Shackell battles on for first team spot

Jason Shackell is putting thoughts of possible ankle surgery to the back of his mind as he attempts to regain a regular place in the Norwich City starting line-up.

Jason Shackell is putting thoughts of possible ankle surgery to the back of his mind as he attempts to regain a regular place in the Norwich City starting line-up.

The 22-year-old defender is currently doing his best to make up for lost time after missing the best part of four months of the season through injury and illness - and has turned in two solid performances since being recalled.

Shackell was in dominant form in his comeback match a couple of weeks ago as he helped City to a 2-1 victory over Stoke and then followed that up with another disciplined display in last Saturday's impressive 2-2 draw at Leeds.

History appears to be repeating itself for the home grown youngster at present. He featured in the final 10 matches of Norwich's Premiership campaign and did an excellent job as they launched a brave, if ultimately unsuccessful, bid for survival. Now he is hoping to feature in the final 10 games of the current season before turning his attention to getting himself 100 per cent right for 2006-7.

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Shackell wants to show manager Nigel Worthington that he is the right man for the job in the heart of City's defence - and to stand the best chance of doing that he might need to have follow-up surgery on the ankle injury he sustained in a reserve match back in October.

“That was my first serious injury and I was always going to get one at some stage,” he said. “It's holding up really well and touchwood it's behind me now - although, it's a question of taking each game as it comes.

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“I am fit and healthy now and I want to finish the season strongly - and then get my ankle up to scratch before we get back to pre-season training..

“During the summer I think it could do with a little rest and maybe a little operation - but we'll wait and see on that.

“For the time being all I am concentrating on is trying to do a good job for the team.

“It has been a little bit frustrating, what with injury and illness. But I have got to put that behind me now and just get on with it.

“All I can do is concentrate on putting in decent individual performances and helping the team to get good results. If I keep doing that then hopefully I will keep my place in the side until the end of the season.

“The target is obviously to keep my place but, as I said, I'm not really looking that far ahead yet - it's about taking each game as it comes.”

With that well used mantra in mind, Shackell will be aiming to maintain the solid form he showed against Stoke and Leeds when Sheffield United arrive at Carrow Road tomorrow.

He knows it will be tough against Neil Warnock's no-nonsense Blades - but is relishing the challenge that playing against them brings.

“It's good to be back in and it has been a nice start - I have been happy with my performances so far,” he said. “We have had two tough games and we have had two good results, that is the most important thing.

“Now it's a question of concentrating on Sheffield United and that will be another really tough game. They are a really big, strong side and they will have a point to prove because although they have done well this season they haven't got the results that they would have wanted lately.

“I don't think they will be jittery. I am sure they will come here and be up for it, just like us. It's going to be one of those up and at 'em games, and I am really looking forward to it.

“It will be another test for me - and I have got to stand up and be counted, make sure I battle, defend well - and then just go from there.

“We have got to be strong, be solid - in other words do what we have done in our last two games.”

Shackell knows he will have to remain on his toes, with on-loan Fulham defender Zesh Rehman waiting in the wings should his performance levels drop.

“It's healthy to have good competition,” he said. “That's the case all around the squad. We are all fighting for our places and I am just fortunate to have the shirt at the moment. I have just got to carry on working hard to keep it.”

Worthington is pleased with the manner in which Shackell has grabbed his opportunity in the first team after a long spell out of the spotlight.

“He has had two very good games - and my message to him is keep it going,” said the City boss. “He dealt with Rob Hulse admirably last week - and there are a lot of different strikers he could find himself up against on Saturday. Whoever they are they have all got to be dealt with.

“Jason and Gary Doherty have done extremely well in the last two games - and Zesh has got to be patient.”

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