'It was great to be back out there'

Jack Collison was in positive mood after making his first West Ham United appearance since last season's npower Championship Play-Off final.

The midfielder returned from a long-standing knee problem by starting the Development Squad's 3-1 Barclays U21 Premier League Group 1 defeat at Norwich City on Monday. Collison came through 45 minutes as planned before being replaced at half-time.

Speaking exclusively to whufc.com after the game, the Wales international admitted he still has some way to go before he can make a first-team return, but admitted he loved every minute of his return.

"It was great to be back out there again," said the No10, whose two Play-Off semi-final goals at Cardiff City in May paved the way for the Hammers' promotion. "I am obviously a little bit rusty but I have ticked a box by completing 45 minutes and hopefully it will be onwards and upwards from there.

"I loved it. It was great to be playing football again, even though it was not the best conditions out there. I thought the boys did well and were unlucky to not to get a point out of it."

While a Development Squad appearance is an undoubted step in the right direction, Collison will not pinpoint a date on a first-team return, insteadd leaving it in the hands of Sam Allardyce and his backroom staff.

"I will leave that for the manager to decide. I have obviously been out for quite a while so for me it is all about building up my fitness and getting that sharpness back.

"I am not sure whether the reserves will have any more games or have arranged any friendlies [before the Elite Group Stage starts in January] but I will be training more now so hopefully I can return as quickly as possible."

However, with Mohamed Diame out with a hamstring injury and both Ricardo Vaz Te and Yossi Benayoun also on the sidelines, Collison knows his first-team chance could come sooner rather than later.

"It is nice to be back and unfortunately we have more than a few injuries at the moment so hopefully I can help bolster the squad a little bit. Like I said, it will be whenever the gaffer needs me and when he feels like the time is right, I will be ready to step in."

While he would clearly have rather been on the pitch than in the stands, Collison declared his admiration for way the Hammers have settled into life back in the Barclays Premier League.

"The boys have been brilliant and it has been great to see them doing so well. It also helps me because, when I am fit and ready to go back into the first team, it will be good to go into a side that is enjoying playing football in the top flight."

Collison's absence has opened up a space in the first-team squad for a number of his fellow Academy graduates in recent months - most notably midfielders George Moncur and Sebastian Lletget.

The young professionals have been in and around Big Sam's matchday 18 for the last few matches and the 24-year-old has been keeping tabs on their progress.

"It is nice to see so many youngsters coming through and developing, Sebby and Moncs have both been on the bench for the last few games which is great to see. Hopefully it is not too long before one of them gets their chance in the first team because it was great to play with them and even better to see them doing so well."