James Collins is aiming to end a stop-start season on a high by helping West Ham United to reach next season's UEFA Europa League.
The Wales international defender was ruled out of the opening two months of the season as he recovered from a long-term knee injury. The 25-year-old returned to the side in late October, only to be ruled out again with a hamstring strain suffered in the 2-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on 21 February.
Collins was back in Gianfranco Zola's starting lineup for the Premier League trip to Tottenham Hotspur and is looking to keep his place at Aston Villa this Saturday. There, the Newport-born player hopes to secure an important victory in West Ham's bid for European qualification. However, Collins knows the Hammers face a tough test in the shape of Martin O'Neill's Villans.
"Aston Villa have had a great season. It's going to be tough up there but if we play like we have been playing in the last couple of weeks I am sure we can get a result.
"My whole time at West Ham has been frustrating with injuries. When I was young I never used to suffer with injuries but now little niggles are keeping me out for two, three or four weeks at a time. I am just looking to get myself completely right for the start of next season."
West Ham are eager to bounce back from their 1-0 defeat at White Hart Lane by earning a victory at Villa Park. Collins said manager Gianfranco Zola has made it clear that he expects his players to react positively from their setback in north London and resume their charge towards a top-seven finish.
"We said in the changing room that we cannot dwell on this. Obviously everyone was disappointed but we have got Europe to think about. If we can take eight points out of the last set of games that should see us there so that's what we're aiming for. It's definitely realistic. We're in seventh so it's more than realistic. It's for us to throw it away now. Eight points from the last six games will get us to 52 points or around there so that could see us in Europe next season."
The Hammers' plan of attack may be based on defence in the Midlands, with Upson and defensive colleagues Matthew Upson, James Tomkins, Lucas Neill and Herita Ilunga determined to stifle Villa's forwards and provide a platform for the club's fifth away Premier League victory of the season.
"We've been doing a lot of hard work," said Collins. "Whoever has played has done very well. We've based our game on being solid for the first 20 minutes and then breaking our opponents down. We were not quite up to scratch up front in terms of creating chances but it's been the other way around. When we were conceding goals they have been brilliant. We have got to move on to the next game."