Form and fitness cheers Zamora

Bobby Zamora showed he is closing on a first-team return with a well-taken hat-trick in a terrific display for the reserves against Birmingham City on Tuesday night.

The 27-year-old striker has been out since 28 August with a persistent knee injury that has required many long hours at Chadwell Heath on the road to recovery. Always among the first to arrive early in the morning at the training ground, Zamora's hard work with the club's medical staff was put to the test with a full 90 minutes at the Boleyn Ground. It came after a behind-closed-doors friendly against Queen's Park Rangers last week in which he also scored.

"It has been a while," a delighted Zamora said. "To get a full 90 minutes and score a hat-trick against a good team is nice, having got 65 minutes last week. They had a lot of pros playing, so to do well was good. We worked hard and thankfully I scored a few goals," said Zamora, before joking that the referee would not give him the match ball despite his hat-trick feat. He also had a word for the fans who were "right behind me", adding: "It was nice to give them something to cheer, thanks to them for coming out."

It was a cagey first half at the Boleyn Ground, with Zamora involved in the build-up play to captain Jack Collison's equaliser just before half-time. The second 45 saw Kevin Keen put Zamora in a lone striking role with the likes of Kyel Reid and Julien Faubert given licence to get forward at will along the flanks. It paid dividends. "They had some good players out there and passed the ball well but we were able to change things around in the second half and come up right against them," Zamora explained.

All three of Zamora's goals were different. The first on 58 minutes saw neat control, a quick turn and a blasted effort into the net. The second was a cute flick from Faubert's low cross to the near post and the third was a powerful but precise header from another cross by the flying Frenchman on the right wing. Faubert also came through the full 90 minutes and Zamora said his team-mate performed "brilliantly".

"He is in exactly the same situation as me," the forward added. "He has had a few bits and pieces since coming back. He has been sub for the first team but for him to get another 90 minutes is the main thing. He put in a few brilliant balls and made my job a lot easier." While naturally delighted with the goals, Zamora stressed the "main thing was to get the fitness".

He added: "It has been a long time. I don't want to go into the first team not fully fit and that is the main thing. I don't want to go out and not do the team justice and not do myself justice really. Making sure I am fit enough is important. I want to take it slowly, I don't want to break down. I want to make sure I am 100 per cent before I go back and try and fight for my place in the first team."

Zamora may well figure next Wednesday when the reserves are again at home, although at Bishop's Stortford, against Fulham - three days before the senior sides meet at Craven Cottage. Although rightly cautious about when he will return, he is still hoping to have his say in first-team affairs before the end of the season. "It would be nice to make an impact in the first team for the run-in," he said. "We haven't got it too bad. March is going to be quite hard but there are plenty of games that are winnable. We have got to try and push on and do as well as we can."