Alan Curbishley looks set to have Bobby Zamora back in contention for Saturday's game against Chelsea while he acknowledges that some of his younger talents are also pushing hard for selection.
Zamora has been out since 28 August with a persistent knee problem but has made three reserve-team appearances in quick succession - scoring a hat-trick in the first of them, a 4-1 defeat of Birmingham City. His last game was the 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Monday but the 27-year-old forward picked up a slight knock to his other knee. He was taken off as a precaution but has since resumed training.
Confirming he would have largely the same squad as he had for last week's 1-0 win at Fulham, the manager added that Zamora was close. "Bobby Zamora only played half a game on Monday. He got a kick just under the other knee and he had to come off with it but he is training. So we will see how he is. He has got through the last three or four weeks and has looked quite sharp so hopefully he will be back."
Meanwhile, Scott Parker has come through eight days of full training after his recovery from a knee injury suffered when Cristiano Ronaldo accidentally fell on him during the Manchester United victory on 29 December. When asked if he would figure against Tottenham on Sunday week, the manager said "It might be a bit tight for him". Craig Bellamy is recovering from his abdominal strengthening operation which, if all goes to plan, could see him "out for another three or four weeks".
Also involved in the reserve game last Monday were Dean Ashton and 18-year-old striker Freddie Sears who has hit 24 goals in 23 games at U18 and reserve-team level this season. Curbishley confirmed that along with Jon Spector and John Pantsil, Ashton asked to play, having only got ten minutes as a replacement in the weekend win at Fulham. "He scored and he wanted to play in the game. It wasn't what people were reading into it."
When asked if Sears, who struck twice and made the other goal for Ashton, would figure soon, Curbishley added: "He is a centre-forward who we have got hopes for. It was a good display. As I said previously if we get to it and they go in, I have got no doubts about playing them. [James] Tomkins, [Jack] Collison and Sears have all been around the first-team squad for the last four or five weeks. [They are] part and parcel of the future of the club.
"[Sears] is different to what we have got available at the moment. He is Bellamy-like. He is quick, wants to get in behind people and goes about his business very quietly. He is a good finisher. He has burst on in the last two months really and I think the natural progression is to get some sort of football and we will see if that is in the next 12 games. I am not afraid to put the young boys in. If an opportunity arises I will do it."
Curbishley added that he was aware the fans are hungry to see homegrown talents coming through - as has been the case of late with Anton Ferdinand and Mark Noble - along with 20-year-old winger Kyel Reid this season. "Anyone that comes through the ranks has that affinity with them so they should be looking out for Sears, Collison and Tomkins and the likes over the next couple of months and next season."
WATCH THE PRE-MATCH PRESS CONFERENCE ON WHUTV