Curbs cheered by effort

Alan Curbishley was delighted with the work-out and his youngsters' progress after a hard-fought 2-2 draw at Southampton on Friday night.

The manager admitted his side's passing could have been better but was full of praise for the character and commitment shown in coming from two-nil down. "It was a very open game," he said. "It was a decent work-out and a lot of the young lads have got some great experience." He was specifically referring to goalkeeper Marek Stech who got 90 minutes, and second-half substitute Zavon Hines, who finished the scoring with a superb strike. Stech could do nothing about either of David McGoldrick's goals which put Saints on their way before Calum Davenport pulled one back just before the interval

In-form forward Hines, with four goals now in pre-season, came on for Carlton Cole who came off with a sore ankle. The replaced forward, with the games deliberately coming thick and fast to get as much football into the whole squad as possible, may now be the next to be rested for Monday's trip to Ipswich Town. Craig Bellamy, who also felt the force of a couple of challenges, could well be reunited at Portman Road with Dean Ashton. The No9 trained on Friday after illness and Curbishley added: "We are hoping over the weekend that he gets his strength back up and he can play."

Also getting closer are James Tomkins after a knee knock and Freddie Sears, who picked up a bruised foot in midweek against Cambridge United. Matthew Etherington is back after blistered feet and may get his second run-out in ten days when Kevin Keen takes a West Ham United XI to Grays Athletic on Saturday with Lee Bowyer also among those in the frame. With an intense pre-season schedule helping raise fitness levels, Curbishley is focused on the positives. "There is quite a few of them going home really pleased with tonight," he said.