Leighton Baines has targeted helping Everton deliver a strong end to the 2017/18 season - and says he hopes to be available “sooner rather than later” after returning to training out in Dubai.
The left-back hasn’t played a first-team game since suffering a calf problem at Southampton on 26 November - four days before Sam Allardyce was appointed Toffees boss.
However, the 33-year-old reported no ill-effects from his first session back with his teammates and now hopes to be a valuable asset for his new manager in the remaining 11 games of the campaign.
After returning from Dubai, Everton head to Watford next Saturday, before a trip to Burnley - the side currently seventh, two points and two places above the Blues in the Premier League.
Asked if he has a comeback date in mind, Baines told evertontv: “That will probably be determined by the fitness staff and the technical staff. Between them everything is very bespoke now and they’ll look at the numbers and see how my condition correlates to the other lads when I’m doing the same sessions as them, and obviously get my feedback as well. Hopefully I’ll be available to the manager sooner rather than later.
“We want to come back from here - it’s broken it up a little bit for us - and push on. We’ve worked ourselves back into a reasonable position in the table and we’ve got some games that perhaps give us an opportunity to secure more points.
“I think we’ll use this trip well and go back and push on between now and the end of the season.”
There was no taking it easy in Baines’ first session back as Allardyce and his players did some defensive and attacking tactical work, in addition to the fitness drills that have been a staple of the daily routine since touching down in the UAE on Wednesday.
And having not kicked a ball in anger for the best part of three months, Baines was delighted with the opportunity to test himself both physically - and against the weather.
“It was hot, really warm!” he said. “Obviously, though, it was nice to get back out there and I did the majority of the session. Hopefully once we get back [to USM Finch Farm] I’ll be back in full training and that will be me.
“I’ve just been doing fitness work really, separate from the group, and trying to get into a condition where I can go back into training. I went back in today, only missed the last part and everything felt good.
“I think the trip has been good for everyone. The facilities and the sessions have been great and it’s a change of environment that lifts everyone a bit, and everyone’s been able to do some good work.
“A lot of teams do these trips at this time of year and they can be good if they’re done right.
“For me, it was just a case of getting through it, making sure I felt fine. You can do all the fitness work and the running you want but it’s not until you get back into the training and have bodies around you and unpredictable things happening that you start to ask your body those other questions.
“It was just a case of me being able to get back into that environment today.”