Nigel Back To His Best

Among the many positives Alan Pardew was able to take from Monday's spirited display against Chelsea, Nigel Reo-Coker's performance in the centre of midfield was perhaps the most encouraging.

The 21-year-old only recently returned to fitness after almost two months out with a fractured ankle but, due to the sudden injury crisis facing the Hammers, was immediately thrown straight into the hectic Christmas schedule.

After making his comeback in the 1-1 draw at Portsmouth on Boxing Day, Nigel then played the full 90 minutes against both Wigan and Charlton, before facing his fourth match in the space of seven days when Chelsea visited Upton Park.

Yet the young Hammers captain responded with a commanding display that led Pards to declare afterwards: "If Nigel continues to produce that kind of performance, it could put him in the picture for the full England squad."

Sven-Goran Eriksson will certainly be happy to see a member of his under-21 team competing so impressively against arguably the best midfield in the Premiership, but for now, Nigel is just happy to be back in the thick of the Premiership action.

Reflecting on his return to fitness, he admitted: "It's been a tough time for me. I've been out for two months and have come back during the busy Christmas period when the games are arriving thick and fast.

"It's taken its toll on me, but I felt good today against Chelsea and I was happy with my contribution.

"My energy levels were good in the second half and that is the sign that I was looking for. One more game and I should be back at my maximum."

That will certainly be something to look forward to and, having displayed his quality up against the likes of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele, Michael Essien and Eidur Gudjohnsen, Nigel was satisfied with the afternoon's effort, if not the result.

"It was obviously disappointing to lose, but there was no disgrace in our performance," he said. "We played really well in spells and caused Chelsea some problems.

"We had to work hard and earn their respect, but I felt we did that and we can take a lot of positives from the way we played."

Ironically, after four games in a week, Hammers now face a fortnight break from the Premiership, but the FA Cup third round clash against Norwich City on Saturday will provide an opportunity to get back to winning ways, and Nigel admits that the players are looking forward to a change of focus.

"It's good for us," he said. "We can take our minds off the Premiership for a week, regroup and look forward to an FA Cup tie.

"We know we've got to work hard on the training ground to get ourselves back on track, and it would be good to start at Norwich next week."