Tristan earns Clarke praise

Steve Clarke has spoken ahead of the major meeting with Aston Villa of the boost given by Diego Tristan's best performance to date since arriving at West Ham United.

The first team coach was an avid spectator at Bishop's Stortford on Tuesday as the former Spain striker registered his first two goals in a claret and blue jersey for the reserves. Tristan, who signed on a free transfer in October after leaving the Italian outfit Livorno, is perhaps not able yet to play 90 minutes for the first team, but Clarke is pleased by the progress he is making.

"His fitness is improving but he's not quite ready for a start in the first team yet," the former Scotland international said of a forward who got a brief run-out off the bench at the Boleyn Ground against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month. "He's been on the bench in games and his reserve game on Tuesday was the best he has done since he came across. From our point of view, that's pleasing, but he's not quite ready to start."

Clarke had further reason to be cheerful after watching Kieron Dyer impress in his first game back since suffering a double leg break in August last year. The 29-year-old played an hour in a practice game last week, despite having a bad case of the flu which then laid him low, meaning that Clarke could only check on his condition this Thursday.

Despite being eager to welcome the No7 back, Clarke said the management team would not rush the midfielder. He said: "After the practice game he had no reaction. We just didn't see him for six days afterwards. That was the first game he played so he won't be ready for Saturday.

"I spoke to him today and he's not so chipper because he's recovering from the flu so he's a little bit down. Hopefully he can see now some light at the end of the tunnel, we can get some match fitness into him and welcome him back when he's ready. It's important that it's when he's ready and not before because it's then that you pick up more injuries."

There is positive news with James Collins back in contention after a calf injury, while Lee Bowyer and Matthew Etherington have also been involved after also being hampered of late by flu. Only Dean Ashton and Danny Gabbidon are long-term absentees. The England striker remains at Chadwell Heath as he continues to make progress in his rehabilitation from an ankle injury - but Clarke stressed it was still too early to put a time-scale on either of their comeback dates.