Curbs cheered by fit-again duo

Alan Curbishley has revealed that Scott Parker and Dean Ashton are continuing to make great progress.

The pair each scored in a training ground practice match against Southampton reserves on Wednesday, with young midfielder Tony Stokes hitting a hat-trick in a 5-0 victory that also featured Richard Wright and Nigel Quashie. Curbishley, who is preparing for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, said: "We are really pleased. It looks like one or two of them are coming back.

"Deano has got back a little bit quicker than we thought but he has come back strong enough to play a full 90 minutes. He scored and got through it OK and Scott Parker, who has worked so hard that he is now on the right track, is looking strong again and he played the whole 90 minutes and scored.

"We know how much work they have put into it. I am hopeful that one more game next week will be enough for them to really be considered but by this weekend one of them might be involved or even both of them." Striker Ashton has not played since picking up a knee strain in the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa, although the club has since embarked on a five-match unbeaten run, while midfielder Parker has not figured because of his own knee problem suffered on 29 September.

To add to the positive news, Curbishley added that midfielders Hayden Mullins and Mark Noble were both getting closer. "Hayden came off against Bolton [on 4 November] with a bruised foot and never made the Derby game [on 10 November] but he is back in full training and Mark, who had a hernia operation on the Friday before we played Derby, was back in and running a week after. He has managed to get the last two days in."

The manager was also keen to remind of the achievement of those who had done the job in recent weeks, emphasising the contribution of players like Jonathan Spector and Carlton Cole, along with the general resilience in the camp. He added: "Players have played out of position and also we have had to change during games. I am delighted with what the players have done - absolutely delighted. For me the players deserve a lot of credit for the points total we have taken and to get to the quarter-final of a cup. The squad has stood firm."