Jonathan Spector admitted to having mixed emotions after making his first West Ham United start in ten months at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.
Spector was named at right-back in the Hammers team after captain Lucas Neill was ruled out through suspension. The versatile defender responded with an encouraging performance capped with an inch-perfect cross for Scott Parker's 66th-minute goal, but 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. However, the 23-year-old was back in the Hammers lineup at the Reebok Stadium at the weekend, making 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. 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."
Neill will be available again for Wednesday evening's FA Cup fifth-round replay at Middlesbrough, but Spector is ready for action if he is called upon by manager Zola. Whether he is playing 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."
Spector also spoke more generally about the relief of finally putting his injury problems behind him after such a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Now, West Ham's No18 is back to 100 per cent and keen to force his way into Zola's starting lineup on a regular basis.
"Of course it's frustrating when you're not playing but you just keep going. 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."