SHANE Long has set his sights on a return to action at Everton on Wednesday – after thanking Albion’s quick-thinking medical staff for preventing what might have been a lengthier lay-off.
The 26-year-old suffered what appeared to be a dead leg in training following Albion’s FA Cup third-round draw at QPR.
But the problem was later diagnosed as a haematoma - a collection of blood inside a muscle which can harden and restrict movement.
And the Ireland international was gutted to miss the following two fixtures - the trip to former club Reading and the Hawthorns derby with Villa - which he had picked out at the start of the campaign.
“Reading away would have been great as I haven’t been there as a player since I moved here but I listened to it on the radio and heard both sets of supporters chanting my name,” said Long, who has joined in full training for the past couple of days.
“Playing Villa either at The Hawthorns or Villa Park is an amazing experience so to be at the ground but unable to play was difficult. The atmosphere was really something.
“But it’s nice to be back.
"It’s dragged on longer than I thought it would but I think the break this weekend has helped me out a bit.
"It gives me a bit more time to get ready for Everton away.
“I had a dead leg and it turned out to be a haematoma which can lead to hospitalisation.
“When the doc [head of medical services, Mark Gillett] saw the lump in my thigh, he was concerned and took another look when I came out of the shower.
“I think some players have had to have the haematoma cut out.
"Fortunately, we got on top of it when we did as it’s the sort of thing that can last for a week or it can last for six weeks.
“As a result of the injury, I missed the two games that I’ve probably been looking forward to more than any others.
“I got back into training on Wednesday and it felt good.
"It was a little stiff because I haven’t trained for a few days.
“But I’m breaking myself in slowly and I’m targeting Everton next week.”
Long, who has netted eight goals for Steve Clarke’s outfit this season, knows it will be tough to earn an instant recall to the Baggies’ starting XI at Goodison Park due to the form of Romelu Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie.
“Rom has been brilliant up front and Peter has been fantastic up there with him so I’m not expecting to go straight back into the team,” he added.
“But hopefully after my little break, I’ll come back as hungry as ever.
“I will aim to put pressure on the boys to perform.
“I always forget Rom’s only 19. He’s still a young lad but he has got a lot of experience for someone so young.
“He’s played for Anderlecht and Chelsea and he started out when he was 16.
“He’s still learning his game and he recognises the things he wants to improve on.
“But he’s so strong, powerful and quick that he’s a handful for any defender.
"Against Reading and Villa, he really showed that.
“I’m sure he’ll want to keep doing that in the coming games."
Long believes his Albion team-mates should embrace their upcoming fixtures with tricky away days at fifth-placed Everton and seventh-placed Liverpool sandwiching a home clash with fourth-placed Tottenham.
“I think the upcoming run of fixtures is what we need,” said Long.
“I think when you come up against the big teams, something clicks and it makes you perform.
“I know it shouldn’t be like that but it’s the way it happens. Hopefully, we can surprise teams over the coming weeks.
“We’re always confident going into every game but we’re not stupid and we know that Liverpool have been on a good run of form, as have Everton and Tottenham.
“Hopefully, we can then get a positive result at home against Sunderland and look to cause an upset at Chelsea.
“We’ll need to be on top form to win any of those games but we’re confident we are able to play like that.”
Long added: “It’s frustrating because there have been a lot of games over the past four or five weeks that we haven’t won when perhaps we should have.
“We still could have been up there with the top four with another six or seven points in the bag.
“We know we deserve to be where we are but we had a dip in form at the end of the Reading game and for 45 minutes against Villa and I think we’re allowed that over the season.
“Hopefully, we can put things right at Everton and begin to forget those games.
“I think you could see how dejected the players were at half time in the Villa game and they showed in the second half that they wanted to make amends.
“That could be the kick up the backside we needed to really push us on into the big games coming up.”