AFTER his inclusion in the matchday squad for the game against Leeds, defender Malky Mackay is back in training this week and hoping to make a return for the Hammers during the Christmas and New Year programme.
Malky has been missing for over a month with a calf injury, and his return to fitness will be a boost for manager Alan Pardew, who will be looking to the squad's more experienced players to lead his exuberant young Hammers team into the New Year.
Malky continues his recovery in the Reserves, who take on Tottenham Hotspur at Upton Park this evening. The former Celtic and Norwich City defender is delighted to be back.
"Being injured is very frustrating," he admitted, "and I'm pleased to be back training again. The Reserve game tonight will be my first outing for a while and I'm looking forward to it. I did three days training last week and didn't feel any reaction, so all the signs are positive. I'm feeling good and hopefully things will go well this evening.
"It's important when you are injured to be patient and diligent. You have to make sure that you go through all the treatment and rehabilitation properly, otherwise when you come back to training there's a chance the injury might reoccur.
"But I've put in a lot of work during my time out of the side, built up my fitness and I feel ready to try and force my way back into the first-team."
But the 32-year-old admits that regaining his place might not be easy, with loan signing Darren Powell impressing alongside Anton Ferdinand at the heart of the Hammers defence.
"Darren has come in and done well," said Malky, "and Anton is an excellent young defender with lots of potential.
"It certainly won't be easy to force my way back in, but I have to do well in training and take my opportunities, like in the Reserves tonight, to show the manager that I'm fit.
"I had a good run of games before the injury and it was disappointing because it came at a time when the team was doing well.
"But we're going into a busy run of games over Christmas and it's nice to be returning to fitness in time to boost the squad and hopefully help the team earn some vital points."
A veteran of Norwich City's promotion campaign last season, Malky knows what it takes to win this division. And he insists that good form over Christmas would greatly enhance the Hammers chances of automatic promotion.
"The Christmas results often give a good indication of who will be there abouts come May," said Malky. "It's the second half of the season that really counts in terms of promotion and a good run over Christmas will move us into a great position going into the New Year.
"We face a hectic schedule over the next couple of weeks,
with three games in six days, and if we can get some momentum going
during that run and secure some good results it could prove vital
to our promotion challenge."