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By ESPN Staff

Samuel ready to return after three months on sidelines

Jlloyd Samuel has set his sights on challenging for a first-team place at Aston Villa after three months out of action with a thigh problem.

The former England Under-21 defender played 90 minutes for the reserves against Watford yesterday in front of Villa manager Martin O'Neill.

Samuel, 25, is now hoping to challenge Wilfred Bouma for the left-back spot after finally putting a frustrating period behind him.

He said: 'It is great to be back in action. This has been a frustrating time for me. The boys have been doing so well but I've not been able to play a part.

'It went well on Tuesday. I came through okay. To be honest, the plan wasn't for me to play the full 90 minutes but I felt so good that I stayed on.

'I'm not sure whether that puts me back in the frame for the first team or not and the Wigan game on Sunday might come too soon - but if the call comes, I'll be there.

'The big thing now is that I'm back in action and hopefully I can soon be pushing for a return to the first team.'

Meanwhile O'Neill is still deliberating before making any hard and fast judgements on the players currently at his disposal - including striker Milan Baros.

Baros, due to play for the Czech Republic against Denmark tonight, has struggled for form in his few appearances for Villa since returning from a foot injury.

O'Neill said: 'I want another two months of football before I make a genuine and concerted judgement on the players here - and that's on players who have played pretty well often.

'You can imagine how less informed I'd be on those who would have played less. Once I make my mind up I may stick with it but at the moment, I'm deliberating.

'As regards Milan, there's no doubt that if he can get back to his best, he should be a big asset for us. Eventually, it's up to the player.

'We have a new fitness scheme but, no matter what you do, it is down to the player eventually. You can encourage, you can cajole, but eventually the player is going to have to perform on the pitch.

'He's obviously cost the club a sizeable amount of money, come with a biggish reputation and has scored goals in international football.

'Maybe he thought it would be easier for him to adapt but football is not like that. It's not as difficult if you've got loads of ability, you're fit and fresh and raring to go and have confidence.

'But Milan's confidence isn't as great as he'd want at the moment. I'm going to reserve judgement on a few things for a bit longer.'