DON Hutchison has made a welcome return to fitness over the past week.
The Scottish international midfielder made his come back from a long term knee problem in the Reserves 5-2 win over Watford last week and again proved he is back to full health with a strong display in a behind-closed doors friendly against Northampton Town on Tuesday.
Don, who celebrated his 34th birthday on Monday, is delighted to be back and is ready to play his part for Alan Pardew's first-team in the Play-offs.
"It's been a long time out and it's just a relief to be back fit," he admitted. "The knee is feeling fine now. The Reserve game against Watford was my first competitive game since November, and obviously to be out for that amount of time has been pretty frustrating.
"It's been a difficult couple of seasons with regard to injuries. All I've wanted to do during that time is to get back and start playing again, but there have been a few setbacks that have stopped me from doing that.
"I've just tried to keep working hard, focus on trying to get myself fit and I have to thank the medical staff at West Ham United for helping me through and getting me back playing again. They have all been tremendous."
Don has impressed on his return and scored in the 3-0 friendly win over Northampton this week, playing as a forward alongside Sergei Rebrov. And the £5 million signing from Sunderland in August 2001 admitted that he's confident his troublesome knee can withstand the rigours of competitive action again.
"There's a mental barrier you have to overcome by going out and playing again after so long," he explained. "But I've done it before after recovering from a long-term injury, so it wasn't so much of a problem this time around.
"It has been more a case over the last two games of going out and testing out the injury and making sure everything is fine. I'm confident the knee is okay now and that gives me the belief to go out and play without any fears or restrictions.
"I'm a bit short of match sharpness at the moment, but that's really what playing these two games has been about and I think that has improved over the last couple of weeks.
"Now it's just a case of staying fit over what is a very important time for the Club and if I do get my chance then trying to make a difference for the team."
After so long on the sidelines Don is keen to make himself available for the crucial Play-off matches.
"All I can do at the moment is get myself as fit as possible and if I am called upon to go out and try and have an impact," he said.
"Over the final run-in we played some good stuff and have probably hit our best form of the season when it mattered most. That's encourgaing because it proves the mental strength of the side.
"We've got guys like Marlon Harewood, Hayden Mullins and Nigel Reo-Coker that have played a lot of games this season, but they're strong players and they have experience from the Play-offs last season.
"I've obviously been disappointed that I haven't been able to play much of a part this season, and now I just want to do my bit to help the team make it a successful end to the season."
Hutch Hopes To Play His Part