "we have got nothing to lose" before adding: "It is a similar situation to last season at this stage. Everyone thought we were down so we can just crack on now and really give everything we have got to put the points on the table because that is the most important thing. If we do that I am sure we can consolidate and keep on catching everyone up."

Jack Collison has also been vocal today as he insists he is
focused on making another breakthrough to the first team sooner rather than later. The 19-year-old midfielder found himself unexpectedly on the bench last Saturday against Birmingham City when substitute Mark Noble was a late withdrawal as a precaution with a tight hamstring. Collison, who made his senior debut on New Year's Day at Arsenal, had little time to prepare but he was grateful to be given the experience by Alan Curbishley. "It is very good to be in and around it," the Welsh Under-21 international, who has now scored two goals in three games for his country this season, told WHUTV. "Nobes pulled out with a tight hamstring and I found out I was on the bench maybe 15 minutes before the game. I was absolutely buzzing and just hoping to get on the pitch, but unfortunately I didn't."

Collison was delighted with the reception he got when warming up in front of the Boleyn Ground faithful during the contest. "A couple more people are getting to know me," he said. "Obviously I just want to get in the team and try and do my bit." Collison did his chances no harm at all with a fine goal for the reserves on Tuesday night as he captained Kevin Keen's men to a 4-1 victory, also against Birmingham. Also impressive were the likes of James Tomkins and Kyel Reid, along with younger talents like Jordan Spence, Bondz N'Gala and Junior Stanislas. "A lot of the boys are a similar age to me," Collison said. "We are also trying to catch the eye and force our way into the team, even if it is only on the bench or getting some minutes on the pitch."

Collison will again lead the reserves out against Fulham at Bishop's Stortford on Wednesday - hoping to catch the manager's eye for when the two teams meet again for a top-flight contest at Craven Cottage on Saturday week. "I am really trying to do my best to force my way in. It is hard because the boys are performing really well - especially Hayden [Mullins] and Nobes in midfield, they have been superb. I have just got to wait my chance and keep doing what I am doing."

West Ham United's under 18s face a tricky trip to Southampton tomorrow. The young Hammers are unbeaten in four but will have to be at their very best to come away with anything from the Saints' Stapleford base. Key to United's hopes will be striker Freddie Sears, who will be hoping to continue his rich vein of form. Sears has scored eight goals in his last five appearances for Tony Carr's side.The game kicks off at 11am.

Finally, on the tabloid front, the Mirror are continuing their campaign to dictate West Ham United's summer transfer dealings with a story linking the club to Michael Owen. The article claims that Owen wants another four year contract at the club on his present salary of £5 million a year. If Newcastle to agree to his terms then they face losing him on a free at the end of next season. Several other newspapers have contented themselves with stoking the Nicky Shorey speculation following news that the defender's contract talks with Reading have stalled again.

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