Happy Hines

Eleven months is a long time to be unable to do the thing you love the most. For Zavon Hines, that is playing football.

After nearly a year of hard work and dedication following surgery to repair a serious knee problem, the 21-year-old returned to action in Monday's goalless Barclays Premier Reserve League draw at Aston Villa.

It was Hines had never been away. The England Under-21 striker threw himself about the pitch and was denied a convincing claim for a last-gasp penalty when upended in the box in added time.

For the young forward, the disappointment of not being awarded a spot-kick was no match for the elation of making a successful return to action.

"I'm very pleased to be honest. It's been a long time, so I was just eager to go. Obviously, like everyone knows, I've missed out on a lot and football is in my blood so I just want to play as much as I can. I love football.

"I feel sharp as it is. It's just my fitness that needs to get up a bit before I push on a bit more but apart from that, physically and mentally I'm ready to go.

"I've been back in training for four or five weeks now so I'm fit but I'm not match-fit, so I'm hoping to play in the next reserve game, get a bit longer and try to push into the first-team squad.

"Of course it was a penalty! He took my legs. I feel sharp and he was a bit too slow for me, but obviously the referee didn't give it. It was just a good run out for me and good to be back."

Hines could have been forgiven for worrying about how his knee would react to a bitterly cold night at Hinckley United FC's De Montfort Park, but he need not have been concerned.

"It wasn't in my mind at all. Right now, my legs feel very strong and my knee feels very strong so I'll just play. I trust both my legs so I don't feel my injury."

Hines has worked hard with the club's physiotherapy and rehabilitation staff since going under the knife in January.

While the road to recovery has been long and hard, the youngster said his team-mates had been hugely supportive, never allowing him to take his focus off making a successful comeback.

Close friend Junior Stanislas has always been there, while Kieron Dyer, Danny Gabbidon and Jack Collison have been able to draw on their own knowledge of long-term injuries to help Hines along.

"Quite a few of the boys helped me, to be honest. I'm close to Junior and also Kieron Dyer has helped me a lot. Gabbs has also helped as he's also been through it before. It was everyone really.

"Jack is going through it now as well and because I'm at playing level now, I'm trying to keep Jack feeling positive as well. By me playing, I hope he has the motivation to realise he can reach the same outcome soon.

"All the boys were trying to keep my feeling good, but it was mainly Kieron and Gabbs."

Looking forward, Hines is itching to make his return to the first-team squad, but he knows an extended run out in next week's reserve meeting with Chelsea is next on his agenda.

"I'm not going to rush it, but physically I feel fine - physically I feel like I could play tomorrow! It's just fitness-wise, if my body is not up to it, then it won't hack it properly, so I need to get my fitness up. I can't put a timescale on it, but I'd like to be on the bench soon."