Joey O’Brien wants to put his latest injury nightmare behind him and play a role in West Ham’s push for Europe.
The 29-year-old full-back has been sidelined for virtually the whole season with an ankle injury, but made his comeback as a first-half substitute for James Tomkins in Saturday’s 0-0 FA Cup draw at Liverpool.
With Tomkins doubtful due to the head injury he suffered at Anfield, O’Brien could be handed his first Premier League start of the campaign when sixth-placed West Ham host struggling Aston Villa on Tuesday evening.
“It was great to be back on the pitch,” he told West Ham TV. “It’s been a long time since I played in the Europa League games in the summer, and going to a place like Anfield is what it’s all about.
“Getting on earlier than I even dreamed of was nice. Over the years I’ve had some bad times, and people were saying ‘you haven’t played in a long time’, but I had two-and-a-half years without playing before.
“People forget that, but I don’t and I take inspiration from that time that I missed. Six months is nothing, really, but it is great to come back.
“I hurt my ankle in a practice game against Crystal Palace and thought nothing of it at the time.
“It was a lot worse than we thought and it lingered on, but it’s over now and playing these games is what you do the rehab for.”
O’Brien will face competition for the right-back slot from recent arrival Sam Byram, who was cup-tied at the weekend.
Byram is one of two January signings made by manager Slaven Bilic, who on Sunday clinched the signature of Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenike on loan from Fenerbahce.
“We got the deal done and we are happy and of course he is happy too,” Bilic told Sky Sports News. “We wanted him because Mauro Zarate left for Fiorentina and there is a possibility that Nikica Jelavic will go.
“We have a couple of strikers injured, who will hopefully be back very soon, but we needed a player who can play in three positions up front and Emenike has been on our radar.
“I have known him for a long time and he’s a great player. I hope he is going to do a great job for us.”
Emenike is likely to have to wait until West Ham’s trip to Southampton on Saturday to make his debut as the club await international clearance.