Norwich City defender Whitbread reveals injury torment
Norwich City's fit-again centre back Zak Whitbread is under no illusions he faces a battle to reclaim his Premier League starting spot.
Whitbread and Dani Ayala both came through a full 90 minutes during City's midweek Norfolk Senior Cup cruise at Dereham after being sidelined with hamstring and knee injuries respectively.
The American has missed the last 10 Premier League games since limping out of the action against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Leon Barnett and Russell Martin forged an unlikely central defensive alliance in his absence, and Whitbread knows returning to full fitness is only part of the equation.
'I just need to keep working hard in training and try to give the gaffer a headache,' he said. 'The boys have some great results so it's not going to be easy getting in the squad, never mind the starting line-up.
'I just have to be ready when I am called upon. Training has been fine, I feel really good but the main thing for me personally was to get the 90 minutes. For me and Dan it was all about the 90 minutes and that is another box that has been ticked off. It gives me the peace of mind that I can get through a full game.
'You never think it is going to be this long but with a hamstring it's never that straightforward.
'You are using those muscles with the sprinting side of things and it's such a delicate area because the worst thing that can happen is the hamstring keeps going and going and then you need to be in and out of treatment. We wanted to get it right so I can have a clean crack at the rest of the season and stay injury-free.'
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Whitbread admitted missing out on a potential reunion with his boyhood club Liverpool at Anfield in October was a particularly tough afternoon's watching.
'It's never easy although it's great to see the lads doing so well,' he said. 'At the end of the day you are there to play football yourself and that side of it is tough, especially when the lads are getting results you want to be a part of it. For me personally, it was really hard to go to Anfield and watch the boys. That was the first game I looked for when the fixtures came out.
'After leaving the club it was one of those games you want to be involved in, but I went up and the boys got a great result. I then went down and saw the lads after the game and it was great to be in and around it.
'Hopefully I'll have another chance to play them over the second half of the season. Getting injured is always a horrible feeling. I had the little niggle at Wigan when I came off and then the injury at Chelsea and it is so frustrating.'
Whitbread insists the spirit of Anfield will stand the Canaries in good stead for this weekend's daunting mission to Premier League leaders Manchester City.
'City are flying,' he said. 'They are the top boys at the minute and especially at their place we know its going to be a tough test.
'You would say the same about going to Anfield and Old Trafford but the lads went up there and did an unbelievable job; to get the result at Liverpool and at Man United we were unlucky to come away with nothing.
'We just have to go with the same approach and there is no reason why we can't go, hold our heads up high and have a crack at them.
'We have to be clever with how we approach it but the lads have always given it their best shot so far this season.'