LIVERPOOL -- Everton captain Phil Jagielka is to play a behind-closed-doors friendly to build up his match fitness as he recovers from a hamstring injury, according to manager Roberto Martinez.
Jagielka, 31, has not played for the Toffees since the 1-0 Premier League defeat at Chelsea on Feb. 22.
Martinez indicated two weeks ago that the centre-back would be ready to return for the match at Fulham on March 30.
However, the England international was not included in the squad either for that game -- which Everton won 3-1 -- or last Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal, and is still around 10 days away from a comeback.
Martinez is reluctant to rush Jagielka back and risk aggravating the problem as his side, who lie fifth in the Premier League table, chase a top-four finish that would secure Champions League qualification.
Martinez told his prematch news conference: “I want to make sure that, as a centre-half, he is 100 percent fit to play 90 minutes. We’re going to organise a behind-closed-doors friendly and make sure that this week he plays a full 90 minutes before he gets involved with the squad.
“But he’s reacted really well to treatment, and I think it’s been great for him to have these couple of weeks recuperating and making sure that we give him every single opportunity to be fully fit.
“We want to make sure there is not that one percent risk of aggravating the injury. I’m hoping that Phil will be available over the next 10 days, but it will depend on the exercise we’re doing behind closed doors.
Asked if Jagielka had suffered a setback in his recovery, Martinez said: “No, it’s one of the injuries where you risk a setback if it’s not given the time it needs. Earlier in the season, we pushed him too early and he got through well, but it was a big risk we shouldn’t take now.”