Leeds United captain Richard Naylor expects to resume full training before the turn of the year with his recovery from knee surgery firmly on schedule.
The experienced centre-back is due to begin running sessions at Thorp Arch next week with the aim of making himself available to manager Simon Grayson for the final stages of United's Christmas schedule.
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Naylor was sent for surgery on November 22 after failing to recover from a knee injury suffered midway through October, and Grayson effectively ruled him out of the festive period after confirming that his recovery could take as long as six weeks.
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United's boss had sufficient resources to cope with Naylor's prolonged absence, helped by the extension of Andy O'Brien's emergency loan from Bolton Wanderers, and the former Ipswich Town captain will be given as long as necessary to complete his rehabilitation from a minor operation.
Naylor was not expected to need surgery on his knee problem and appeared to be on the verge of a comeback last month after five weeks on the sidelines.
But he complained of further pain following a reserve game against Hull City and was sent for treatment shortly after Leeds' Championship clash at Norwich City.
The damage to his knee was the latest in a line of injuries that have limited Naylor's appearances in the past 18 months.
A back operation, combined with thigh and hamstring strains, forced him to miss spells of last season and he was sidelined again after United's 2-1 defeat to Leicester City on October 19.
Naylor has always succeeded in making a full recovery from his more serious ailments, including the slipped disc which required a major medical procedure in the summer of 2009, and he is optimistic about returning from his latest injury in good enough condition to contribute to the second half of United's Championship season.
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His 34th birthday falls in two months' time, but Naylor said: "Making a good recovery isn't an age thing.
"It's about making sure that you keep up with your rehab, do it properly and listen to what the physio tells you.
"I'm coming along really well. It's quite a slow road back but there's a programme I've got to hit every week.
"This week I'm in the pool and next week I'll be working outside again so I'm hopeful that I'll be fit just after Christmas.
"I've had a few operations over the years and you have to deal with it. It's disappointing when they come around and they need doing but I'm positive that once it's all done I'll get back fit because I usually do."
Naylor succumbed to a knee injury at a time when United's form was dragging them towards the bottom half of the Championship but the club have found their feet in the division during the past two months and climbed to fourth place on Saturday, their highest position in the Football League for four-and-a-half years.
The 33-year-old has been impressed by their form but not surprised.
He was quietly confident at the start of the season that United would be competitive.
The club have made consistent progress during his two-year career at Elland Road, reaching the play-offs in his first season and winning promotion in his second.
Naylor did not expect that they would suddenly take a backwards step.
Saturday's win at Burnley was their eighth match without defeat, as consistent as Leeds have been since the final months of 2009.
This weekend's game against QPR – hitherto the Championship's most dominant team – will be seen by many as a key examination of the credentials of the squad at Elland Road.
QPR suffered their first league defeat of the season last week, as Naylor knew they were bound to eventually. "That was always going to happen," he said.
"A lot of clubs are as good as each other and if you're not on your game then you're going to get beaten.
"On your day, you can win any game.
"We know that a couple of bad results are all it would take to pull us back towards the bottom of the table because it's such a tight league.
"But we also knew coming into this season that we could be up there. There's just no reason to take anything for granted.
"As soon as you do that you get kicked in the teeth. We're obviously pleased with where we are but we know that there's plenty hard work to come. You always have a lot of games over Christmas and if we pick up a few positive results then we'll be up there.
"We've got a formula that seems to be working at the moment with Jonny Howson playing behind the striker and getting a few goals. Andy O'Brien's come in and done a good job too. It's going really well.
"The spirit's great and that's a testament to the lads in the dressing room – they're fighters and they want to do well. The situation's as good as I've known it. I haven't been at the club for that long but
we've always improved every season and we're getting better and better."
The signing of O'Brien on loan from Bolton and the likelihood of his deal being extended next month has obvious implications for Naylor, deepening the competition for places in the centre of defence.
Naylor has had no option but to take in United's recent games as a spectator but he has no enthusiasm for an extended spell on the sidelines.
"To be honest, I don't really enjoy watching football," he said. "It's different when you're a fan and you can shout, abuse and carry on but when you're sat on the other side of the fence, you just want to be playing.
"It's hard for me being a spectator. I try and keep my opinions to myself."