Monday, 23 February 2009

From Adversity To Opportunity

An MRI scan has revealed that James Collins will likely be missing for up to four weeks with a hamstring tear in his left leg. The Wales defender was injured early in Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers when he went in for a tackle with Johan Elmander. An MRI scan confirmed the injury this afternoon, and it means he could miss the next three league games against Manchester City, Wigan Athletic and West Bromwich Albion before the international fixtures against Finland and Germany in Cardiff on 28 March and 1 April respectively.

Gianfranco Zola has "plenty of options" to replace Collins according to the official site, with James Tomkins reportedly impressing as substitute at the weekend. The England Under-19 centre-back was called upon after just 16 minutes on Saturday and by that stage, Matthew Taylor and Kevin Davies had already given the Trotters a 2-0 lead at the Reebok Stadium. After that it was all about the visitors and Tomkins looked very comfortable. "James Collins has been playing very well. He is a big asset for us but the way James Tomkins came on and played was very encouraging for me," said Zola after the game. "I am sure he will do his job properly."

With Collins now sidelined, the youngster is eyeing a starting place in the fifth-round replay at Middlesbrough and hopes to stake his claim for a regular spot in Gianfranco Zola's side. However, he is mature enough to concede that he will need to work as hard as ever to stand a chance. "Obviously Ginge has been doing very well when he has been playing but maybe there is going to be a chance for me," said Tomkins. "You obviously feel for the lad and hope he's not going to be out for too long because he's been doing really well for us. If I get my chance I've got to take it, but no place is guaranteed at the moment. It was quite a surprise to see James go down but you have to knock out the nerves and take it as it comes. We were 2-0 down so it was fairly hard circumstances but you have to put that behind you and play the game as you do."

Captain Lucas Neill and new recruit Radoslav Kovac could also play at centre-back alongside Matthew Upson if called on, while young defender Bondz N'Gala, 19, has been travelling with the first team of late after an impressive run of performances for the reserves. A further option could be Jonathan Spector, who admitted to having mixed emotions after making his first West Ham United start in ten months on Saturday. Spector played at right-back for the Hammers in place of the suspended Lucas Neill, and responded with an encouraging performance capped with an inch-perfect cross for Scott Parker's 66th-minute goal. However, it was not enough to stop Gianfranco Zola's side from falling to a 2-1 defeat.

The United States international endured a frustrating second half to 2008, suffering a hip flexor injury that ruled him out of the Olympic Games in Beijing and the opening half of the new Premier League season. Now, the 23-year-old is finally back to fitness and enjoyed his first start in claret and blue since appearing in a 1-0 defeat at the same venue in April last year. "On a personal level it was good to be back because it was my first game in a long while but, more importantly, the team was very disappointed with the result," he told the official site. "We went 2-0 down very early on and gave ourselves a mountain to climb and made it really difficult for ourselves. I think it was difficult from then on but we fought back and were on top for the majority of the game but just weren't able to get it back.

"I couldn't be happier to get my first start under my belt but it's more important to be winning the game but we didn't do that so it's a little bit of a bittersweet moment for me. All things considered I was pretty happy with my personal fitness. I felt good throughout the match. If you put the work in then you hope that when the matchday comes you feel good, and that was the case for me on Saturday. It was a great run by Scotty to get across the first defender for his goal. I put it into the right area and he was there with a perfect finish. I put another one in for Coley and he was a little bit unlucky not to score. We had quite a few opportunities to score but it just didn't happen for us."

Lucas Neill will be available again for Wednesday evening's FA Cup fifth-round replay at Middlesbrough, but Spector is just glad to be in contention again. "Of course it's frustrating when you're not playing but you just keep going," he said. "We've got a great team here and a lot of strength in the squad. The team has been playing extremely well and winning games so it's understandable that I wasn't able to work my way in. I've just got to make the most of my opportunities when they do come. I'm a West Ham player and it's a great club and I'm more than happy to be here. Obviously my aim is to work my way into the starting eleven, just as every other play wants to. That's what makes the squad so strong. Everyone wants to play and that's what has spurred our success this season."

Whether he is selected or not, the defender says it is important for the Hammers to get back on the pitch and get Saturday's scarcely-deserved defeat at Bolton out of their systems. "It may be a cliché that it's good to be playing again so soon but it's very true. We've had a good cup run this year and we want to continue that. It's a game where we're going to go up there looking to win. I think we've got every chance to do that."

Another defender on his way back is Danny Gabbidon. The Welshman has not featured for the Hammers since suffering a serious groin injury in December 2007, but is now stepping up his rehabilitation following a long lay-off. Wales boss John Toshack was not alone in voicing his doubts over whether Gabbidon would ever return to competitive action having not made an international appearance in over 15 months. Yet the 29-year-old says he is happy with his progress and has been encouraged by the patience shown in him by West Ham boss Zola. "I've been to see a few different people and the club have been really good and anything that I've wanted they have done," he said. "I'm working hard and trying to get back to training and once I get to that stage it's about getting back into the team, which is doing very well at the moment. I've spoken to the manager a few times and he has been really good to me. He asks how I am and how I'm feeling, when I'm coming back and he's been really good."

In other news, Gianfranco Zola has reportedly joined the race to sign highly-rated Wolves defender Kevin Foley in the summer. Several media reports have linked the Hammers, as well as Everton and Blackburn, with a move for the player who is rated at around the £2.5m mark. Foley, who cost Wolves £6,000 when they signed him from Luton in August 2007, is out of contract at the end of next season and Wolves will want to keep him and hand him a new deal at the club. Whether he accepts is likely to depend on if they are successful in their efforts to win Premiership football this season.

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