Leeds United: Fit-again Hunt keen to show true worth

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A damaged hamstring restricted Noel Hunt during his first few difficult matches but he tells Lee Sobot he is now back and raring to go.

NOEL HUNT admits squad strength will be crucial as Leeds United approach a festive fixture list incorporating five games in 15 days.

His forthcoming return from injury could not be more timely. Yet the unselfish striker says having to stay on the sidelines would be more bearable as it means Leeds are still winning.

Hunt, 30, has not played for Leeds since their 3-1 Championship loss at Derby County on October 5.

That was his eighth outing in a Whites shirt but in every one of those games the forward was troubled by a hamstring problem which it was decided needed long-term treatment after the 3-1 loss at Pride Park. It means that for Hunt the first half of the campaign has hardly been ideal. The first quarter of the season was spent playing through the pain barrier with the second quarter spent frustrated on the sidelines.

Yet there has been one huge positive to console the Irishman in the last two months – to see his side winning and into the top six.

Now another plus point is in the offing for the forward who is finally back in training when Brian McDermott might well need him most.

With former loanee Dexter Blackstock having returned to parent club Nottingham Forest through injury, the Whites are short on strikers approaching the demands of Christmas and New Year. It could be the perfect time for Hunt to return.

Yet whether he is playing or otherwise it is Leeds United’s fortunes as a whole which Hunt is more concerned about with the forward admitting United’s recent purple patch has made his injury ordeal somewhat easier to handle.

“Being out injured has been hard for me as I want to get back out there,” summer signing Hunt told the YEP.

“But I’d be a lot unhappier if we were getting beat every week. I’m so happy we’re doing well – we’re flying at the moment and we just have this mentality at home of not getting beat and pushing for the three points.

I just want to get back fit and available and see what happens but I’m much happier that we’re winning every game rather than losing!”

Hunt has yet to score for United since his transfer from Reading this summer yet there is no denying the front man’s ability to net at both Championship and even top-flight level.

Last season he netted twice in the Premier for Reading as well as four times in cup competitions with the goal-getter notching eight times during Reading’s promotion season of 2011-12.

Better still he netted 10 in the 2010-11 Championship campaigns for Reading and 13 in 2008-09. In contrast, so far this season Hunt is nought from eight.

It suggests something has been amiss and the Irishman says his hamstring problem has been troubling him from as far back as the summer and in a big way.

“I’ve had it since August,” said Hunt.

“But people don’t know that and I think when people see you walk across that white line they automatically think you are fit. It’s not the case for some people and players play with niggles all the time.

“You are just eager to get out there and pull on the shirt and even though it was getting sorer and sorer you just want to play and you give it all you can. I just didn’t want to disappoint anyone or let anyone at this club down but when I came to the end of it I couldn’t even sleep at night and it was like that for a few weeks before I made the decision to get it sorted out.

“It’s something that I thought I could get through with extra work and try and settle down but it was never going to go away without coming out and stopping.

“Hopefully now it’s gone and it seems to be settling down so happy days. Hopefully I can just build up now and I can get back out there with the boys.

“I must say that the physios have been great and they are saying just keep focusing on what you have got to do. They are saying that I’ve just got to keep controlling what I’m doing and not go wild which has been hard for me as I want to get back out there. But hopefully I can get a few games under my belt – starting with maybe the 21s and go from there.”

Either way, Hunt’s comeback is clearly forthcoming and his prospects of getting back in the fold have seemingly been increased with Blackstock having returned to Forest. It means a fit again Hunt would be competing with Matt Smith, Luke Varney and Dominic Poleon to partner man of the moment and Championship top scorer Ross McCormack who took his seasonal tally to 17 with his goal in the 3-0 success at Doncaster on Saturday. Yet unselfish as ever, Hunt was saddened to see positive influence Blackstock leave Elland Road,

“Dexter is a lovely guy and it’s a shame as he came here and fitted in really well,” said Hunt.

“It’s a bit gutting for him and sad for us as well because he had done well when he came in but hopefully we can keep doing the business up front and Ross can keep going for the time being.”

With 11 goals from his last seven Leeds games, McCormack is showing no signs of stopping and that’s great news for Hunt – even if he and an improving Matt Smith do keep him out of the team. Should Brian McDermott need another option to get the Whites through a demanding fixture period, Hunt hopes his return would be a case of perfect timing.

“It’s all positive I think, it really is,” said Hunt.

“We just have to keep up that form going through this Christmas period because it’s tricky.

There are a lot of games in a short space of time so you need to dig deep into your squad. Hopefully I will get back and get involved but if we keep winning every week then I’m happy because the main thing is the club.”

Luke Ayling.

Leeds United: Injured Ayling on course for pre-season return